Uganda Dam Could Drown Local Jobs, Adventure Tourism

 A guest blog by Save Adventure Tourism in Uganda Team

The Ugandan Ministry of Energy is planning to construct a large hydropower dam on the Nile River at Isimba Falls, 50km downstream from Jinja, Uganda. 

Plans for the dam were pushed through with minimal consultation with the people who will be affected. Many stakeholders and local people were not consulted at all, and only found out through newspaper reports that construction had begun. 

The dam will create a large reservoir of around 28km2. The negative impacts this project will have are severe: 

  • Over 2,000 local farmers will lose their homes.
  • World-famous rapids will be submerged and a whole tourism industry will be lost, along with thousands of well-paid, longterm Ugandan jobs. 
  • Large areas of wildlife habitat and tropical forest will be flooded, in an area that is designated a permanent conservation reserve by the World Bank and Ugandan Government (this was done to mitigate the impacts of Bujagali Dam).

All of this for a relatively small amount of power created compared to other dams in the region: 

  • Owen Falls Dam: 350 megawatts, 2km reservoir
  • Bujagali Dam: 250 megawatts, 8km reservoir
  • Isimba Dam: 180 megawatts, 28km reservoir!

A Ugandan guide takes tourist through rapids on the Nile in Uganda. Locals are benefitting from jobs in the rafting industry
A Ugandan guide takes tourist through rapids on the Nile in Uganda. Locals are benefitting from jobs in the rafting industry
Nile River Explorers

How important is Uganda’s adventure tourism and the rapids?

The exceptional white water that is set to be flooded is famous worldwide. It is safe, warm and deep in nature and its consistent flows allow access to the river all year around. This is unique and brings people from all over the world to the area, and generates well-paid, stable longterm jobs for thousands of Ugandans.

An estimated 50,000 people participate in adventure activities each year around Jinja, many of which would not have travelled to Uganda without the amazing rapids. 

Without the Nile’s white water, it will not just be the river activity companies that will cease to operate, the effects will reach far and wide.

The downturn in tourism will also have adverse effects on all the secondary activity businesses, hotels, restaurants, taxi companies, motor bike taxi drivers, shops and services that are currently thriving in Jinja due to adventure tourism. All these are set to lose long­term trade, income, and jobs. It is also expected that tourism in the rest of Uganda will be hurt by the knock-off effect of losing one of the primary and distinctive tourist  attractions in the country.

The following quote, taken from the one of Uganda’s leading newspapers, the New Vision, expresses just how important the tourism industry is to Uganda:

“Tourism earnings jumped by 22% in 2011 with the country raking in $832 million, up from $662 million in 2010. This is almost double the $449 million that the country earned from coffee, Uganda’s top foreign exchange earner for decades.” 
–“Tourism, the rich neglected goldmine,” New Vision, Sept. 20, 2013

Flooding a conservation area

During the planning of the Bujagali Dam, another dam on the same stretch of river, the Ugandan Government and the World Bank agreed to set aside the “Kalagala offset area” to “conserve natural habitat and environmental and spiritual values.” It was on this basis that the Ugandan Government was able to get a loan from the World Bank for the Bujagali Dam. It clearly states in the document that Uganda will not develop hydropower projects that will affect the Kalagala offset area. 

Now, just a few years later, the Government is planning to flood a large part of the conservation area, breaking the agreement with the World Bank and betraying the local people it was put in place to protect.  

The conservation area is full of tropical wildlife, natural forest and countless birds, animals and plant species, including being a breeding ground for Uganda’s national bird, the Crested Crane. 

Thousands of people displaced

When Ivan Ngobi was a young orphan, he would watch kayakers on the river near his orphanage. He eventually was trained by tourism operators to be a photographer for the rafting companies.
When Ivan Ngobi was a young orphan, he would watch kayakers on the river near his orphanage. He eventually was trained by tourism operators to be a photographer for the rafting companies.
Photo: Emily Wall/Kayak the Nile

As the reservoir pushes upstream and floods the offset area, it also pushes outward into large flat farmland, populated by large numbers of poor, rural subsistence farmers, who stand to lose their livelihoods and there homes. According to the official report, over 2000 farmers will be displaced by the Isimba Dam as it is planned at the moment. 

Are they being properly relocated, compensated and supported through the whole process? It is hard to say, but it is clear that the overwhelming opinion in the whole of the region is against the dam in its largest form.

What are the alternatives?

Initially, different options for the size and scale of the Isimba Dam were proposed. Without the full and correct information, the decision has already been made to go with the largest project of these options, and it is this option that will destroy tourism, encroach on the environmentally sensitive Kalagala offset area and displace all the people. The smaller option would still create electricity and have negligible impact on tourism, not encroach on the Kalagala area, and keep the river almost entirely within its natural banks.

The smaller dam offers a beautiful balance of creating power for the country, but maintaining its conservation, displacing very few people and allowing adventure tourism to continue to flourish and expand as it has been over the last decade. 

Who was consulted during the planning phase?

During the planning stages of the Isimba project, almost no correspondence was had with the adventure tourism industry, or as far as we know the World Bank, who have an obligation to ensure the conservation of the Kalagala area. 

Only a few of the 200+ companies that will be affected were consulted and even those were not consulted fully, and none of the thousands of Ugandan’s who stand to lose their jobs around Jinja were notified. 

Those making the decisions about the Isimba Dam do not have accurate, comprehensive or sufficient information on how badly this will hurt the tourism industry and the Ugandan people. We would like to change this so that an informed decision can be made based on all the facts.

What can we do?

Awareness of this issue is critical and we need help to save thousands of Ugandan jobs and one of Uganda’s most beautiful natural habitats.

More information: 

Read profiles of Ugandans who would be affected by the dam. 

Monday, November 11, 2013