Dutch Action Alert on Bujagali

Monday, October 23, 2000

An English version of an "Earth Alarm" on Uganda’s Bujagali Falls Dam. Earth Alarm is the letter writing project of Friends of the Earth Netherlands.

Bujagali Dam to Produce Unaffordable Power for Uganda 

Construction of a dam on the Nile river is planned to provide power for Uganda. The IDA (International Development Agency) and the IFC (International Finance Corporation), both part of the World Bank, have been asked for a loan of more than $150 million for the project. The dam will cause natural areas to disappear, and consequences to fish stocks are unknown. Local people will not benefit from the power production, since its price is far beyond their means. Furthermore, they will lose an important source of income: the dam will submerge the Bujagali waterfalls, a profitable tourist attraction in the area. No plan has been made to compensate residents who will be forced to relocate or farmers who will lose their lands. Local NGOs believe it would be much better to generate environmentally friendly energy in Uganda. The country’s neighbour Kenya has already set a good example, with many small–scale solar energy projects. 

The Bujagali Dam
Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world. Less than 5% of its people have electricity. The government supports construction of an enormous dam on the Nile, nearby the Bujagali waterfalls, to provide energy for Uganda. The Bujagali Dam will be the third dam in the area. Upstream is the Owen Falls Dam, and the Owen Falls Extension Project is still under construction. The cumulative effects of the three dams are unknown.

The World Bank stated in the 1996 report "Uganda Energy Assessment" that only a fraction of the rural population would benefit from an expansion of the electricity network and a better course would be to consider "alternative, non–conventional" power sources, such as solar or wind energy. Another World Bank report (Uganda Country Assistance Strategy, CAS, 1997) stated that, because most poverty in Uganda is found in rural areas, agricultural activities are recommended for economic growth. Nonetheless, the World Bank is now considering loaning Uganda money for the dam project, which is being promoted as a way to fight poverty. However, no investigation has been made into how the dam can improve the lives of the poor. Where will these people get the money to pay for the electricity produced?

Environmental and social consequences
If the waterfalls are flooded, it isn"t only nature that will be destroyed. In addition, 820 people will be forced to move, because the future dam is located in their village, and another 6000 people will lose their farmland through flooding. There are no plans for relocation and compensation, nor is there other suitable land for these people nearby their present homes or farms. As a result, forests may be cut down or further damage may be done to the Nile’s floodplain. No research has been done on what the consequences to fishers in the area may be. Furthermore, an increase in water–borne diseases is expected, such as malaria (now the leading cause of death due to illness in Uganda) and schistosomiasis (a parasitic infection).

In recent years tourism in the area has grown. The local population earns about $4 million per year from Bujagali Falls tourism. The profits earned from generating electricity should be many times higher, but it is unlikely that any of this money will go to local people.

The process
In the meantime the plan to build the dam has been approved by the Ugandan government. The first Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been completed. The World Bank judged the EIA inadequate and demanded changes and supplementary information. The definitive EIA is expected shortly, as well as an EIA on the high voltage cables.

Recent studies point out that local people were not sufficiently consulted regarding the project. The dam will be built by the US company AES, the world’s largest producer of energy, which has only mentioned the benefits of the project. Those who have dared to disagree with them have been threatened with arrest. Some businesses have been told that they would be shut down if they did not keep quiet. A foreigner who gave information to local people about the dam was arrested and deported. In the Netherlands, too, Parliament has raised questions about the Bujagali Dam.

An investigation into other energy options in Uganda has been carried out by Acres International, a company that mostly builds hydro–electric power stations. The report thus only compares a number of large dams with each other and concludes that Bujagali Dam is the best option.

Throughout the world, however, the tendency is toward smaller, decentralized methods of power production. In Kenya more people use solar panels to produce their electricity than get it from a centralized power network. Solar panels can be placed in villages or on individual homes. Although the panels are expensive, the energy they produce thereafter is free. In Kenya there are already about 50 small companies that produce these solar panels. This could also be done in Uganda, for example, with financial support from the World Bank. Ugandan action groups, including the "Save Bujagali Crusade" and the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), call for a national energy plan which specifically investigates renewable forms of energy: solar, micro–hydro (producing energy from small– scale hydro–electric projects), wind and bio–mass. A decision from the World Bank is expected in November. In the meantime, more than 50 Ugandan NGOs have joined the protests. They are asking for help. You can help by writing a letter to the World Bank, requesting that it does not provide support for the Bujagali Dam.

Example letter

World Bank, IFC
f.a.o. Mr P. Stek
Board of Directors
1818 H Street NW
Washington, D.C. 29433
e–mail: pstek@worldbank.org
fax: 00–1–202–5221572


Dear Mr Stek,

The World Bank will soon decide whether to grant a loan of $150 million to the Ugandan government for the construction of a dam on the Nile River in Uganda. This Bujagali Dam is planned to provide electric power for Uganda.

Uganda is one of the world’s poorest countries, which means that fighting poverty there is of extreme importance. However, there are no indications that this project will help fight poverty in Uganda. I fear in fact that local people will gain nothing from the electricity that will be produced, because it is beyond their means. Furthermore, as a result of the dam the Bujagali waterfalls will be submerged; this mean that local people will lose the income they now earn from tourists the falls now attract. No investigation has been made into how profits earned from the power produced by the dam will benefit the local population.

The construction of the dam means that natural areas will be destroyed. No plans have been made for the forced relocation and compensation of the 820 area residents and the 6,000 other people who will lose their farmland. Consequences of the dam for fishers are unknown. AES, hired as consultants in the project, has released one–sided information and used intimidation.

The World Bank advised in its 1996 report "Uganda Energy Assessment" and in its 1997 report "Country Assistance Strategy" that development in Uganda must be sought in "alternative, non– conventional’ electricity provision and in the stimulation of agricultural activities. The construction of the Bujagali Dam does not meet these criteria.

The case of neighbouring Kenya is proof that there are alternatives. There, more people get their energy from solar panels than from a centralized power network. This can also be accomplished in Uganda, possibly with support from the World Bank.

More than 50 Ugandan NGOs are now protesting the construction of the Bujagali Dam. In support of their action, I urge that the World Bank not support the construction of the Bujagali Dam, and instead investigate alternative plans for poverty reduction and energy production in Uganda, as recommended by the World Bank’s own reports.

I look forward to receiving your reply.

Yours respectfully,
Your Name