Ghana Dams Dialogue: Focus on Affected People

Richard Twum
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bui Dam resetttlement site
Bui Dam resetttlement site
Clement Otu-Tei
Hydropower plays a major role in Ghana's energy supply. Demand for energy is rising and despite strategies to diversify the energy supply (for example, through a new gas pipeline), hydro schemes remain high in the government's National Strategic Energy Plan. Ghana now has two major dams: the Akosombo and Kpong dams, whose considerable social and environmental problems still linger today, decades after they were built. Another large dam, Bui, is being built by a Chinese company.

Ghana's Dams Dialogue, inspired by the World Commission on Dams, began in 2006, and includes representatives from government, dam operators, dam-affected communities and NGOs. The main focus has been mostly on the social aspects of big dams, with a strong emphasis on bringing dam-affected people to the table to share their concerns and lessons learned.

As a national dialogue, the process has been unique in taking on board a range of interests and opinions previously held to be irreconcilable. The dialogue process has examined evidence produced and opinions expressed by a wide range of stakeholders. The dialogue has added a new body of knowledge to existing information on dams in Ghana.

The main goal is to build capacities and provide tools for improved decision-making on dam-related issues that would lead to equitable, transparent, participatory and sustainable development of dams in Ghana. Objectives are:

  • To provide recommendations and practical guidelines for the Bui Development Authority for managing impacts on dam-affected communities (upstream and downstream of Bui), particularly those related to agricultural livelihoods and food security, through targeted studies.
  • To share information, increase awareness and build capacity about resettlement and dam-related issues affecting local communities, and to bring on board relevant stakeholders who hitherto have not been actively involved in the dialogue process.
  • To bring together representatives of all dam-affected communities to deliberate on problems of resettlement, and to come up with a common agenda for action to redress the negative impacts of dams on the affected communities.
  • To understand decision-making and governance processes in Ghana related to the development and management of water resource projects, and to evaluate the contributions of a multi-stakeholder dialogue towards influencing these decisions.

In the Beginning...

The first Ghana Dam Forum, which took place in September 2007, was attended by 84 participants. In addition to deciding broad themes to focus on, it was realized during this first forum that the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment of the ongoing Bui Hydropower project (for which the final designs were being prepared) should be reviewed to identify potential impact indicators which could be taken up for further study.

At the first forum, participants signed a declaration, calling for clear direction on improving public participation on dam developments. It stated that affected people should be better off after a dam is built, that planning processes should be more transparent, and that comprehensive options assessments should be undertaken for future water resources developments. (Thus far, the Forum has not focused on options assessment.)

A clearly felt limitation was the lack of scientific information on the potential impact of global climate changes on the Bui Dam. A study was commissioned to analyze this issue. The project modelled future discharge scenarios that take climate change into account, and predicts "a significant negative impact of global climate change on the water resources of the Volta River basin," which is expected to have a major impact on Bui Dam. The study notes that "It is a serious oversight that the impact of global climate change was not taken into account" in the Bui project design.

Members of the national coordinating committee carried out a field visit to the Bui Hydropower Project area. The visit was also used to brief affected communities on the activities of the Dialogue and to get feedback. A very positive outcome of the field visit was that the communities now feel that some interest is being accorded to them and that a two-way information exchange is taking place.

The Secretariat has also been working to analyze and document the governance processes that take place around large dams. The results of that study will be published later this year.

The dialogue process has led to national progress on the issue of dams by:

  • Creating a 60-member Forum and 15-member National Coordinating Committee, which will act as advisory groups for the process of planning water infrastructure projects.
  • By bringing together a wider network of interested parties to discuss what have been contentious issues. These provided platforms for all voices to be heard, and strengthen the input of stakeholders who have historically been disempowered.
  • By initiating independent in-depth studies related to dam issues in Ghana. The case studies were conducted in a transparent and participatory manner, drawing inputs from stakeholders through an extensive consultative process.
  • By mediating conflicts between dam-affected communities, dam operators and government.
  • By raising awareness of problems and paving the way for solving these problems.

Although there is palpable momentum behind the Ghana Dams Dialogue and stakeholders are showing greater commitment toward the Dialogue and trust in its effectiveness, the platform lacks a mandate to implement some of the recommendations. To this end, there is a need to properly institutionalize the process without greater government intervention, as that will kill the spirit. Also, the process should take on board some of the issues raised in the core values and strategic priorities in the WCD, especially comprehensive option assessment and recognizing entitlements and sharing benefits. It is hoped that if the right advocacy tools like lobbying are employed, it will help influence national policies and plans in Ghana.

More information: 

The author participated in the Ghana Dams Dialogue as an NGO representative. He is the director of Volta Basin Development Foundation.