Bui Dam, Ghana

Black Volta hippo

Ghana has for decades had a very erratic electricity supply due to its over-reliance on hydropower from large dams, but it recently completed yet another large dam, and one that submerged a good portion of a national park. China's low-interest loans for Bui Dam got the project off the ground despite earlier vows by the energy ministry in Ghana to move away from hydro and diversify energy supply. Situated on the Black Volta River, the dam has been criticized by wildlife biologists, who say that Ghana's rare black hippopotamus populations are threatened by the dam project. Project construction was marred by poor working conditions at the dam site, a lack of information among the affected population, and inadequate attention to the impacts of climate change on the project.

The project's environmental analysis ignored the potential for climate change to reduce the dam's electricity output, and glossed over the project's climate-change impacts in terms of greenhouse gas emissions from rotting vegetation in the reservoir. Most of the country's electricity now comes from dams, and the nation has seen severe load-shedding in times of drought. The ongoing problem is expected to worsen as rainfall is predicted to become even more scarce and variable, according to a policy brief on climate risks. The study also predicts an increase in flood strength, which will speed up siltation behind the dam. The International Water Management Institute, in conjunction with the Ghana Dams Dialogue, proposed the need for further assessments of the Bui project's impacts and the issue of climate change, but this did not slow construction.  

Funded largely by China Exim Bank and by the Chinese government, Bui was built as a Build-Operate-Transfer dam by Chinese dam-building firm Sinohydro for US$622 million. The dam's capacity of 400 MW of electricity could be severely constrained by increasing drought from climate change. The dam project inundated a quarter of the 700-square-mile Bui National Park, home to one of two populations of hippos in Ghana, and rare species of monkeys, lions, buffalo, monitor lizards, antelope and leopards. The altered flow regime is also expected to negatively impact 46 species of fish that are economically important to the local communities. Inundation goes against many of the tenets of the Community Resources Management Areas of the Ghanaian Forestry Commission.

Cashew farmers, Bui Dam area
Cashew farmers, Bui Dam area
Claire Sutcliffe  
As many as 2,600 people were relocated, losing fishing grounds, homes and farms, and facing the danger of schistosomiasis disease outbreaks brought on by the new dam. Some fishing communities have been relocated miles away from fishing areas, while others are concerned that their new lands are of poor quality for farming. Chiefs and the people of Jama, the new community for oustees, appealed to the government of Ghana for representation in the Bui Dam Development Planning, which had until then limited public participation.

More information: 

Slideshow: In their own words: Affected people talk about Bui Dam resettlement

Bui Workers Asked to Halt Complaints, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation

Way Now Cleared for Bui Project, The Ghanaian Chronicle

Climate Change: Impact of Climate Change on the Black Volta Basin and the Bui Dam, Policy Brief by GLOWA Volta Project (March 2008) and Ghana Reservoir Would Be Major Greenhouse Gas Emitter by Patrick McCully.

Affected People: Read interviews with affected people from a field visit by a public health graduate student.

Bui Dam Threatens Hippos and Humans
World Rivers Review, August 2001, p. 12-13.