Independent Review Reveals Serious Flaws in Sudan’s Merowe Dam

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Merowe Dam in Sudan, the largest hydropower project currently under construction in Africa, is of poor quality and does not address many of the project’s potential impacts on the environment. These are the main findings of an independent review of the EIA which was just published by EAWAG, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology.

The Merowe Dam is a prominent example of China’s expansive role as an investor in international energy and mining projects. International Rivers Network calls on the companies that are developing the project – China’s CCMD Consortium, Alstom, Lahmeyer International and ABB – to suspend project construction until the environmental impacts have been adequately addressed.

The main conclusions of the EAWAG review are:

  • Poor quality EIA: According to the review, "key environmental issues such as reservoir sedimentation, irrigation, water quality and downstream ecological impacts (...) were not addressed adequately."

  • Fluctuating water levels: Dam operations will cause the downstream water level to fluctuate by 4-5 meters every day. The reservoir surface will fluctuate between 350-800 square kilometers every year. The strong fluctuations will erode the river banks, making it difficult for farmers to collect water and fish in the river and reservoir.

  • Sedimentation: Up to 130 million tons of sediment will be deposited in the reservoir every year. As a consequence, the storage capacity will be reduced by 34% within 50 years. This will seriously diminish the capacity of the project to generate electricity.

  • Aquatic Ecology: The dam will block fish migration. The fluctuating water levels and erosion of the river banks will destroy fish spawning areas and the habitats of other organisms.

  • Water quality and health: Pollution and the decomposition of organic matter may create public health hazards for people drinking water or eating fish from the reservoir. Furthermore, "stagnant water and exposure of a large area of the river bed can create perfect breeding conditions for mosquitoes, vectors of malaria and yellow fever and the water flea, host of the guinea-worm."

  • Climate change: Large amounts of plant matter, algae and soil will decompose in the Merowe reservoir, and will produce carbon dioxide and methane in the process. According to International Rivers calculations, the Merowe Project will emit roughly the same amount of greenhouse gases as a natural gas project generating the same amount of electricity.

International Rivers received a copy of the confidential EIA in 2005, and encouraged EAWAG to conduct the independent review.

Peter Bosshard, Policy Director of International Rivers, says:

"The Merowe Dam will have serious environmental impacts on the Nile Valley, the lifeline for Northern Sudan. The project violates Sudan’s Environmental Protection Act and all internationally accepted environmental standards. The Merowe Dam could not be built in most other countries, and is a test case for the commitment of leading hydropower companies to the minimal standards of environmental stewardship. The companies that are developing the project should suspend construction until the serious environmental impacts have been adequately addressed."

The Merowe Dam on the Nile is the largest hydropower project currently under construction in Africa. Once completed in 2008/09, the dam’s reservoir will be 200 kilometers long, and will have the capacity to produce 1,250 megawatts of power. The project is currently displacing 50,000 people from the fertile Nile valley to arid locations in the Nubian Desert.

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