The World Commission on Dams and Epupa Dam

Epupa has been under consideration by the government since the early 1990s. The government has hired consultants to prepare feasibility studies on the dam, and has held
some public hearings on the project. But the process thus far has been flawed, and does not measure up to the WCD's recommendations. Following are some ways in which the
planning process for Epupa thus far falls short:

Rights and Risks: The WCD guidelines are based on a "rights and risks" approach to development. This means that all stakeholders whose rights might be affected, and all
stakeholders who have risks imposed upon them involuntarily, should be included in decision-making on development. The report states, "[Risks] must be identified,
articulated and addressed explicitly. Most important, involuntary risk bearers must be provided with the legal right to engage with risk takers in a transparent process to ensure
that risks and benefits are negotiated on a more equitable basis." It goes on, "Determining what is an acceptable level of risk should be undertaken through a
collective political process."

But Epupa has been top-down from the start. Communities were misled as to the scale of the project and the risks to their livelihoods, and were even subject to official
intimidation after they began to question the project. Human rights lawyer Andrew Corbett spoke at a 1999 hearing for communities affected by dams as part of the WCD
information-gathering process, at the request of the Himba. Corbett said, "One of the problems has been that the community has not been properly informed from the start
about what the impact would be on their livelihood. [The Himba] community was visited by the government in the initial stages, and told that a dam would be built that there'd be
all these benefits. They didn't actually say it would inundate 180 square km of the Himba's land … I think the process was flawed from the start in terms of creating the
type of mistrust that still exists between the affected community and government."

Other risks, such as the hydrological and economic risks – risk which would affect all Namibian ratepayers should the dam produce less power or cost more to build
than predicted – have also not been publicly addressed in a meaningful way.

Gaining Public Acceptance: No dam should be built without "the demonstrable acceptance" of the affected people, the WCD notes. Projects should also be contingent
on the "free, prior informed consent" of affected indigenous and tribal peoples, through negotiated agreements that are legally binding. These safeguards were included
because tribal and indigenous people have borne a "disproportionate share of the socialand environmental costs of large dam projects without gaining a commensurate share of the economic benefits."

The Epupa process has not been based on "gaining public acceptance". Andrew Corbett's 1999 testimony again: "The consultations that have taken place have taken
place mostly in the capital city, which is 900km away from where the people live. There haven’t been adequate resources given by government for the community to be involved
in the national debate. It has also been in a very repressive political climate. Our meetings have been broken up by armed police, and people threatened who are
opposing what is going on. So in a sense, the marginalisation that already exists for the Himba, within the Namibian society, has been reinforced by the process."

The transparency and fairness of the process were also compromised by officials' aggressive promotion of the project. A declaration by the Himba community
states that "the Deputy Minister of Mines and Energy at a public hearing on 8 March 1997 in Qpuwo gave a strong impression that the decision to build the dam had already
been taken. As a result, members of the Himba communities most directly affected by the dam felt that their input was irrelevant." The result of this unfortunate incident was
that the Himba stopped cooperating with the social impacts study.

Options Assessment:
The WCD describes a widespread bias toward large dams, and a lack of clear-headed analysis of alternatives to them. "Political economy or intellectual
barriers often pre-determined what options were considered in a given context," the report notes – a bias which can result in other options being dismissed or poorly
examined. To counter this bias and "level the playing field" for all options, the WCD established criteria and guidelines that ensure that available alternatives, their relevant
consequences and uncertainties are given full consideration. The report urges that "a multi-criteria assessment was used to screen and select preferred options from the full
range of identified alternatives." As recommended by the WCD, the options assessment would give social and environmental concerns equal weight to technical and economic
concerns. The Epupa planning process suffers from both of these problems. The project clearly enjoyed government favoritism, and its feasibility study vastly downplayed other
energy options such as solar, wind, gas and energy efficiency. Costs for these options were overstated by a wide margin, thus making them look untenable. (For a review of
the Epupa alternatives analysis, see Since that time, costs for many of hese options have gone down even further, and wind power – the world's fastest growing energy technology – is now highly competitive under good wind conditions.