The Need for community consultations on investment programs on the Nile: Case of the Merowe Dam- Sudan
Published: 06 February 2018
Recent news has indicated that some material has been imported to strengthen the body of the Merowe Dam. The Merowe Dam, also known as the Hamdab Dam, is a large dam near Merowe Town in northern Sudan, about 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Khartoum and 40 kilometres (25 miles) downstream from the construction site at Hamdab.
The Dam’s dimension makes it the largest contemporary hydropower project in Africa. It is situated on the River Nile, close to the 4th Cataract where the River divides into multiple smaller branches with large islands in between.
The main purpose for building the dam was the generation of electricity. Before the construction began, an estimated 55,000 to 70,000 people lived in the area covered by the reservoir lake were expropriated. They lived in small farming villages along the banks of the Nile and on the islands in the cataract. Their main activity was growing beans, millet, and vegetables for both consumption and trading.
The expropriated inhabitants received plots of land relative in size to their former possessions, in addition to financial compensation for lost assets—houses and date palms. However, a majority preferred to stay as near to their old grounds as possible at the shores of the new lake. Many families have defied resettlement and live now on the margins of the lake.
While there is still controversy on the dam, it should be noted that it has many implications on the life and development of the community. The challenge is that the Government of Sudan is planning to establish a number of new dams on the Nile without proper consultation with the communities. In most of the proposed areas, the communities have publicly rejected the establishment of dams in their areas based on the negative experience of the Merowe dam.
However, there are several national, regional and international CSOs and networks that can assist in advocating for the rights of the local communities to choose the suitable development path that does not have a negative impact on their homelands, heritage and livelihoods. This would help the government to accommodate the populations’ views.
While recognizing the developmental role of dams, there is a need to establish more effective guidelines and consultation processes at a basin level. This can ensure that positive impacts are accentuated and negative impacts mitigated, including the establishment of more transparent and consultative impact assessments.
The Nile Basin Discourse (NBD) and Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) would work together to establish such a process. There should be guidelines that will provide advice and direction on engaging civil society and local communities in dams’ development processes. This should take place from the conception of all proposed projects.