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IRN’s Africa Campaigns
The Senqu River, near the site of the second dam for the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
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Our work in Africa strives to promote sound energy and water developments based on social justice, equitable sharing of benefits and costs, and environmental sustainability; and river-development planning processes that ensure participation by local communities in decisions that affect their lives. We work with grassroots groups across Africa committed to these concepts.

Although Africa’s great rivers are considered "under-dammed" by global standards, the continent’s large dams (more than 1,270 at last count) have consistently been built at the expense of rural communities, who have sacrificed their lands and livelihoods to them yet reaped few benefits. Africa’s dams have done considerable social, environmental and economic damage, often with complete disregard for the human rights of dam-affected communities, and have left a trail of "development-induced poverty" in their wake. More dams are being planned every year. Dam proponents long to develop Africa’s huge hydropower potential, but projects routinely overlook the social costs to local communities, economic costs to river-based livelihoods and human health, and environmental costs to river ecology. In addition, climate change is expected to increase extremes of drought and flooding, with the result that Africa’s already highly variable climate and hydrology will be even more difficult to predict, making hydropower even more risky and water resources even more precious.

The high social costs of large dams is particularly evident on the huge Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), with two dams complete and more to come. Our work on the LHWP has highlighted the great costs that dam-affected people often pay, while others reap the benefits. Another case of an unfair allocation of risks and benefits was the proposed Epupa Dam on the Kunene River in Namibia; there, IRN joined forces with local grassroots groups and Himba tribal people to reveal flaws with the project’s EIA, and the huge environmental, economic and social impacts that project would bring. Epupa has been stalled for years, and now Namibia is exploring better alternatives to meet its energy needs.

Better alternatives were also dismissed without a proper assessment on the overpriced Bujagali Dam, proposed for the Nile in Uganda. Local NGOs there have managed to launch a national dialogue on geothermal energy as an alternative to Bujagali, as well as the need for more transparent planning processes for large dams, as recommended by the World Commission on Dams.

Our work on the Nile also includes efforts to bring greater public participation and exploration of alternatives to the Nile Basin Initiative, a multinational planning effort with support from the World Bank that proposes multiple large dams in the region. At the project level, we are working with a group representing dam-affected people to monitor the development of Merowe Dam, the first dam on the mainstem of the Nile in Sudan.

In Mozambique, NGOs have been actively raising awareness with local communities about the potential impacts on their lives from a third large dam proposed for the Zambezi, the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam, which would be built downstream of Cahora Bassa and Kariba dams, whose cumulative impacts have devastated communities and ecosystems downstream and remain unaddressed. Groups there continue to press for a WCD process to open up river-basin planning to civil society.

We hope you will explore these pages for more information about the work going on across Africa to protect its rivers and those who depend upon them.


latest additions

Overview of Chinese Dam Building in Africa
Chinese corporations, financial institutions, and the Chinese government are showing an increasing interest in large dam projects in Africa. Civil society and dam-affected peoples’ movements are concerned that China’s own poor record on protecting human rights and the environment could mean trouble for African rivers now targeted for Chinese-built large dams. This short overview covers key dam projects that have drawn China’s interest.
Bujagali Dam Does Not Comply with World Commission on Dams Report
IRN analyzed the Bujagali Hydroelectric Project’s compliance with the decision-making framework of the World Commission on Dams. The project will need to comply with the WCD framework if the developer intends to sell carbon credits to the European market. The analysis shows that the project fails to fully comply with most of the strategic priorities outlined in the WCD report. Read the full report (PDF).
World Rivers Review: Special Focus on Africa (PDF)
World Rivers Review  
The August 2006 issue of IRN’s bimonthly magazine looks at the challenges and opportunities facing Africa’s rivers - from climate change, to a legacy of social and environmental harm caused by past dams, to balancing development needs with the need for healthy rivers and other natural support systems upon which so many Africans directly depend. Articles on renewable energy solutions and specific projects round out the bill.