Isimba Dam

Promoting advocacy against damming the White Nile in Uganda
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There’s no denying the need for energy
– But Isimba Dam’s drawbacks outweigh its benefits

Thousands of homes.
Hundreds of Jobs
10-20 more megawatts

Speak Out

THE PROBLEM

Ugandans who benefit from the rafting and tourism industry nearly lost their livelihoods in 2011 when the Bujagali Hydroelectric Project was completed, burying half of the Nile’s famous rapids in its reservoir. Fortunately, the companies were able to relocate downstream and continue their businesses. Following the construction and a public uproar from the local people, in 2007 the Ugandan Government signed a non-development agreement with the IDA/World Bank called the Kalagala Offset Indemnity Agreement to protect the area for its cultural significance and tourism value.

Despite the agreement, the World Bank and its affiliates were quiet as the Ugandan government accepted a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China and contracted China International Water and Electric Corporation to build the Isimba Power Station. Three dam heights were proposed; the largest, which would generate an estimated 183 MW will create a devastating reservoir to the people and economy of the Victoria Nile. The smallest, which would generate an estimated 170 MW–only 13 MW less–would spare most of the rapids and homes in its path.

While there is no denying the need for more power generation in Uganda, the Isimba Dam discussion bypasses the compromise that the local people are striving for.

THE BACKGROUND

Uganda is pushing hard to develop from one of the world’s poorest countries into a middle income country. As of 2014, 85% of Ugandans lack a connection to the electrical grid in a country of 37.78 million. A key aspect of country development is power generation.

Uganda is helped in their development by a division of the World Bank called the International Development Association (IDA), which provides grants and interest-free loans (called credits) to the world’s poorest countries. As part of their program to provide a majority of Ugandans with affordable power, the Ugandan government has devised a hydropower scheme with at least 5 large scale dam/hydropower locations. There are several major hydro projects already completed. Along the White Nile River, one hydro project became fully operational in 2012: the Bujagali Dam. This dam produces 250 megawatts and created an 8km reservior. The Bujagali Dam reservoir covered a series of large white water rapids of international fame and which were considered one of Uganda’s major tourism attractions.

Local business who were impacted by the loss in tourism and the Ugandans who viewed the lost rapids and waterfalls as a loss of a culturally significant area protested the project. As a response, the Ugandan government worked with the IDA/World bank to create an agreement known as the Kalagala Offset Indemnity Agreement. Importantly, this agreement clearly defines an area of river downstream of the Bujagali dam as protected from flooding from future hydro projects.

Specifically, section 3.06 of the Indemnity Agreement states that:

“the Government of Uganda “shall set aside the Kalagala Falls Site exclusively to protect its natural habitat and environmental and spiritual values in conformity with sound social and environmental standards acceptable to the Association. Any tourism development at the Kalagala Falls Site will be carried out only in a manner acceptable to the Association and in accordance with the aforementioned standards. Uganda also agrees that it will not develop power generation that could adversely affect the ability to maintain the above-stated protection at the Kalagala Falls Site without the prior agreement of the Association. In addition, GOU undertakes to conserve through a sustainable management program and budget mutually agreed by the Government and the Association (no later than expiration of the prevailing sustainable management program or such later date as the Association may agree), the present ecosystem of the Mabira Central Forest Reserve, as well as the Kalagala Central Forest Reserve and the Nile Bank Central Forest Reserve on the banks of Kalagala Falls (as such Reserves are included within the Kalagala Falls Site).”

With little consultation to people in the area, a new hydro project began to be constructed in 2013 known as the Isimba Hydropower Project (HPP). In the initial stages of the engineering, there were three heights to the dam wall with three corresponding reservoir sizes suggested. The smallest of the dam walls and reservoirs would flood an area upstream of the dam but finish before reaching the river area protected by the Indemnity agreement. The two larger dam walls and reservoirs would flood a large area of river under the protection of the agreement. The government argued that the Isimba Dam built to the largest power generating scale would be expected to generate 1,039GWh of electricity a year and increase the country’s total electric capacity by 23%. Considered to be the fourth biggest hydropower project in Uganda, the Isimba HPP is expected to generate hydroelectric power at 68 cents per kWh, the lowest in East Africa. However, it would mean breaking the agreement of protecting the Kalagala river area and flooding the majority of the remaining rapids on the river. After accepting a loan of $485.2 million from the The Export–Import (EXIM) Bank of China, construction was rapidly begun on the Isimba Dam project with an expectation the wall would be built to the highest specifications.

The breaking of the Kalagala Indemnity Agreement has significant consequences for the people of the area. The river to be flooded has the last remaining rapids of international acclaim in Uganda; rapids which draw large numbers of tourists every year. An estimated 50,000 people participate in adventure activities each year around Jinja, many of them engaging in some kind of ecotourism or adventure tourism within the river area under the protection of the Indemnity Agreement. Tourism is a large part of the Ugandan economy, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council 2014 Uganda Economic Impact Report, tourism was responsible for 3.3% of the country’s GDP. A loss of tourism business in the Jinja/Kalgala area will affect both primary and secondary business, as well as a projected drop in tourism across the country as visitors.

The flood plane of the Isimba HPP at its largest scale would also significantly affect the area in other ways. It would displace over 2,000 Ugandans who are primarily subsistence farmers. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Ugandans who live around the project are and downstream rely on the river for their drinking and washing. Large dam reservoirs, in this instance 28km of reservoir, are known for impacting the water quality of the river and can increase the propagation of water borne diseases, furthering the diseases crippling Uganda’s growth.

 

WHAT CAN BE DONE

It would be unfair to say that all dams are inherently bad. Power is important for commerce and development. However, Isimba falls into the bad dam category due to its low generation capacity and its disproportionately large reservoir. The dam is situated in a flat river plain, creating no natural barrier for the reservoir water to be contained. This creates a large, shallow reservoir, to provide enough potential energy to create electricity. Additionally, the dam’s reservoir vastly increases in square kilometers as the dam rises a mere meters. This is however, the silver lining.

The Ugandan government has proposed three dam heights: 1043m above sea level, 1048m, and 1055m. These three heights will create different amounts of electricity, but vastly different sized reservoirs, the highest being the most damaging. 

In our advocacy, all we are asking is for the World Bank to make the Ugandan government and Chinese developers compromise with the people of Uganda to reduce the dam’s height to a reasonable level that would protect jobs in the tourism industry, and homes within the floodplain. 

Though the World Bank is not directly involved in the Isimba HPP, not only are they one of the few geopolitical entities that have the power to make change, but also the responsibility to uphold their promises to the Ugandan people. Please join us in asking the World Bank to uphold their promise by submitting the petition below, and help us spread the word. 

Media


Juma of Itanda

by Tommy Penick

ONE – Protect the White Nile

by Polly Green/Flair Films

A Dam Lie

by Jake Holland

  • Read The Petition

    Though advocacy in foreign countries is difficult, through the influence of the World Bank, we can help push the dam to a smaller size. Use this easy form to send an email to your World Bank representative.

  • To whom it may concern,

    I am deeply concerned about the Isimba Dam, which is currently under construction on the White Nile River in Uganda. The completed height of the dam wall has yet to be decided. This decision, while creating a minimal difference in power generation, will have a tremendous impact on the lives of local Ugandans. The Isimba Dam is scheduled to be completed in 2016 with a finished height that will violate an agreement the Ugandan Government signed with the World Bank in 2007. I urge the World Bank to hold the Ugandan Government accountable in their pledge to conserve the area and push the Ugandan Government to build the Isimba Dam to a level which provides power generation without flooding a stretch of river that has significant cultural and economic value.

    The world class rapids of Uganda’s White Nile have been a major boon to the country’s economy, drawing tourists from around the world who want to experience the Nile’s legendary white water rafting. The growing commerce of the region has allowed locals improved access to education and health; vital in Uganda’s push to become a middle income country by 2040. Further, the rapids are seen as culturally significant and possessing spiritual value to the local people.

    Construction of a Hydro Station upriver from the Isimba Dam, the Bujagali Dam, flooded a significant portion of the White Nile’s rapids in 2012 and was a blow to the economic health of the region. Outrage from concerned Ugandan citizens over the flooding prompted the Ugandan Government to sign a non-development agreement with the World Bank in 2007 called the Kalagala Offset Indemnity Agreement. This was a pledge to protect a 25 kilometer section of river from further flooding due to new dams as an acknowledgement of the continued value of the river and the rapids. The agreement is now being ignored and without a change of course, the current dam will be built to the highest possible level and flood almost the entire 25 kilometer stretch of protected river, displacing many people and turning the rapids which drive the economy into a lake.

    This situation can have a positive outcome. If the dam wall was built at the lowest level projected by the engineers, the Isimba Dam would provide power generation while preserving the homes and jobs of thousands. If completed with the lowest wall height, the Isimba Hydroelectric Station would generate an estimated 170 MW and spare most of the homes and rapids from flooding. If completed as anticipated, the taller dam will allow the power station to produce only an additional 13 megawatts of power, while flooding almost the entire protected stretch of river and all the homes along the densely populated banks.
    I am writing today to request that you do all which is in your power to convince the Ugandan government to honor their agreement with the World Bank. By completing the Isimba dam wall at a lower height than currently planned, Uganda can improve as a nation through power generation and continue to benefit from the economic stimulus of tourism. Please fight to prevent the loss of a culturally and economically significant area.

    Sincerely,

  • Sign The Petition

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