Promoting Transparency and Dialogue About Dams in Mozambique

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A gathering of Mozambican civil society and government officials, African dam-affected communities, and international development experts came together in Maputo, Mozambique, from November 19-21, 2007, to discuss issues arising from the development of large dams in Africa, how to apply the lessons learned from these past dam projects to improve energy planning in Mozambique, and to address ways forward on the controversial US$2.5bn Mphanda Nkuwa project now being prioritized by the Mozambique government.

Lessons Learned

Findings and recommendations from African NGO presentations at the workshop (An extract from the report)

Summarized by JA! Justiça Ambiental

“It is developing countries that can least afford to make the mistakes of the developed world.” Kader Asmal, Chair of World Commission on Dams

The following are the key lessons learned from Africa’s dam legacy that we believe should guide further development of all large dams in Mozambique, including Mphanda Nkuwa.

Lessons Learned: Social Impacts

  • Communities who are resettled or impacted by downstream changes to a river have consistently been left poorer by Africa’s dam development, yet have not shared in the benefits such projects bring. Therefore, benefit-sharing needs to be guaranteed to affected communities.
  • Top-down resettlement planning has almost universally failed to restore people’s lives. Communities in the areas to be affected by planned dams should be involved at the earliest stages of planning to ensure comprehensive options assessments, avoid conflicts, and promote equitable pro-poor and context relevant energy and water development.
  • Once livelihoods have been diminished or destroyed, it is very difficult to restore them. Successful resettlement and income restoration processes can only happen with comprehensive and early involvement of affected communities. Virtually all resettlement programs for large dams in Africa have failed to prevent further impoverishment of affected communities. A two-way dialogue is critical for ensuring that those who stand to lose the most to the development of dams end up being beneficiaries of these projects
  • Mozambique should follow the example of Maguga Dam in Swaziland, which is one of the few projects in Africa where resettled people say they are content with the resettlement and development program they experienced. Communities there were empowered to negotiate their own resettlement package, which included programs for benefits sharing, an independent dispute resolution mechanism, good schools and clinics in the new communities, irrigation for farms in the new areas, and training programs. Communities were allowed to design and build their own houses, and help pick their resettlement site.

N.B.: At the meeting, some government officials made statements to the effect that there was no need for further dialogue at this time, that it is difficult to engage with affected communities, that Mozambique would not repeat the mistakes of past dams in Africa, and other comments. The conference organizers welcomed government participation from the floor, even though they were sometimes in direct contradiction to the evidence being presented and seemed to imply that Mozambique’s energy planners did not agree that there were lessons to be learned from the evidence being presented. We believe such comments back up our argument that Mozambique needs a multi-stakeholder dialogue sooner rather than later, and greater transparency in general on the issue of planning dams.

Lessons Learned: The development of energy projects must be balanced to account for diverse development needs in Mozambique.

Energy development in Mozambique is now heavily weighted toward exports and the growth of energy-intensive industries. This approach is not meeting the needs of our majority population, nor is the nation truly benefiting in a direct fashion from energy development.

  • We risk falling victim to the “resource curse” that has afflicted so many other African nations that rely too heavily on exporting their natural wealth. The resource curse can result in a risk of increased internal conflict, missed opportunities for sustainable job creation, corruption, the perpetuation of unjust and inequitable distribution of the benefits and costs of development.
  • To avoid this resource-curse approach, Mozambique needs to find a better balance between large-scale grid energy development and decentralized electrification programs for rural development. Pro-poor energy planning that helps Mozambique meet the Millennium Development Goals should be prioritized. Large-scale grid projects should first prioritize meeting national needs.

Mozambique should reject the extractive, exploitive, irresponsible model of development now on offer from China, and work with China to undertake more sustainable, forward-thinking development projects.

There is a growing record of African dam projects built by China on which standards for mitigating environmental and social problems have taken a back seat to economic factors. China has supported repressive and authoritarian governments that violate the human rights of their citizens, as exemplified by Sudan. Benefits of these dams are even lower than most as China employs only its own labor force in the construction of the dam.

China’s own standard for resettlement on dams is higher than what it uses internationally.
China is prioritizing development projects within its own borders that are better suited to meeting Mozambique’s own needs. China has extensive programs for trickle-up rural development that came before its emphasis on industrialization. China also has a growing emphasis on renewable energy manufacturing and installation that has raised the capacity of its own energy sector, created a large number of jobs, and is leading to a more sustainable energy supply.

Solar PV power, solar thermal, biogas digesters, micro- and small-hydro are just a few examples of renewables being widely developed by China that Mozambique could be exploiting. Bringing universal solar power to all Mozambicans now without electricity would be cheaper than building Mphanda Nkuwa.

The Mozambique government should actively seek development cooperation with China that emphasizes the types of decentralized, sustainable energy development projects that China itself is now prioritizing.

Lesson Learned: Environmental costs need to be taken into account and plans for resolving them prioritized and included in project budgets.

Environmental costs have rarely been accounted for on African dam projects, leaving a legacy of costly problems for which there is no funding to resolve them. The example of the Zambezi alone is very troubling:

Management of the existing dams on the Zambezi to maximize electricity generation has resulted in major changes to downstream flow regimes that have caused significant impacts to delta ecosystems, including by allowing saltwater intrusion and decreasing available water to these systems.

Downstream ecosystems receive reduced sediment flows, which negatively impacts river flora and fauna such as fish, prawns, and riparian plants.

The reduction in riparian plant life contributes to increasing erosion of the river banks. Downstream changes in river flows, flood regimes and sediment loads have disrupted people’s ability to continue river agriculture, decreased fish catches, and often made river transportation itself more difficult.

The huge costs associated with these changes to the river have not been accounted for by planners now considering new dams, nor compensated for by past dam developers.

Therefore, environmental and social ‘externalities’ need to become ‘internalities’ – key components of the analysis for development projects that are given the same weight as economic concerns.

Planning for river basin development should consider the entire river basin for adequate integrated water resources management and should involve local stakeholders at all stages of this planning so the decisions are not made solely by regional and international policy institutions (i.e. SADC). This is important for managing equitable distribution of costs and benefits.

Spain has adopted new, participatory water planning process that promotes a more decentralized, sustainable model for water resources rather than more large dams. We should try to learn the lessons of creating a “new water culture” such as Spain is attempting to do.

Lesson Learned: Climate change will alter southern African rivers and therefore dams’ viability, and must be taken into account.

Mozambique should take climate change into account in all energy planning and project development. Climate change is expected to severely alter the hydrology of Mozambique’s rivers, bringing both more unpredictable floods and droughts. The nation should prioritize as a matter of urgency climate change adaptation measures in the energy and water sectors and for flood management. Key steps include the following:

Like most SADC nations, Mozambique is now overly dependent on hydropower for its electricity supply. We must immediately take steps to diversify the energy supply to reduce the economic risks of hydropower dependency. The risks of continued hydropower dependency in the face of climate change include increasing economic, environmental and social costs, decreasing benefits, and increasing risk of potential disasters.

All proposed energy and water projects must be independently evaluated for their ability to help Mozambique better adapt to a changing climate and more erratic, less predictable hydrology.
Priority should be given to renewable energy solutions and energy efficiency measures that help spread energy development to areas not currently electrified, while also providing insurance against climate change.

Large dams, especially hydropower dams, are not a viable solution for flood control in a time of changing climate. Non-engineered solutions to flood management should be prioritized, such as improved warning systems and disaster-response planning for communities downstream of dams, operating plans for dam management that ensure enough room is left in reservoirs to store annual floods during the rainy season, restoring wetlands, and other “soft-path” solutions to managing floods.

All dams are becoming increasingly dangerous in a changing climate. Dam safety evaluations should become increasingly stringent and regular, and further analysis undertaken to understand the potential impacts of dam breaks from existing dams, and to develop emergency plans for downstream areas.

Projects that improve the ability of ecosystems and communities that depend on them to withstand the impacts of a changing climate should be prioritized. One example we support is the re-operation of Cahora Bassa Dam to provide an annual flood at the beginning of the rainy season. Experts believe this can be accomplished with no cost in lost hydropower, and with major benefits to the Zambezi Delta, which has been badly damaged by upstream dams. This also improves the ability of the dam to store floods for the rest of the rainy season.

Lesson Learned: An open, transparent process for planning large dams (or any project with significant social and environmental impacts) is critical for project success.

Large dams across Africa have almost universally had significant and persistent social, environmental and economic costs. Mozambique cannot afford to repeat these mistakes. One key element that can help reduce the impacts of the development of future large dams is to open up the planning process to include civil society and affected communities. A multi-stakeholder dialogue at the national level, involving equal and empowered representation from all stakeholders, would be a good first step toward resolving differences, analyzing problems, and suggesting ways forward.

Multi-stakeholder processes are key, but to be genuine and effective, they must:

  • Be inclusive
  • Be transparent
  • Be accountable to the public
  • Consider all aspects of the project, not just economic aspects, but social and environmental costs
  • Be set up at the very beginning of the process, not at end
  • Help build relationships between stakeholders

The process for planning Mphanda Nkuwa should be more transparent and more participatory. The current closed-door approach could result in a repeat of the problems of the past, and a project that in the end is a development failure. Specific recommendations to address this problem include the following:

  • Immediately begin including affected communities in the planning process. The Mozambique authorities planning the dam project must develop and implement, with cooperation from affected communities and civil society, a plan for bringing affected communities to the table on the Mphanda Nkuwa project.
  • Decision-making on the project must be based on a complete analysis of all key issues, and a transparent process of information sharing. The project authorities must now publicly release all available information and studies on the project. Critical information that is still lacking – such as sedimentation studies, seismic analysis, and economic justification for the project – should be undertaken without delay.
  • Corruption is a serious problem on large dams. Protections such as those recommended by the WCD and Transparency International should be put in place to ensure corruption does not influence the process of planning and building Mphanda Nkuwa and future large dams in Mozambique. Greater transparency based on principals such as “publish what you pay” should also be put in place for large development projects such as Mphanda Nkuwa.
  • Before Mphanda Nkuwa moves forward, the problems from past dams should be addressed. This includes moving forward with the plan to restore more natural flows from Cahora Bassa, and establishing a multi-stakeholder process to address other impacts still outstanding from the dam’s construction on downstream communities, industries and ecosystems.