In June, I wrote about courageous colleagues from Niger who came to the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington to sound the alarm over some 60,000 people at risk of being displaced by the Kandadji Dam’s reservoir. The $1 billion Kandadji project, designed to generate 130 MW of power and expand irrigation in one of the world’s least developed countries, has faced persistent delays and taken a significant human toll on those impacted during the project’s first phase.
Soon after the visit, the World Bank threatened to suspend its $250 million loan for the project unless the government agreed to lower the proposed dam height to reduce the number of people impacted. The Niger government has reportedly agreed to this condition, but with an important caveat: It intends to build the dam to its original proposed height – the height the World Bank objected to because of its enormous impacts – once the World Bank loan has concluded.
This would be the worst of both worlds: The World Bank would continue to fund the project but wash its hands of the impacts as tens of thousands of people are displaced, and communities are denied critical protections offered by World Bank involvement.
In the meantime, the World Bank has agreed that communities displaced by the lower dam height, conservatively estimated at 16,000, would be relocated far from the reservoir in anticipation of the expected dam height increase, in what is likely inhospitable terrain subject to encroaching desertification. The Bank is poised to accept these terms on the basis of guarantees from the government that sufficient arable land will be made available – a repetition of past mistakes that got the Bank embroiled in this mess in the first place.
The Kandadji Dam exemplifies the lessons not learned from the World Bank’s love affair with dams – an affection that fortunately appears to be waning. It’s time for the World Bank to own up to its mistakes and cancel its support for the failed Kandadji scheme, and work with the government to identify real solutions to Niger’s persistent energy and food security challenges.