National Association of Professional Environmentalists – NAPE,
And Member of the Board, Nile Basin Society
O. Box 2099, Kampala
Tel: 256 – 41 – 534453 / 077 – 425 270
Member NAPE / SBC Joint Task Committee on Bujagali Dam & Deputy Coordinator SBC
Paper Presented at the 3rd World
Water Forum, Kyoto,
Environmental advocacy has become a crucial and critical instrument in forging not only environmental sanity in decision making in water and energy use and management, but also in the implementation of access to human rights (substantive and procedural) in the Nile Basin.
NAPE / SBC has contributed significantly to
the evolution and raising the role of environmental advocacy in the Nile Basin with special emphasis on the proposed
Bujagali Dam Project in
It has not been smooth sailing. There have been ups and downs. However, NAPE / SBC can now boast that the contribution made has significantly raised environmental and social awareness of the dangers of unquestioning commitment to huge dams and hydropower by these means. The issue of alternatives is now a critical challenge in the Nile Basin which can not be just wished away.
It is now possible to use environmental (public interest) litigation and judicial activism as critical avenues in the implementation and questioning of pertinent legislation and policies as well as test public, Government and Corporate commitment to the goal of sustainable development in the Nile Basin.
We have reached a stage where the role of civil society in decision-making can no longer be dismissed as an “unnecessary inconvenience” in environment and development dynamics. The rise in significance of environmental advocacy has revealed that true development is not “development business” but environmental development in which the public and government are equal partners whose responsibilities, obligations and duties should never conflict but complement each other.
Therefore, animosity and suspicions would seem to be unnecessary road locks to a joint action in sustainable development and survival. Ultimately the role of government is not to think for the people but with the people, and to act as a facilitator and trustee in resource use and management. Failure to pursue the value of what has been achieved so far can only spell catastrophe in the long term. Together we rise or sink. The future dictates that there is great need for local, regional and international NGOs to continue networking in the improvement of environmental advocacy. This is in the light of new phenomena and ideas such as NEPAD, Nile Basin Initiative, Nile Basin Discourse, and WTA all of which singly or collectively can have dire consequences in the Nile Basin.
Bujagali is one of the world’s magnificent waterfalls and is situated along the River Nile some 10km from the source of River Nile. The Uganda Government has contracted AES Nile Power to construct a 250 MW hydropower dam. The proposed site of the dam is Dumbbell Island, 2.5 km below the Bujagali Falls. An embankment 30 metre high will be erected. This, however, is likely to lead to flooding. The back flow will, therefore, submerge the falls, the Island and a big area of cultivable/settled land along the riverbank. Government approved the project. Before and immediately after this approval, the affected communities in the project area were forced to migrate or to resettle elsewhere. Inadequate compensation, amongst other concerns remained a thorny issue.
The National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) together with Save Bujagali Crusade (SBC) got involved in the Bujagali Hydro power dam dynamics as early as 1999. This was after the developer (Investor), AES Nile Power (then known as Nile Independent Power), had completed the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for this project. A few copies of the report were produced and placed in selected places that were not accessible to all the stakeholders. Moreover the report was too bulky and technically difficult to be interpreted by the local communities and others in the 30 days of its display. NAPE/SBC took steps to learn more about the history of the project, the developer, the contract process, the quality of the EIA and the implications of implementing this project.
The report never adequately addressed issues on the environmental, socio-economic and cultural aspects of the project. Moreover the report was too bulky and technically difficult to be interpreted by the affected communities and others in the decreed 30-day period. This prompted the intervention of NAPE / SBC to ensure that the developer effectively addresses all the above issues. Later NAPE/SBC sought to establish the extent to which the project met the World Commission on Dams guidelines and the World Bank safeguard policies.
The Bujagali Hydropower project set as its objectives:
In spite of all this, NAPE/SBC decided to carefully scrutinise the project EIA. Many economic, social, cultural and environmental issues of concern emerged. These were either not addressed at all or received inadequate coverage. For example, the issue of resettlement was initially ignored on the pretext that most of the dam-affected people had migrated from elsewhere where they had land and, therefore, would go back if displaced by the project. Tourism was downplayed. The spiritual and cultural importance of the site was judged as insignificant in the dynamics of hydropower development. NAPE/SBC’s intervention was organised along the following critical themes:
a) Cost and Benefits
The costs and benefits of the project
were superficially addressed. The claim that the dam project would avail electric
power to the rural poor in the country was baseless, given that many people
could not even afford installing power to their mud and wattle/grass thatched
houses that dominate the rural landscape in
Although viable alternatives to huge dams and hydropower exist, these were not proposed in the study.
No considerations were given to possibilities of constructing smaller dams that would be socio-culturally acceptable and have less devastating impacts on the environment. Also fuel wood, which is the poor man’s energy source and is likely to remain so for many decades to come, was totally ignored.
b) EIA for Transmission Lines
The EIA for the Bujagali hydro dam did not include the assessment of the impacts of the transmission lines. As a result a true picture of the damage to the environment was not projected.
c) Destruction of Habitat For Fish & Birds
The Islands in the vicinity of Bujagali Falls were found to provide breeding sites and refuges for a number of bird species. Also there were rare species of fish in this part of the river, whose survival from the predator Nile Perch had been enhanced by environmental factors here. One fish species (……..) thought to have become extinct in the early 20th Century was recently established to have its niche in the Bujagali Falls. The mitigation measures for the loss of this habitat as spelled out in the EIA were not satisfactory.
Bujagali Falls is a big tourist attraction to both local and foreign tourists. A programme to develop the site into a tourist attraction would not only prevent the destruction of the environment but would also earn the country and the local communities much needed income. Already the falls have been identified as the third best for white water rafting in the world. The EIA treated tourism as a non-issue.
e) Cultural Sites
Bujagali Falls is a cultural site (spiritual) for the communities around the proposed project. The site hosts shrines and other important cultural regalia. The construction of the dam would flood the whole area including the site where the shrine is located. The EIA never gave this aspect the attention it deserved, and just suggested for relocation. The spiritual norms of the communities along the project area believe that it is the spirits that possess the people and not the reverse. Secondly, it is the spirits that choose where to reside, and whom to possess. The issue of relocation is not therefore possible, as consultations made with them concluded.
f) Neglect of Other Sources of Energy
Only 5% of the
There is, however, great potential for alternative sources of energy such as solar, wind and geothermal. These alternative sources were not given due consideration.
NAPE / SBC and its partners are organising for a Geothermal workshop in April 2003, that would address the question of alternatives to huge dams. Studies so far done indicate that the geothermal reserves in Uganda can generate up to 450MW of energy, at a much lower cost than the 250Mw of Bujagali falls.
g) Cumulative Effects of a Cascade of Dams
Bujagali Power dam sited just a few kilometres from two other large dams: the Owen Falls Dam (Kiira dam) and the Owen Extension Dam (Nalubale). Nalubale is only a kilometre from Kiira. NAPE sought assurance, based on research what the cumulative effect of the dams would be. It should be emphasised that EIAs were not done for Kiira and Nalubale.
h) Lack of Public Participation in the Project
There was no real public participation in the project formulation and design. The view of NAPE has always been that what appeared to be public participation was actually engineered to rubber-stamp the project and, therefore, gives the impression that it had people’s mandate. Moreover, most of the NGOs that were alleged to have been consulted are unknown to the Environmental NGOs Lobby Group (ENG-LOG) (whose chair NAPE holds). The public was not clearly informed of the true impacts of the dam (e.g. the issues of resettlements and compensation were not adequately addressed).
i) Refusal to Consider Other Sites
NAPE/SBC failed to understand the logic behind putting the focus only on Bujagali site, even though there are other sites identified in the Uganda Energy Master Plan funded by the World Bank.
Environmental advocacy is a new tool in the Nile River riparian countries, with the potential to ensure that environmentally conscious legislation is enacted and implemented. Also such advocacy can be instrumental in ensuring that rights of access to a clean, safe and healthy environments as well as procedural rights are adhered to.
NAPE / SBC can boast of a success story in the area of environmental advocacy in respect of the crusade against the construction of Bujagali dam. It was possible in a very short time for NAPE/SBC to build a formidable coalition of international and local NGOs to ensure that no stone is unturned by doing the following:
i. Court Injunction
NAPE took AES Nile Power to court. This was because AES Nile Power wanted the Uganda Parliament to approve the project before the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) reviewed the EIA. AES Nile Power had effectively mobilised the local government executives in the project area and gathered local support to influence the approval before the public hearing. This was against the laws of the land. So NAPE applied for an injunction in the High Court to stop Parliament from approving the project. Although the injunction was not openly granted, the court told Parliament and NEMA that it was against the law to sign the agreement before EIA was approved.
ii. Advocating for electricity Law
Under the old legislation, the government parastatal, Uganda Electricity Board (UEB), was the only company mandated to generate and distribute electricity throughout the country. This monopoly led to a lot of inefficiencies and corruption in the body.
NAPE/SBC tried to influence the content and form of legislation (i.e. Electricity Bill) to make it all embracing of alternatives to hydropower and huge dams.
By the way, it is this legislation that also sought to break the monopoly of UEB into three companies: Uganda Electricity Generation Company, Uganda Electricity Distribution Company and Uganda Electricity Regulatory Authority.
Affordability is still contentious. However much power generated, if the tariffs are not adjusted downwards for the benefit of the rural communities, people will still keep depleting our forests to meet their energy needs.
iii. Dialogue with World Bank
Bujagali dam process, with all its diverse discrepancies, has generated diversity of opinions and perception at the local, national and international levels. The media (local and international) has highly played a great influenced in the process of either advocating for or against the project. It has also informed local, national and international community about the pros and cons of the project.
Having failed to get dialogue with AES Nile power and the Government of Uganda, we sought for redress from the World Bank Inspection Panel. We also petitioned the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman. Both agreed separately that our fears and concerns were justified.
iv. Information disclosure
A coalition of Uganda environmental NGOs and “Green Watch (U) Ltd”, taking a cue from Article 41(1) of the Uganda Constitution 1995, took the Government of Uganda to court to compel it release the power purchase agreement (PPA) for public scrutiny. The Article says:
“Every citizen has a right of access to information in the possession of the State or any other organ or agency of the State except where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security or the sovereignty of the State or interfere with the right to privacy.”
Government had originally claimed that the PPA was a classified document and if released to the public would compromise the interests of the developer. Pressed further, Government asserted that the PPA did not exist at all. However, the High Court Judge, Justice Egonda Ntende, ruled thus: “In the result I declare that the implementation agreement and the power purchase agreement are public documents”.
As far as organised civil society
is concerned, the court declaration was a landmark achievement in our struggle
to ensure the full participation of the public in environmental decision making
in the water and energy sectors as well as other sectors of the economy towards
sustainable environment and development. It also marked the beginning of
critical judicial environmental activism and environmental (public interest
litigation in the water and energy sectors in
This review indicates that we have reached a stage where the role of civil society in decision-making can no longer be dismissed as an “unnecessary inconvenience in environment and development dynamics”. True development is not “development business” but environmental development in which the public and government are equal partners whose responsibilities, obligations and duties should never conflict but complement each other. Therefore, animosity and suspicions would seem to be unnecessary road locks to joint action in sustainable development and survival. Ultimately the role of government is not to think for the people but with the people, and to act as a facilitator and trustee in resource use and management.
Failure to pursue the value of what has been achieved so far can only spell catastrophe in the long term. Together we rise or sink. The future dictates that there is great need for local, regional and international NGOs to continue networking in the improvement of environmental advocacy. This is in the light of new phenomena and ideas such as NEPAD, Nile Basin Initiative, Nile Basin Discourse, and WTA all of which singly or collectively can have dire consequences in the Nile Basin.