October 06, 2015
All things being normal, in about 15 months from now construction works will start on the Pwalugu Multi-purpose Dam (PMD) on the White Volta River, a tributary of the Volta that passes through Pwalugu along the Tamale – Bolgatanga highway in the Upper East Region. The Volta River Authority (VRA) is the implementing agency of the dam, for which preparatory work is steadily progressing. And as it was with the construction of its two sister dams – Akosombo and Bui, communities around the catchment area are in a high state of expectancy that includes a possibility of a “new and better” way of life.
This is the feeling one gets from reading the brochure on the project, the components of which comprises boosting the country’s energy supply; developing the irrigation potential of the area to support regional and national agricultural productivity; and enhancing the area’s fisheries industry.
It is worthy of note that 50 years on after Akosombo, some communities are yet to realise their expectation of even getting light. Bui also has its own issues with community members as they struggle to adjust to the changes it has brought to their lives. Fortunately, these two, provide vital lessons to be captured into the construction of the PMD.
WISE UP’s Views on the PMD
Various initiatives such as the WISE UP to Climate partnership is working towards ensuring that the PMD will not just serve its intended purposes, but will additionally enhance the integrity of the ecosystem utilised, and ensure that it continues to provide the services on which the people are dependent.
Furthermore, such physical facilities built on natural ecosystems, should equip and position riparian communities to adapt to climate change, which as the experts say “will get worse and worse.”
The partnership’s position on the development of any physical infrastructure such as a dam in a water basin like the Volta is that it should eventually result in a “multifunctional climate resilient balanced facility within a basin.” That is an ecosystem whose functioning is enhanced, and is supporting and enriching the socio-cultural and economic lives of dependent communities.
Model of a Multifunctional Climate Resilient Balanced Water Basin
Findings of preliminary studies in relation to the planned PMD conducted by the WISE UP to Climate partnership indicate several levels of challenges. First of all, the existing climate induced challenges such as delayed on-set of rains and floods that affect harvests, and secondly, the operation of the Bagre dam in Burkina Faso that results in increase base flows and unregulated spills causing floods and damage. The findings suggest that once the Pwalugu dam is constructed, these challenges could be addressed through harnessing the increased base flows for irrigation, flood mitigation and flood recession farming.
The understanding is that the flow of water should not be curtailed in any way by the construction of the dam. This is because, sustained natural flow is an essential requirement for the generation of ecosystem services that support both the effectiveness of the infrastructure built on it, and the livelihood of the riparian communities. But according to members of the partnership, “this will only happen dependent on the dam’s operation decisions.”
Some Issues Raised at Recent Meeting
These issues were discussed at length by members of WISE UP to Climate partnership from Ghana and Burkina Faso at a recent meeting in Accra. Among other things, the discussions raised some bothersome questions – Will the appropriate trade-offs be done to ensure balance once the construction is completed? Has the expected efficiency of the dam been defined? And if ecosystems are destroyed during the construction, how will they be accounted for in relation to political gains?
The Director of the Water Research Institute (WRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr. Joseph Ampofo; a lecturer of the University of Ouagadougou, Professor Dogola Eraristec; and the President of Green Cross in Burkina Faso, Ousseini Diall, stressed the need for the construction to have a holistic view and take into account all considerations. In their view, once this happens, “PWD will bring about a win-win situation that will benefit people at the local level and the countries at the national level.”
The Executive Director of the Volta Basin Authority (VBA), Dr. Charles Biney, was hopeful of the PMD creating a transparent trans-boundary governance system for a vibrant Volta basin. He said, “the discussions at this point are critical since it is possible to pioneer the ideas generated for other river basins in the Sub-region.”
Romanus Gyang of CARE International Ghana said since the construction is still in its preparatory stages, “there is need to generate reliable data such as climate information to feed into the decision making process, for proper projections to made about how the lives of the people will be affected and the options that will be available for them.”
A lecturer with the Department of Planning, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Kumasi, Dr. Ronald Adamtey who is a research partner in WISE UP urged VRA not to be just interested in generating energy from the PWD. “VRA,” he said, “should also be interested in maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem, since the dam’s sustainability will depend on a healthy ecosystem.”
About WISE UP to Climate
WISE-UP is the acronym for Water Infrastructure Solutions from Ecosystem Services underpinning Climate Resilient Policies and Programmes. It is a global partnership involving the Water Research Institute (WRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSRI) in Ghana; the African Collaborative Centre for Earth System Sciences (ACCESS) of the University of Nairobi, Kenya; and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). Others are the UK Overseas Development Institute (ODI); the University of Manchester; the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
This partnership has brought together a wide variety of expertise including resource scientists, engineers, computer modellers, governance and political economists, water managers and climate change specialists. WISE-UP is being funded by the International Climate Initiative (ITI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).
WISE UP to Climate is working in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Kenya over a four year period – to demonstrate that natural ecosystems or infrastructure are nature based solutions for climate change adaptation and sustainable development. The essence of the demonstration is that without healthy ecosystems in well-functioning watersheds, the infrastructure built for irrigation, hydropower or water supply may not function sustainably, let alone achieve the economic returns necessary to justify investments made.
(The writer is an environment, climate change and science journalist. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)