Dear Editor, The editorial in your January 2002 issue, on the Bujagali dam in Uganda, asserts: ‘Former World Commission on Dams insiders state that the International Rivers Network is dishonest when suggesting the project is not consistent with WCD recommendations.’ We would like to respond to this.
Our concerns about the project with regards to the WCD do not seem duplicitous to us; below is a summary of our major points.
Alternatives to hydro were not given a fair hearing. Although geothermal appears a cheaper and more appropriate alternative for Uganda, it was summarily dismissed by the hydro power consultants who did the project’s ‘alternatives’ study. The notes from the World Bank board meeting at which the project was discussed show that even one of the Bank’s executive directors believes the geothermal option was a serious alternative to a hydro project but that this had been considered too late in the process. He argued that the outcome might have been different if it had been given the same attention from the outset.
The WCD is clear that project risks ‘must be identified, articulated and addressed explicitly’. Yet the key document that lays out Bujagali’s risks – the power purchase agreement – has been kept secret. The opinion that the PPA should have been made public is shared by Ugandan and international NGOs, the International Finance Corporation’s ombudsman’s office, some World Bank executive directors and others. A Dutch government team that reviewed the Bujagali EIA stated: ‘The lack of information in the EIA related to costs [and] the power purchase agreement … are seen as a serious omission in the justification of the project.’
The WCD states: ‘In countries where a large proportion of the population does not have access to basic services, a key parameter should be the extent to which basic human needs will be met.’
The Bujagali project is not likely to produce positive developmental impacts for the poor, and in fact will make electricity prices rise dramatically. In addition to the high cost of electricity, most Ugandans are not on the grid and cannot afford the steep connection fees. The notes from the World Bank board meeting state that some executive directors pointed out that overly optimistic growth and power demand projections could cause the project to become an economic burden for Uganda. Another argued that a slight decrease in demand of 3-4% could lead to a situation where the power sector would face problems with debt service.
We believe the WCD’s recommendations offer an excellent framework for ensuring this project does not do more harm than good. It is our honest opinion that the project is not consistent with these recommendations.
Director, Africa Programme
International Rivers Network
Berkeley, California, US