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Sudan Dam Draws Fresh Fears of Social Unrest

5/5/2005 9:47am

Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON, May 4 (IPS) - One of Africa's largest dams, now under
construction in Sudan, carries a hefty price for the environment and
threatens intensified social unrest, project critics say.

The Merowe/Hamadab Dam Project, a 1.5-billion-dollar effort on the
cataract of the Nile River, would double the country's energy capacity
in the process would displace more than 50,000 people, mainly small
living along the river, they say.

A group representing local groups warned that the project also would
destroy archeological sites in the area, where early human and African
civilisations evolved and ruled from the Nile Valley to Palestine.

Spearheading local opposition to the massive construction project is the

Leadership Office of the Hamadab Dam Affected People (LOAHP), a
non-governmental organisation that says it represents local communities.

The project betrays a ''development policy that misuses natural
and causes huge destruction to both human and environment, in pursuance
a mirage of short term economic gains,'' A. Askouri, the group's
told IPS. He declined to provide his first name.

Project planning has been secretive and people who will be directly
affected have not had their voices heard, Askouri, a former official in
Sudan's water and irrigation ministry, said in an e-mail interview from

''If we ignore those issues today, generations in the very near future
find it imperative to go to war due to fatal and unnecessary mistakes
committed by these short-sighted politicians,'' he added. ''The project
not sustainable, and it stands completely against all guidelines adopted
the United Nations and other world organisations working in the field of

water and environment.''

Locals do not stand completely opposed to the project, however. Rather,
they have sought a break postponement to allow for public consultation
to satisfy them that the project's likely environmental and social
have been thoroughly investigated.

They also have urged that communities undergoing resettled be preserved,

not broken up, in the process of resettlement. None of these demands has

been met so far, according to Askouri.

The U.S.-based International Rivers Network (IRN) and British-based
House, in a report released earlier this month, said the project,
about 350 kilometres north of the capital, Khartoum, already had
10,000 people from fertile land along the Nile to the Nubian Desert
the land is barren with little groundwater supply.

The 15-page report, based on field trips in February and March, said
soils at the resettlement site are so poor that the farmers cannot sell
their paltry produce on the market, fuelling anger and clashes with

''The re-settlers were promised free services such as water,
and fertilisers for a two-year transition period but are being cheated
of most of these services,'' the report said.

Environmentalists and aid groups long have said that, while intended to
boost development, the construction of large dams such as
instead has lead to further impoverishment and degraded environments in
many parts of the world.

''In Sudan, large infrastructure projects, pipelines and agricultural
schemes have in the past created a serious social and ethnic tensions
fueled conflicts that turned into major humanitarian disasters,'' said
Peter Bosshard of IRN.

In November 2000, the World Commission on Dams, established by the World

Bank and The World Conservation Union to assess the merits of the
hydro-electric facilities, released a highly critical report saying that

dams had generated less power, irrigated less land, and supplied less
drinking water than projected.

The Sudan project, first proposed by British occupation authorities in
early 20th century, will result in a 174-kilometre-long reservoir
some 12,450 million cubic metres of water, or 20 percent of the
annual water flow. The dam itself will rise to a height of about 65
and stretch for 9.2 kilometres, according to builders' plans.

Germany's Lahmeyer International is carrying out the engineering and
project management and the Swiss unit of French-based conglomerate
is in charge of the electro-mechanical works. Officials from both
were not available for comment.

Chinese construction companies including China International Water and
Electric Corporation also are involved, along with local Sudanese
specialising in civil works, according to project documents from
Work is scheduled for completion by the end of 2008.

Arab financial institutions, including the Abu Dhabi Fund for
the Saudi Fund for Development, and The Arab Fund for Economic and
Development, are providing 700 million dollars in project financing,
according to Lahmeyer.

More than 300 million dollars is coming from The Export-Import Bank of
China, which is backed by several Western commercial banks. Sudan's
government is covering the remaining 500 million dollars, Lahmeyer said.

The project is drawing fresh interest from groups like IRN as it follows
the heels of pledges by international donors of some 4.5 billion dollars
support for reconstruction and development in war-blighted Sudan over
next three years. These pledges in turn have triggered expectations that

new infrastructure investment also will follow, especially in the key
electricity sector.

''The Merowe/Hamadab Dam is a test case of whether the basic rights of
affected people and the environment will be safeguarded in such
investments,'' said Bosshard. ''The generous international support for
Sudan's reconstruction is welcome, but donors must ensure that social
environmental standards are respected in the process.'' (END/2005)

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