Blog / 23 October 2009

Economics vs. man and the environment in the Pearl of Africa

Economics vs. man and the environment in the Pearl of Africa

I was off to Uganda with Michel, as "the Pearl of Africa" was about to start losing its lustre. The government was building a large dam in the Nile, just above Lake Victoria, to generate electricity. Uganda suffers from chronic power shortage, which forces the government to blackout parts of the country daily. The situation is far from being ideal, especially for entrepreneurs, and the building of the dam was planned to give the economy a boost, and provide an additional 250 megawatts, according to the government's calculations.

Once we'd arrived in Uganda and were on our way to the dam, it became clear just how diametrically opposite to man and environment Uganda's economic interests had become. Our guide Robbert, from NAPE (National Association of Professional Environmentalists) an environmental organisation, explained that the impact on the population in the area is huge, "people who lived in the fertile area have been displaced to dry ground deeper into the interior. Women need to walk much further for water and firewood and the barren land offers less sustenance." In addition to these new circumstances, the residents also have to deal with climate change, which causes delayed and reduced rainfall.

The dam's adverse effects are taken for granted by the government, because the dam will be profitable. But the change in climate also seems to threaten the dam's production capabilities. "The absolute maximum we come to in our calculations is a production of 160 megawatts," says Robbert, "but it will probably be less." A recent study of water levels in Lake Victoria, which supplies the dam with water, appears to confirm the problem. "The lake's water level is now more than one meter below the 10 year average. Clearly, this dam should never have been allowed," Robbert emphasises.

We drive to the famous Bujagali Falls, which will disappear due to the dam, and descend along the banks of the Nile. Hundreds of boys, girls, women and men have gathered at the falls, to watch. Or, as Robbert says: "To pay their last respects." He points to the grass along the river, with a strip of exposed river stones underneath. "The water used to go up to there, but you can see that it has dropped by 20 centimetres already," the result of climate change, according to Robbert. Together we enjoy the water views and watch some kayakers being swept along by the flow.

On the way to the hotel, Michel and I realise that a complex story awaits us in the coming days. What is the impact of climate change on humans, the environment and the dam? What is the economic importance of the project? What is the impact of the dam on the people who live in the area? Can the project indeed be a catalyst for economic development and would it therefore be worth the investment? The filming was yet to begin, however it was clear to me that here in Uganda climate change is no longer an abstract concept but an everyday reality.


Posted by Thomas Hurkxkens, Lokaalmondiaal



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