News / 22 August 2022

Complaint to development banks about the Nachtigal dam in Cameroon

Both ENDS partner IFI Synergy has filed a complaint to the World Bank on behalf of local inhabitants about the Nachtigal dam in Cameroon. The dam is causing considerable problems for local communities and local people feel that the compensation they receive is inadequate. They also feel that they were insufficiently informed and consulted before construction of the dam started.

The Nachtigal dam, the biggest in central Africa, is being built in the Sanaga, Cameroon's largest river. The project is being funded by loans from international financial institutions like the World Bank, the European Investment Bank (EIB), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank FMO. Construction began in 2018 and will be completed in 2023.

Energy from hydroelectric power: not clean and not fair

Although hydroelectric power is cleaner than fossil energy, large dams often have considerable social and environmental impacts in the local area. This is also true in the case of the Nachtigal dam. Firstly, the dam makes use of the reservoir of the nearby Lom Pangar dam, which dates from 2017 and which regulates the water level in the Sanaga. A large area of rainforest was cut down for this reservoir. Much organic sediment has collected on its bed and dead wood still floats on its surface, causing the reservoir to emit large quantities of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. This shows that dams are by no means climate neutral.

For the Nachtigal dam itself, several hundred hectares of forest were cut down. This forest supplied food and income for local residents and was a source of food for fish and other life in and alongside the river. Artisanal sand miners, fishermen and fishmongers have seen their incomes fall since the arrival of the dam. The promise of employment generated by the construction of the dam was not fulfilled, because cheap labour was used from other areas within Cameroon and abroad. The large influx of men also led to a greater risk of sexual violence against women. In addition, the inhabitants of local villages report that the number of mosquitoes has increased since the forest was cut down and diseases such as malaria and onchocerciasis (river blindness) are more prevalent.

Complaint to financial institutions

Our Cameroonian partner IFI Synergy has consequently filed a complaint on behalf of the inhabitants of the villages of Nachtigal, Mebassa, Olembe, Ndji and Ndokoa to the accountability mechanism of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank Group, to the World Bank's Inspection Panel, and to the AfDB's Compliance Review and Mediation Unit (BCRM). The complaint is co-signed by the chiefs of a number of local villages, each with their own ethnicity, and by representatives of traditional sandmen, fishermen and fishmongers.

The complaint refers to the failure to honour promises and agreements relating to compensation, the re-training of affected vocational groups, employment and the prevention of disease. In addition, there were no publicly announced consultation meetings before construction of the dam started, and the census held to determine who was eligible for compensation was not performed correctly.

Both ENDS supported IFI Synergy in preparing this complaint by sharing our knowledge of the social and environmental policies of the International Financial Institutions and bringing them into contact with the complaints mechanisms at the various IFIs.

Improved living conditions

IFI Synergy, an alliance of organisations that previously protested against the construction of the Lom Pangar dam, is now working on improving the economic position and living conditions of the people living in the area around the Nachtigal dam. They want their safety and health to be better protected, and the planting of new forests to compensate for CO2 emissions and improve the living environment.

They are doing this in tense political circumstances. The company constructing the dam is using soldiers to deny local people access to the project area and the river. And people have experienced intimidation at consultation meetings and while the current complaints procedures are being taking place.

IFI Synergy and the local residents hope that their complaint will ultimately lead to the investors in the dam taking their social responsibility and pursuing their own social and environmental policies in the implementation of this and other projects.

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