COMMUNITY CONSULTATIONS

Engaging in focus group discussion
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Engaging in focus group discussion

Development of rivers for hydropower has conventionally come at a high cost in terms of riverine livelihoods and ecosystems. The Akosombo dam, which was completed in 1965, formed Lake Volta, the largest man-made water storage reservoir in Africa and the world. Despite the huge national benefits, the Akosombo and Kpong dams have impacted on the livelihoods of the downstream communities and the physical ecosystem processes on which they depend, resulting in i) a reduction in floodplain agriculture; ii) explosion in the growth of exotic weeds, iii) increase in the snail vectors for the debilitating bilharzia, iv) the formation of a permanent sandbar at the estuary and v) near collapse of the shell fish industry. The overall effect of the loss of agriculture, clam picking, and other fishing activities is increased poverty and a dramatic shift in income generating activities.

The long-term goal of the project “Reoptimisation and Reoperation Study of Akosombo and Kpong Dams” led by the Water Resources Commission (WRC) is to contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction through improvement of downstream ecosystem functions and restoration of food systems and livelihoods by re-operating the Akosombo and Kpong dams.

The Centre for African Wetlands (CAW) was contracted to lead in the consultations with the downstream communities and report back to the WRC. The specific objectives of the community consultations were to  provide a platform  to  create awareness  of the project, manage the expectations of the downstream communities, provide feedback on the project on current downstream issues and seek the consent of the communities on the project.

A total of 426 community members from 87 communities participated in eight consultative meetings of the downstream communities. These were made up of 326 males and 114 females constituting 73% males and 27% females respectively. The consultative meetings were held between 2nd May 2013 and 1st August 2013. Following the stakeholder consultative meetings, a rapid response survey was carried out, with the aim of finding out if, on the basis of the discussions held participants still wanted the project to continue. This was based on a simple questionnaire designed to elicit responses on participants’ perception of the project. A total of 151 people responded to the questionnaire.

The key issues and concerns raised by the communities included the following:

  • Unpredictable Flooding;
  • Loss of natural floodplains;
  • Growth of aquatic weeds which also causes vegetation decay, fish kills and impede smooth flow of river;
  • Fishing industry adversely affected;
  • Reduction in Onchocerciasis ( River blindness); Increase in Bilharzias;
  • Increase in nutrient content of the river as a result of discharge of waste; Increased salinization;
  • No more sand to filter the water;
  • Reduced yield from farmlands;
  • Reduction in rainfall due to loss of tree covers;
  • Development of sand bars and dunes;
  • Widened gender disparities

The results of the Rapid Response Survey showed  that  although  respondents  had  some reservation regarding the project, they overwhelmingly want the project to come on. Further, respondents would do everything to ensure the success of the project as long as the project would be beneficial to the community. Indeed, 73.5% of respondents agreed strongly that the project will be beneficial to the community.

The findings from the consultative meetings showed clearly that following the damming of the River Volta, livelihood, health, and environment had been affected resulting in poverty of the downstream communities.

Suggestions  to  alleviate poverty in  the study area  provided  by participants  included  the following:

  • Removal of the sandbar at the estuary;
  • Dredging of the creeks and the lagoons;
  • Weed harvesters required to harvest the aquatic weeds that have infested the rivers; Provision of irrigation as a temporally measure to alleviate farmers’ suffering; Institution of an early warning systems to ensure that communities are warned way in advance (3 weeks before opening of spill gates to avert possible disaster; preferably this should be done during the day);
  • Establishment of data collection stations at vantage points; Promotion of cage farming;
  • Provision of credit facilities to the communities; Resettlement schemes for affected communities;
  • Strengthening of communication and information flow.

A number of the issues of concern expressed by the communities were beyond the scope of what the reoperation and re-optimization project seeks to achieve. Also, some of the issues and concerns of the communities would impact on the sustainability of community livelihoods. It is recommended that a comprehensive development strategy should be developed to solve the serious problems of poverty and other social problems facing the communities. Re- optimization should only be part of an overall strategy targeted at poverty reduction and sustainable livelihoods  of the communities of the Lower Volta.  The  communities raised several concerns in relation to the reoperation project. The consultative meeting showed that to the extent that the project would solve the problems of inequality, poverty, disease, and loss of livelihood in the areas the communities whole heartedly welcomed the project. Indeed the Rapid Response Survey (RRS) carried out showed overwhelming support for the project by the communities.

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Engaging in focus group discussion

Engaging in focus group discussions

Engaging in focus group discussion

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Engaging in focus group discussion

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