Deals that keep large dam building fair

The Global Water Initiative (GWI) West Africa has released a new animation explaining how agreements between government and affected communities can be put in place to ensure large dams bring benefits to all.

News, 13 July 2017
Global Water Initiative – West Africa
The Global Water Initiative sought to improve global food security by enabling farmers to better access, manage and use water resources for sustainable agricultural production

Dam building has caused controversy when local communities, whose lives have been uprooted to make way for the dam, have not received the livelihood opportunities, compensation and/or services promised to them by politicians.

Better roads and water supplies, secure irrigated land, reservoirs for fishing, schools, clinics and markets are among the benefits that dams can provide for local people. 

But the past has shown that during the negotiations before dam construction, politicians often overestimate how much local people will gain from the dam while downplaying the disadvantages. Promises that are subsequently unmet lead to aggrieved communities, giving rise to tensions between the state and displaced people.

The video, 'Negotiating fair agreements between government and communities affected by dams', explains how formal agreements can be used, as required by the ECOWAS Directive on Large Water Infrastructure, to put the arrangements in writing before construction. This ensures the state clarifies its commitments and affected people can better understand their stake in the project.

By making promises clear and binding, politicians are less likely to exaggerate the benefits a dam will bring. At the same time, local people can draw on the agreement as a way of holding the government to account.

"This animation gives policymakers a quick and simple overview of how agreements can be set up to keep large dam building fair for communities whose lives are disrupted," said Jérôme Koundouno, regional coordinator of the Global Water Initiative (GWI) West Africa at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

"These deals – whether legal documents or agreements of mutual understanding – encourage governments to be realistic about benefits for local people and provide a mechanism for engaging communities in discussions around the economic growth, access to resources and livelihood opportunities the dam will bring.

"They help maintain healthy relations between local communities and the other parties involved in the dam project – government, investors and donors – preventing cases of social unrest and intergenerational frustration seen in past resettlement programmes.” 

The series of three animations is produced by the GWI action-research and advocacy project. They are available in English and in French (en français), with English/French subtitles. Choose one of the three versions above or on IIED's YouTube channel. There is also the facility to access further captions in French and English by clicking on the settings icon within each video.

GWI works with family farmers and governments to shape policies and practices that support livelihoods and food security in the context of large multi-purpose dams. It helps communities and governments learn from past experience to improve dam planning, benefit sharing and resettlement practices. GWI is financed by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and implemented by IIED and IUCN.