World Bank apprehensive of Isimba Power dam
As the Government of Uganda officially flags off the construction of the 185 megawatt Isimba hydropower project, the World Bank is raising a red flag that by proceeding with the construction –and using the current designs- the government could be deliberately violating terms of an agreement made in 2007 on keeping the integrity of the biodiversity of Kalagala falls, thereby compromising known environmental concerns.
In what could turn out into another fight between the Bretton Woods Institution and the Government of Uganda over a power dam construction, the World Bank has threatened to invoke a clause in the agreement that enjoins the Government of Uganda to protect the Kalagala falls and surrounding areas.
The clause in the agreement that the World Bank is taking recourse to-Clause 3.06 of the 2007 Indemnity Agreement on the construction of Bujagali Hyrdo Power between the Government of Uganda and the World Bank dam- reads in part, “…. Uganda also agrees that it will not develop power generation that could adversely affect the ability to maintain the above-stated protection at the Kalagala Falls Site without the prior agreement of the Association.”
It further adds, “In addition, GOU (government of Uganda) undertakes to conserve through a sustainable management program and budget mutually agreed by the Government and the Association … the present ecosystem of the Mabira Central Forest Reserve, as well as the Kalagala Central Forest Reserve and the Nile Bank Central Forest Reserve on the banks of Kalagala Falls…”
In 2001, the Government of Uganda fought protracted battles with environmentalists regarding the construction of the Bujagali hydropower dam, a few kilometres downstream from the current Kira and Nalubale dams on River Nile in Jinja. The World Bank led the crusade to hold the Government feet down to environmental standards. As a result the project witnessed false starts that eventually led to the delays in the works, let alone disruptions in funding sources and contracting. The dam was eventually completed in 2012, after nearly 10 years since the initial efforts to construct it.
Then as now, the World Bank is saying environmental considerations must be paramount to any development efforts: “Sustainable development depends on protecting the environment and the global community must do more to manage the world’s diminishing natural resources. This is central to realizing the World Bank’s goals of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.”
But the Government may have forgotten so soon.“Since last year the Bank has reiterated its concerns with the Government that the Isimba Project, if constructed and operated in accordance with its proposed design, could potentially adversely impact the Kalagala Falls Site. The Government (of Uganda) has confirmed in writing that it is committed to finalizing an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment for the Isimba Project in consultation with the Bank and in line with international standards for addressing impacts on the Kalagala Falls Site. The Government of Uganda also reassured the Bank that it will “not take action that would have an impact on the Kalagala Falls Offset” until they have reached agreement with the World Bank to ensure that the agreed objectives of the Indemnity Agreement are complied with,” The World Bank says in a statement.
But the government doesn’t seem to have met its side of the bargain.
The statement issued by the Bank’s senior communication officer, Heather Worley on July 15th (2015), says, Bank is currently evaluating the impacts of the proposed Isimba Hydropower Project in line with the 2007 Indemnity Agreement signed between the two parties and it will not hesitate to enforce the letter of the agreement.
The World Bank claims the Indemnity Agreement set aside the Kalagala Falls site to ensure the protection of the natural habitat, environmental, and spiritual values associated with the Falls– principles to which the World Bank remains committed.
Over the last few years President Yoweri Museveni has berated the World Bank for interfering and eventually causing delays with the construction of the Bujagali Power dam. The President has always blamed the World Bank for power shortages that the country suffers, saying the Bank stood on the way of country’s power dam construction in the late 1990s.
A few days ago President Museveni officially launched the construction works of the dam, expected to be completed in 2018. At the launch the president also announced that the funding for the project is now available as the Exim Bank of China has committed to finance 85 per cent of the project, while Government of Uganda finances the remaining 15 per cent.
Observers say the Isimba dam project could pan out a typical case of the West (Bretton Woods) institution vs China case. Western institutions and government have always blamed Chinese funding to African projects as lacking in standards and especially ignoring environmental conservation. In the Isimba dam project, we see a case of the World Bank using a read-my-lips style of stating just that. The Chinese on the other hand are promising to deliver the job on time; according to budget to provide Uganda with electricity it so badly needs for her development- the Chinese well known script.