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Renaissance Dam Ethiopia - community engagement and livelihoods

The joint statement yesterday released by the US and World Bank about agreement being reached between the Governments of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan for the operation and filling of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam is good news in that it probably averts ‘war over water’. The draft agreement focuses on the speed of filling the dam and water management during periods of drought. The potential for commodity swaps (‘power for petrol’) seems to be inferred under ‘regional benefits’ and hopefully this will follow. Despite the inevitable catastrophic environmental and social impact, if an outcome of this dam is lasting peace, regional prosperity and stability in this corner of Africa with regional self reliance and ownership of its natural resources, then maybe it might be worth it.

Experience however in the USA (who also made a dash for energy some years ago) is that ultimately dams are not a sustainable solution. They can cost more to remove and remediate than they make across their operating life and the impacts on communities can be devastating; a decline in local culture, loss of sense of community, loss of livelihoods, increase in local conflicts and drug abuse). (Some of the issues can be seen at

Not withstanding the severe and complex environmental impacts of a dam, this intra government agreement is ultimately at risk of failure unless very real, meaningful discussions have been held and are maintained with impacted communities. A very detailed understanding of land use and livelihoods is required and a plan must be in place to ensure communities benefit from and therefore learn to value the dam. If revenue generated disappears overseas, these benefits are lost and trouble surely lies ahead.

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