Environmental Justice in Water Management

OddajMilan Malej, dne 2018-11-07 ob 22:29:32

Environmental Justice in Water Management




Slovenian abstract


Okoljska pravičnost pri upravljanju z vodami


Ta članek je objavljen v zvezi s študijem 5 tedenskega tečaja okoljske pravičnosti pri University of East England. Obravnava probleme pri gradnji velikih jezov, predvsem razseljenosti prvotnega prebivalstva s poplavljenih področij, izgubo rodovitne zemlje vzdolž naravnih rečnih tokov ter še precej posledičnih socialnih in ekoloških problemov.





Because more than half cases of water management is connected with damming rivers, and because some of them I have already researched myself, I will devote to these problems.


For analyze I took three big African dams, an older one Akosombo in Ghana and two under construction in Ethiopia, Gilgel Gibe III and Grand Renaissance. For some comparison the South American Yaciareta will serve.


My research included the efficiency of energy production and final indication – number of kWh, produced annually per one square meter of the accumulation lake surface. This showed, how much life the dams have destroyed in particular cases. The lowland power plants with shallow and big lakes show very bad efficiency, from some tenths up to around 10 kWh/m2. Those with deeper lakes or more constant river flows achieve from some 10 up to 150 kWh/m2. But this is still much worse, comparing with solar power technologies, especially mirror power plants… From this viewpoint I will discuss also the selected dams, because we will see the legitimacy of displacements of affected people and losing the quality agriculture land along rivers.


Besides data from Environment Justice Atlas I reviewed also some other sources, Wikipedia too. It seems that it gives enough balanced views and facts between advocates of these projects (government and project circles) and opponents (activists, environmental groups, organized indigenous and affected inhabitants). The claims of environmentalists will be supported with some calculated numbers.



Akosombo Dam (Ghana)


The Akosombo dam created an extremely large lowland Lake Volta, with surface of 8.500 km2. It is one of the largest on the world and the largest among the reviewed. But in the same time it creates relatively little amount of energy, even if estimated to third of maximal power. This ranged it with 0,4 kWh/m2 very near to the worse projected hydro power plant, Brazilian Balbina (0,2 kWh/m2).


There were 80.000 indigenous inhabitants of flooded area displaced, who never got equal land for further farming and other compensation for lost homes. Namely the land along natural rivers is much more fertile because the river with regular seasonal floods brings enough water and organic material, which maintain the life in this land. All these people lost their traditional ways of survival, agriculture and fishing. In the neighborhood of originated lake the land is essentially poorer and dry and growing of sufficient food on the same surfaces is impossible. The population in displaced villages reduced, the poverty and migrations in big cities increased, the criminal and prostitution appeared… Among displaced people numerous new diseases appeared, in the first place AIDS, of which victims are mostly the women.


In the lake neighborhood with irrigation the intensive industrial agriculture has been developed. The leaking of fertilizers in the lake caused growth of invasive water and coastal weeds, which creates good conditions for insect multiplication and health problems of many people, including malaria. These problems increase also because of decreasing immunity, because of losing traditional ways of population nutrition.


Decision for dam construction appeared 60 years ago, on the base of seemingly much larger benefit for the country (because of possible exploitation of natural bauxite, aluminum production, and covering needs of growing economy and population upon energy) from affection of displaced farmers. The government didn't lead any dialog with them. Recognition of circumstances neglected and ignored many possible consequences, which later did for affected population, for the state itself and for ecosystems in wider region much more damage. In the aluminum production invested foreign companies. Now the domestic bauxite is not exploited any more and the raw materials are imported. All dirtiness stays in country, but the profits leak to the west. The result of single-side (and probably corrupted) procedure is extremely unfair distribution of water and consequent profits, and on the other side also extremely unfair distribution of burdens from this project to the poorest part of population.



Gilgel Gibe III Dam (Ethiopia)


It is much different hydro power plant with high dam, deep and the smallest, 210 km2 big accumulation lake. This gives at foreseen average 40 % of maximal energy production still a middle efficiency of 31 kwh/m2. A part of water from lake is possibly indeed reserved for irrigation.


The goal of energetic and agriculture project is strengthening of state economy, eradication of poverty and of dependence on international help with food. Foreseen are artificial flooding and irrigation, but is not possible to overlook the plans for 4.500 km2 big plantations of cotton and sugar cane, probably for export to India.


In the area of dam and down to the River Omo stream to the lake Turkana in Kenya, more than half million of inhabitants depend on traditional agriculture and fishing, connected with natural river flows and water quantities. The environmental organizations warn to the numerous violations of human rights and high risks to all ecosystems in lower river flow and near it, because of constant flow and absence of natural floods.


  • Decreasing water populations and possible fishing,
  • Ecological degradation of river delta at discharging in the lake,
  • Destroying most of riverline forest, woodland and marshes, dependent on floods,
  • Cessation of agriculture condition on this land,
  • The Omo valley is placed in the Unicef world's heritage,
  • Erosion of riverbanks and loss of agriculture land,
  • Losses of water in accumulation lake for more than 50 % because of cracks in basalt crust,
  • The high waters during floods are important for maintaining of underground water levels on the entire region of river. Their lowering will have negative influences to ecosystems and population.
  • USGS estimates high risk of strong earthquakes because of lake weight to the floor and landslides into the lake.


The army has already massacred several ten indigenous inhabitants, who didn't want to leave the area of the reservoir.


Damming and irrigation will have big influence to the lake Turkana and inhabitants around it. They foresee the drop of its level for 10 meters and increasing salinity for 50 %, what will reduce the life in the lake very much. The lake doesn't have other influxes and with constant smaller influx it is sentenced to drying out. 300.000 people there is existentially endangered, but in the entire region, which is already now poor with the food, about 700.000 to starvation.


The lake is losing with evaporation annually 2,3 m of water and this counts on 6.400 km2 of its surface 14,7 km3 of water. Exactly this is also the capacity of dam reservoir and that means the entire annual river water flow.


At foreseen energy production this means operating with average power of 730 MW. At average 200 meters water height above turbines, at least (not considering machinery efficiency) 360 ton of water through turbines are needed each second. That will be annually 11,4 km3 of water, respectively 78% of reservoir capacity or annual river throughput.


If really half of the water will be lost through cracks in the floor and the plant will use other half for energy production, already the energy production will be cut off for half of expected and nothing will be left for irrigation and for artificial floods. Even if less water will be lost in reservoir (including that evaporation) or plant will produce only half, and a quarter of the entire river inflow will be used for irrigation, the lake Turkana will get only half of the natural water. That means more than 1 m lowering of its surface each year. In first years of filling accumulation even much more, and essentially more than the official forecasts are.


In cases of building dams probably consents between governments and affected people cannot exist. All dams, except maybe those in high mountains, mean destruction of living space of human and nature and influence catastrophically to the ecosystems from the dam forward. The accumulations chase inhabitants to other land and demand other ways of surviving in different environment and in conflicts with those residents and animals. Also the constant river flows downstream dams demand from people different agriculture and take off animals the nutrition and reproduction space. Besides direct drying riverside flora they cause consequential dying out of many dependent species.


The consents could be in form of smaller dams as they are already productive Gilgel Gibe I and Gilgel Gibe  II. Such spread energy production (for the county only) keeps much of the natural river flows. The high waters must be let through. It is questionable, how faster the smaller lakes will be filled with silt, but floods will probably leave much of this material on the riverside surfaces.


The activists obviously succeeded to negotiate only the artificial floods, but according to the upper calculation they are questionable, too.


The case shows, how the corrupted African government, administration and involved companies don't resign of the profitable promises (of energy and GM crops exports), even not at much larger threatening to almost million of people. Only the larger international pressure would help and resigning of other countries to the benefits of energy (Kenya) and agriculture (India) to limit the project only to the benefits inside the entire domestic society.


We again came to the inexistent international rules, which would assure the protection of local and regional population and nature against the state or international exploitation of their sources.



Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)


The biggest African dam and hydro power plant is being built just before of exiting Blue Nile from Ethiopia. Some 10 kilometers downstream there is much smaller, but still big Sudan dam Rossiere. The goal is obviously again big export of energy. But it will influence also to all downstream Nile power plants and to flooding and irrigation possibilities. In case of dry periods it can become with keeping water the strategic weapon and source of conflicts with neighbor countries.


According to the energy production and water possibilities, the dam and plant are 3 times too big and too strong. Operating at average Nile flow it should rely to this water in flooding and intermediate periods, but for overcoming dry periods only half or even less accumulation, filled from floods would suffice. To big reservoir will demand relocation of 20.000 people, who depend on traditional agriculture and fishing.


It seems only that downstream it will not have big influence to the environment, because soon starts the accumulation of Rossiere, which already had to destroy its own… But it can also act positively with preventing silt sedimentation in all following dams…


Environmentally the 1875 km2 large lake with capacity of 74 km3 of water will cause not regular periods of floods, draughts and landslides into the lake. The lake will destroy the fertile land in the valley and chase the people into the higher and dry parts of the region.


Rossiere is 20 times weaker power plant with lake capacity of 15 % of entire annual flow of Blue Nile. This means that it has to leave through most of the water and therefore doesn't influence a lot to the flooding cycles. So the downstream flow will be defined by GERD.


At annual operation with maximal power, GERD would produce 53.000 GWh of energy. Actually foreseen 16.200 GWh represent exactly 30 %. So in average will be also the plant power only 30 % of maximal, therefore 1850 MW.


Blue Nile has the average flow (seems at point of the GERD) of 1.548 m3/s. We get annual quantity of water 49 km3. The accumulation suffices therefore for year and half of the river flow.


Let's try to estimate here, how much water this foreseen energy production will consume. The height of useful water level above turbines is between 83 and 133 meters. Its potential energy at 100 m gives us the necessary mass of 1.850 tons in a second, what is more than average river flow, and at 120 m we get 1540 tons, what is equal to the average flow. Therefore we can estimate that all water will be used for production of electricity. Leaving water out of dam for controlled floods will probably not exist and irrigation will be not possible from the lake. All promises are only misleading to the displaced inhabitants and of this river dependent in Sudan and Egypt. Discharging accumulation will happen only in case of full lake and simultaneous high waters before the lake and this is usually uncontrolled and forced for safety of the dam itself, not taking care for other.


The dam will spill then really only average flow of the river and downstream water level will be stable. Further power plants will have assured sufficient (and too big) water quantities and a lot of it will have to be passed by. Flooding regeneration of riverside land will seemingly disappear, unless they use their accumulations to charge and discharge at once, causing then the artificial flooding in appropriate time. But do they have enough capacities for such operation??


But it will be also in dry periods enough water available for irrigation and this can lead to other problem – to introduction of too large industrial (GM seeded) agriculture surfaces, to too large water evaporation from these surfaces, to leaking large quantities of agriculture poisons and fertilizers back to the river, what can be destroying for the entire water life in the Nile and indigenous traditional fishing. The consequences can be much worse as only for the locally displaced population.


We can look to this possible situation in sense of water scarcity and inequity. Probably the needed and sufficient water quantities for all population in the fertile Nile valley will change, through inequity for small farmers against intruding agriculture corporations and acquiring their rights to capture water for yearlong irrigation, into the big scarcity of water for most of the population along the river.



Yaciareta (Argentina, Paraguay)


Displaced were 40.000 people, but the dam and lake still haven’t reached the planned capacity. There was no compensation given to evicted people. Now after decades they intend to finish the capacity, but new as many as 80.000 people are endangered. They promise to repair damages done in the past and plan new displacements.


The power plant has been known to be one of the most corrupted projects in human history. The costs "increased" from planned 3 up to 15 billion US$. But the plant at least operates near the installed maximal power, at 74 % of engine efficiency, and gives 20 TWh annually from possible 27 TWh.





This opens the question, why also some other, mostly huge hydro power plants can operate with large engine efficiency, in range from 50 % to 75 % (Itaipu - 73%, Ertan - 58%, Guri - 53%, Bratsk - 57%). But the African dams are far from that. Why in Africa the hydro power plants with so powerful engines are being built, but with so weak final output? And this output actually everywhere corresponds to the average water quantities in rivers, regardless of the lake capacity. If backed with annual size reservoirs, there is no need to have engines for "flooding circumstances". Is this the corruption or intentional installation of weaker machines, declared as more expensive?


Several days I was not able to find data about actual energy production of Akosombo power plant, until a graph was found in a published research about Ghana precipitations. But this was really surprise – several decades the production was swinging between 200 and 500 GWh annually. Averaging on 0,4 TWh it means only 4,5 % of the maximal possible production of 8,8 TWh annually. This gives also extremely bad lake efficiency of only 0,047 kWh/m2, actually more than 4 times less than the worse till now Balbina, 255 times worse than Yaciareta and 3.575 times worse than (according to renewed data) Chinese Ertan dam.


This is not only the confirmation of upper question, but it probably means one of the biggest terror upon the environment and people for very little result. It is opposite, it is much worse than the utilitarian principle – low harm of minority was not sacrificed for the much larger benefit of majority, but much larger majority or value (of people and environment) was sacrifices for much smaller (common) profit of minority (of capital). We can say this is a national disaster. The Africa has become the test field not only for political and pharmaceutical experiments, but also for technical and environmental tortures.


The Lake Volta has huge capacity of 148 km3. That is 10 times more than 14,7 km3 of Gilgel Gibe III, which is enough for production of more than 6 TWh. Actual 4,5 % of maximal Akosombo production mean also average 4,5 % of its maximal power. That is operating with only 45 MW and this demands (at water height 70 meters above turbines) 64 m3 of water flow through turbines in each second. This quantity would empty the Lake Volta in 73 years. So there is any reason to excuse low production with periods of lower precipitation… Much more water is lost with evaporation from lake and many pictures show the dam with open spillways, so much water is probably being left through without any production effect. Not even electricity given to the poor people for free… Some websites confirm average discharging of Lake Volta in amounts of 1.300 to 1.500 m3/s. With so much water the Grand Renaissance will generate its more than 16 TWh, and not only 0,4 TWh. So it is clear, that most of the water flows by and the Akosombo dam didn't do in its entire history anything beneficial for the most of the Ghana people.


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Milan Malej
Milan Malej
Objavil/a 2018-11-07 22:29:32 (Nov 07, 2018)
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