The Fomi Dam // Potential for a Project of Shared Interest
By Luca Ferrini and Lucia Benavides. A dam at the head of a basin entails stakes at many levels. In the Sahel, one of the most arid regions in the world, currently affected by climate change as well as armed conflict, these stakes become particularly high. What are the opportunities and the risks of building such a dam? What could a nexus approach contribute to support decision making in this context?
The dam project
Located in the Guinean highlands, the site for the Fomi dam on the Niandan river, 39 km from its confluence with the Niger river, was identified already in 1940, and a small dam was built. Between 1950 et 2013, several attempts were made to build a larger dam, and multiple financial, technical and environmental feasibility studies were carried out. The political priority given to the project under Guinean President Alpha Condé brought the topic to the centre of the national political agenda and therefore also to that of Mali and all other Basin countries, due to the magnitude of the project and the possible consequences downstream. Since 2014, and within the World Bank financed « Project for the development of Water Resources and Sustainable Ecosystem Management (Projet de Développement des Ressources en Eau et de Gestion Durable des Écosystèmes, PDREGDE) the project had regained some of its momentum, notably with the call to re-evaluate the possible environmental and social impacts (1). The construction of the dam could then start relatively soon, depending on the availability of funding. The questions remains: which project? With which objectives?
A national project
At the national level, one of the first interests of the Fomi dam project is to provide local households, markets and the mining industry with energy. (2). It is then from the perspective of the great hydroelectric potential that the project was conceived in the first place. With an estimated cost of 250 million euro, the Fomi dam could have a power of about 100MW and provide 374 GWh, which represents around 3% of the total estimated national demand for 2030 (3).
The water reservoir could furthermore irrigate around 100 000 ha of agricultural land in Guinea, as well as provide fishing and fish-farming opportunities (4). The population to be displaced is estimated at over 45 000 people (5–7), and for this reason a new site seems to have gained preference among the project’s managers and contractors : 15 km upstream, the populations to be displaced would only amount to around 5 000.
The project’s possible impacts are not at all limited to the Guinean territory. The dam’s position, at the head of the third largest basin in Africa and the largest in West Africa, means that several aspects have to be considered, especially for countries downstream. On an economic and social level, changes in the river´s regime and discharge would demand that agricultural and economical activities adapt significantly. On an environmental level, certain ecosystems and humid zones would be affected, notably the Niger River Inner Delta, in Mali - see the articles published on our site about the Delta here and here. On a political and regional integration level, the project raises questions vis-à-vis downstream countries, around, for example, who decides on water retention or release. In short, the typical questions of a large project of this kind in a transboundary context.
A project of common interest for the region
Within the framework of basin-scale planning performed under the coordination of the Niger River Basin Authority (NBA), the project for the Fomi dam has been identified by the nine member states, along with two other dam projects (the Taoussa dam in Mali and the Kandadji dam in Niger) for its potential to regulate the Niger’s discharge beyond its significant seasonal variations. In a region that has a rainy season typically concentrated in a period of only three months, the need to retain water to maximise its productivity and effectiveness both at the economic, social and environmental levels is significant.
Regulating the discharge of Niger’s main course would potentially allow to expand irrigation and agricultural production potential, thus improving security and independence of food production and provision in the region. The NBA’s Sustainable Development Action Plan (Plan d’Action de Développement Durable) (8) estimates for example that the Fomi dam could provide for the development of improved irrigation as far as Niger (the country), where10 000 ha of irrigated farmland could be developed. Discharge control throughout the year would also allow for improved navigation and regional commerce on the river to be further developed.
It is of course evident that the artificial control of the river´s natural regime would entail a change in the relation between the river and the ecosystems it sustains throughout its seasonal fluctuations. The impact would also reach all human activities depending directly on these ecosystem’s natural resources, for example fishing and rice farming, which depend on the seasonal flooding of certain areas of the basin. Furthermore, reorienting the dam’s main goal from hydropower to river discharge regulation would have a significant influence on financial calculations of the economic viability of the project.
It is nonetheless necessary to see this project, like many others, precisely in a regional perspective, based on the sustainable use and protection of natural resources to avoid transboundary conflict and the degradation of the ecosystems that sustain human and natural life. Such a planning practice can additionally trigger ‘invisible’ benefits of regional cooperation and integration, of cost and benefit sharing, and of long-term environmental sustainability.
A Nexus approach
The Nexus approach proposes a sustained reflection all along the planning process, focusing on possible imbalances between sectors and the strategies to overcome and harmonise them. It therefore helps in the evaluation of the different stakes of a project. If we consider the basin and its available natural resources in their entirety, and identify, as the basin’s human and environmental needs, the allocation of resources (water, soil, wood, etc.) can then follow the principles of effectiveness and prioritisation. As the Niger basin countries have identified in their Water Charter (9), the priority for the use of water resources in case of shortage is first assigned to drinking water for the population, and then to irrigation to assure food security. There are multiple possible energy sources, while water for drinking and irrigation is much more difficult to substitute.
It remains to be seen, at the political regional level, which arguments and negotiation strategies the other member states will put on the table to confirm their intention for a project of shared and common interest over a project focused on national interest. A useful tool in this endeavour is offered by the Nexus approach, which allows for holistic planning, reconciling different interests and assuring the maximisation of benefits for all parties. Tansboundary water courses are more often a reason to cooperate than to one for dispute, because cooperation brings about more long-term benefits and can reduce the economic and political costs of basin management. (10). Will Fomi confirm this rule?
- Autorité du Bassin du Niger (ABN). Avis de sollicitation de manifestation d’interet N° 07/PDREGDE [Internet]. Autorité du Bassin du Niger. 2015 [cited 2018 Sep 17]. Available from: http://www.abn.ne/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=19&Itemid=18&lang=fr
- Direction Nationale d’Énergie-Ministère de l’Énergie et de l’Hydraulique. Projet d’amenagement hydroélectrique de Fomi [Internet]. [cited 2018 Sep 16]. Available from: http://www.invest.gov.gn/document/projet-hydroelectrique-de-fomi
- Ministere de l’énergie et de l’hydraulique, SE4All. Evaluation et Analyse des Gaps par rapport aux objectifs SE4All - Volume IE [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2018 Sep 17]. Available from: https://www.sieguinee-dne.org/images/Volume_IE_SE4ALL_.pdf
- Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa. Fomi Multi-purpose Dam (Niger River Basin) [Internet]. Virtual PIDA Information Centre. 2017 [cited 2018 Aug 23]. Available from: http://www.au-pida.org/view-project/
- IIED. Fomi dam: catalysing land tenure reform in Guinea [Internet]. International Institute for Environment and Development. 2015 [cited 2018 Aug 23]. Available from: https://www.iied.org/fomi-dam-catalysing-land-tenure-reform-guinea
- Skinner JR, Niasse M, Haas L. Sharing the benefits of large dams in West Africa [Internet]. London: International Institute for Environment and Development; 2009. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228940907_Sharing_the_Benefits_of_Large_Dams_in_West_Africa
- De Wet C. The Experience with Dams and Resettlement in Africa - Contributing paper. World Commision Dams. 1999;32.
- Autorité du Bassin du Niger (ABN). Plan d’Action de Developpement Durable (PADD) du Bassin du Niger - Synthese de rapport. [Internet]. Niamey; 2007 [cited 2018 Oct 21]. Available from: http://www.abn.ne/attachments/article/72/Synthese%20du%20PADD.pdf
- Autorité du Bassin du Niger (ABN). La Charte de l’eau du Bassin du Niger [Internet]. 2008 [cited 2018 Oct 21]. Available from: http://www.abn.ne/attachments/article/39/Charte%20du%20Bassin%20du%20Niger%20version%20finale%20francais_30-04-2008.pdf
- Schmeier S, Vogel B. Ensuring Long-Term Cooperation Over Transboundary Water Resources Through Joint River Basin Management. In: Schmutz S, Sendzimir J, editors. Riverine Ecosystem Management: Science for Governing Towards a Sustainable Future [Internet]. Cham: Springer International Publishing; 2018 [cited 2018 Oct 21]. p. 347–70. (Aquatic Ecology Series). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-73250-3_18