Sinohydro Dam in Sudan Threatens “Another Darfur”

Sinohydro, the world’s largest hydropower firm and former employer of President Hu Jintao, is to undertake the construction of the controversial Kajbar dam for the Sudanese government, one of three due to be built with Chinese involvement. The project threatens to displace 10,000 people, flood 500 archaeological sites, and deal a further blow to the ancient Nubian culture already reeling from the impact of earlier dams. A 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times reported that these dams threatened to trigger “Darfur 2”.

From International Rivers:

The Sudanese government plans to transform the Nile, the only stretch of fertile land north of Khartoum, into a string of five reservoirs (see map). Built by Chinese, German and French companies, the Merowe Dam was completed two years ago. The project doubled Sudan’s electricity generation, but displaced more than 50,000 people from the Nile Valley to arid desert locations. Thousands of people who refused to leave their homes were flushed out by the reservoir, and protests were violently suppressed. The UN Rapporteur on Housing Rights expressed “deep concern” about the human rights violations in the project, and asked the dam builders to halt construction in 2007 – to no avail ….

While the Kajbar and Dal projects are smaller, the stakes are as high as in the case of the Merowe Dam. The projects are located in Nubia, the ancient bridge between Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa. Nubians have developed their own language and civilization over thousands of years, but now risk being annihilated as a nation. In the 1960s, 120,000 Nubian people were displaced from their ancestral lands in Egypt and Sudan for the construction of the Aswan Dam. Within Sudan, they were moved to an irrigation scheme 700 kilometers away, which turned into a complete development disaster. “By flooding the last of the remaining Nubian lands,” warns Arif Gamal , who was displaced by the Aswan Dam, “the Nubians are reduced to a group of people with no sense of memory, no past and no future to look for ….”

Since 2006, Chinese authorities have made increasing efforts to promote good community relations in overseas projects. The State Council and other government institutions have all called for the establishment of good community relations in Chinese investments. Sinohydro is currently preparing its own social and environmental guideline for overseas projects. Building the Kajbar Dam with a government that brutally represses the rights of the host population would fly in the face of such commitments.

The dams’ effects cannot be regarded as the inevitable price of development, given the existence of lower-impact alternatives:

Abdeen Mustafa Omer, a renewable energy expert at the University of Nottingham, has documented a very large solar energy potential for Sudan, and a big wind energy potential particularly in the lower Nile valley. These technologies could generate electricity without the destruction and conflict that the Kajbar and other dams would cause. Yet the Sudanese government does not promote them.

Funding for the Kajbar dam has yet to be secured, but is likely to be sought from the China Exim Bank. Late last year, International Rivers confirmed the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China’s involvement in the similarly controversial Gibe 3 dam project in Ethiopia. The organisation’s Policy Director, Peter Bosshard, has written at greater length about Chinese hydro companies’ attempts to be seen globally as “responsible actors”, while at China Dialogue, Graeme Kelleher has discussed the potential benefits of responsibly managed dam building.


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