Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Chinese Dam Project Fuels Ethnic Conflict in Sudan

New Chinese Dam Project Fuels Ethnic Conflict in Sudan

By Peter Bosshard
International Rivers
January 21, 2011

Dams have impoverished tens of thousands of people and triggered serious
human rights violations in Sudan. Now Chinese companies have won
contracts to build three more hydropower projects in the country. Of
particular concerns are plans to dam the Nile near Kajbar, on the lands
of ancient Nubia. This project has already caused massive human rights
abuses. Affected people are strongly opposed to it, and have raised the
specter of a second Darfur conflict.

The Sudanese government plans to transform the Nile, the only stretch of
fertile land north of Khartoum, into a string of five reservoirs. 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.

Next in line are the Kajbar and Dal dams. The Kajbar Dam on the Nile's
third cataract would have a height of about 20 meters, create a
reservoir of 110 square kilometers, and generate 360 megawatts of
electricity. The project would displace more than 10,000 people and
submerge an estimated 500 archeological sites. The Dal Dam on the second
cataract would have a height of 25-45 meters and a capacity of 340-450
megawatts. It would displace 5,000-10,000 people. The hydrologist Seif
al-Din Hamad Abdalla has estimated that about 2.5 cubic kilometers of
water - 3 percent of the Nile�s annual flow - would evaporate from the
two reservoirs every year.

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."

The people from the Kajbar and Dal areas watched the fate of their
neighbors in the Nile Valley, and knew that the government would not
make any concessions when dealing with Nubians. They formed a committee
to protect their interests, and opposed the dams from the very
beginning. In December 2010, they warned: "We will never allow any force
on the earth to blur our identity and destroy our heritage and nation.
Nubians will never play the role of victims, and will never sacrifice
for the second time to repeat the tragedy of (the Aswan Dam)." A
spokesperson called the Kajbar Project a "humanitarian disaster" which
the affected people would resist by all means, including armed
opposition. The Los Angeles Times reported "fears of another Darfur" if
the Kajbar Dam was built.

Chinese companies have expressed an interest in the Kajbar Project since
1997. When Sudanese and Chinese engineers carried out feasibility
studies in 2007, thousands of people staged repeated protest
demonstrations. The authorities cracked down harshly. In April 2007,
security forces shot and wounded at least five protestors. On June 13,
2007, security officers killed four peaceful protesters in an ambush and
wounded more than 15 others. The government arrested some 26 people,
including journalists who tried to cover the massacre, and detained them
for several weeks. The UN Special Rapporteur on Sudan deplored the
"excessive force" and "arbitrary arrests and prosecutions to stifle
community protest against the Kajbar dam" in a report.

For years the government did not disclose whether it would actually move
forward with the Kajbar and Dal projects. In April 2010, it awarded a
$838 million contract for the Upper Atbara Project, an irrigation and
hydropower complex in Eastern Sudan, to a Chinese consortium. Two months
later, China's Gezhouba Corporation got a contract to build the Shereik
Dam, a 420 megawatt project on the Nile, at a cost of $711 million. The
Shereik Dam in particular would create a big reservoir and affect a
large number of people.

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.

While the government remained silent about its plans, Sinohydro, the
world's largest hydropower company, announced on October 28, 2010, that
it had won a $705 million contract to build the Kajbar Project over five
years. At the end of December, 59 Sinohydro workers left from China for
Sudan. At the same time, Sinohydro advertised jobs for work on the
Kajbar Dam in Pakistan. (In the case of the Bui Dam in Ghana, the
company hired 60 of its 600 foreign workers in Pakistan, reportedly
because they were cheaper than Chinese labor.)

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.

In 2007, China (along with the majority of member states) voted in favor
of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the UN. This
document stipulates that indigenous peoples have the right of consent
regarding "any project affecting their lands." The Kajbar Dam, which is
strongly opposed by the indigenous Nubian population, violates the UN

Sooner or later, companies which engage in projects that violate human
rights will be held to account. PetroChina hoped to raise $10 billion
when it listed at the New York stock exchange in 2000, but could raise
less than $3 billion because of the operations of its parents company in
Sudan. A German organization recently filed a criminal complaint against
managers of Lahmeyer International, alleging their complicity in the
human rights abuses of the Merowe Dam. Federal and state laws will
prevent the French company Alstom from getting lucrative government
contracts in the US because of its active role in the same project.

The Kajbar Project is still at a very early stage. Sinohydro and other
companies can still learn the lessons of earlier human rights disasters
in Sudan. They should heed the warnings of the affected communities and
stay out of the Kajbar Dam. International Rivers has been engaged in a
dialogue with Sinohydro since 2009, and will strongly support the
interests of the people affected by the project.

For an illustrated version of this commentary with a map and links to
all sources, see For a press
release on the topic, please visit

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