Monday, November 1, 2010

What is a country to do when an important water source is to be dammed upstream? 

The River Niger is to Nigeria what the River Nile is to Egypt. It feeds various estuaries and waterways that in turn nourish the lands that feed Nigeria. In fact, the country gets its very name from the river. In addition, the river also fuels a dam that is an essential part of Nigeria's electricity network. As the country is experiencing power problems and aims to improve the power sector, plans by neighboring countries to manipulate the flow of the Niger can negatively impact Nigeria's future electricity aspirations. And, the Nigerian government has announced it's intention to stop these developments.


There are three dams contending to impact the River Niger in Nigeria. They are the following: the Taussa Dam in Mali, the Fomi Dam in Guinea Bissau and the Kandaji Dam in the Niger Republic. One need only look at the Niger Republic's plans to see how these proposed dams will impact Nigerians. For years, Nigeria has exported approximately 35MW of electricity to the Niger Republic and as such, it's agitation for a dam is indicative of Nigeria's failure to provide that country with the power it needs. This unfortunate reality is understandable given the troubles in Nigeria's own generation and supply chain. Niger Republic's Kandaji Dam began construction in 2008 at a projected cost of $709 million to be funded by the Islamic Development Bank and is expected to cause at least a 10% decline in water on the Nigeria-side of River Niger. By the time the dam is completed in 2013, that reduction in flow will have a significant and negative impact on Nigeria's ability to not only supply electricity to individuals but also industry, a problem that already contributes to a stifling of economic progress and high unemployment.

The Kandaji Dam and the other proposed dams could compound the environmental challenges posed by desert encroachment in Nigeria as well. Already President Jonathan warned of the impact of drought on the river at the September 2010 Niger Basin Authority's meeting in Abuja. Given that Nigeria began a dredging project of the River Niger in 2009 to alleviate the pressure created by environmental changes, the introduction of streams upstream, will inevitably play a role in future flooding and land usability.

For all the criticisms of former President Obasanjo, none more glaring than the unexplained money pumped into the fledgling electricity sector, his desire to maintain Nigeria's regional importance and superiority were unquestionable. That smaller countries would feel the need to build dams when they could receive electricity from Nigeria highlights the need to strengthen Nigeria's influence in the region. In addition to supplying electricity to its citizens and local enterprise, Nigeria should be supplying the electricity needs of smaller countries. If the country was living up to it's 'Big Brother' responsibilities, it is likely that these proposed additional dams on the River Niger would have been prevented.

Nevertheless, Nigeria still has many options apart from hydroelectricity to power its needs. Katsina State is scheduled to become the first Nigerian state to have a wind farm. The farm will provide at least 10MW of power to the residents and there is room to grow, whereby the state could in turn sell electricity to neighboring states and possibly even Niger Republic. There is also solar power as a potential energy source to off set any deficiencies in generation created by additional dams on the River Niger. Or, as the Executive Secretary of the Niger basin Authority suggested, Nigeria can invest in the dams being built upstream and have some of the generated power sent to Nigeria. Specifically, Oyemola Ogunlola stated,
"If there is prospect of power generation in the dam in Cameroon, Nigeria should be fully involved financially and at management level so that Nigeria can transmit power from the dam."
In addition to the impact on electricity, the environmental impact of less water from the River Niger could create security problems. According to the United Nations, water wars are believed to be a future threat to global security as lack of access to water will possibly spark conflict.  The Niger has been a lifeline for communities and any changes will impact not just individuals but entire ways of living. Hence, it will be imperative for the current and future Nigerian administrations to ensure that changes to the flow of the River Niger will not create unbearable hardships for citizens. There are many issues that Nigeria faces and this matter involving the River Niger and it's future to citizens is one that must be treated with the utmost attention.

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