May 5, 2022

Lack of Clean Water in the Nile basin and the Consequences of the Rusumo Hydropower project


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Ngara district, Tanzania – an area with rich natural water resources including the Kagera and Ruvubhu rivers – is suffering from a lack of water for both domestic and agricultural activities. 

This is despite the commitment from the World Bank and Nile Basin Initiative to support a water supply project under a compensation scheme for communities who rented out their land for a power project on the Kagera River Falls.

The Kagera river basin connects the Ruvubhu and Akagera rivers at Rusumo and eventually drains into Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile River. The basin’s population includes more than 14 million people from Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and a small part of Uganda, who are in danger of suffering from an outbreak of diseases due to a lack of clean and safe water. 

According to Rural Water and Sanitation Authority (RUWASA), currently, only 68 percent of residents in Ngara access clean water, as of 2021/2021 statistics.

Ashura Mohamed, a resident of Ngara, said that there has been unusual water rationing, where some households get water twice a week while in other areas there is no water at all. High bills are issued regardless of whether they got water or not, she said.

She said the problems of insufficient water supply and poor distribution of water have led Ngara residents to depend on local vendors who sell 5 liters at 200-500 Tanzanian shillings (USD $0.09-$0.22).

The long queue of people who need water from private boreholes results in quarrels between the vendors and buyers. It is also a source of family conflicts, whereby husbands complain about their wives being late for other domestic responsibilities, he said.

Baraka Sengiyumva, a water vendor in Ngara town,Tanzania
Baraka Sengiyumva, a water vendor in Ngara town. He sells about 600-1,000 liters per day and earns well. (Photo By. P . Kwigize)

According to RUWASA, the amount of water produced by the water supply system in Ngara is only 61,949 cubic meters out of 225,000 needed, according to the District report of the year 2017/2018.

Eng. Simon Ndyamukama, the manager for the rural water and sanitation authority, said that 30 percent of the district’s water is obtained from local drilled wells, while 48 percent comes from tap water. 

Many residents of Ngara and Karagwe districts in the Rusumo and Kagera river basins depend on the waters of shallow wells that are dug locally and cater for almost all social and economic activities.

Community leaders said that individuals are locally mixing chemicals in the water to remove mud, which is also said to be unsafe due to sanitation regulations.

Ndyamukama explained to DW that water resources have been affected by climate change and environmental destruction caused by human activities. 

However, he said the availability of clean water is increasing. From 2019 to 2021, water availability has increased to 68 percent and is expected to reach about 76 percent by the end of 2022. 

The chart shows the figures for the provision of water services to the community for the period 2019-2022. Source: RUWASA Ngara.

RUWASA Ngara manager Eng. Ndyamkama said that in collaboration with multiple stakeholders, the government has managed to supply clean water to 246,257 residents out of 358,975 in Ngara, with the target to reach about 85% of the whole population by 2025.

But the Ngara district council strategic plan 2016/2017-2020/2021 shows that Ngara has a long way to go to ensure residents can access clean water.

“The Tanzania government through our authority has set various priorities focussing on making sure that water services benefit the community, and we are sure that we will increase the number of households accessing water up to 85% by the end of the 2022. At the same time, in collaboration with development partners and other stakeholders like World Bank and NELSAP, the development of the water sources are taken into consideration,” said Eng. Ndyamkama from RUWASA Ngara.

The junction of Kagera and Ruvubhu rivers at Rusumo area in Ngara district on the boundary of Tanzania and Rwanda (Photo By. P . Kwigize)

World Bank and NELSAP intervention to provide clean water

The Rusumo community is remaining with the narrow hope that a World Bank project which started in 2017 alongside the construction of the Rusumo Falls hydropower project will help improve the water situation. 

The Regional Rusumo Falls Hydro Electric Project implemented by the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program (NELSAP) is set to benefit the three neighboring countries of Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi at their common border of Rusumo.

It is estimated to produce about 80 MW of electricity on the Kagera River at the Rusumo Falls. Construction activities began in 2017 and the project is expected to be rolled out in May 2022.

A set of compensation and development activities were launched alongside the project to support the affected communities. 

Tanzania received a total of USD $5 million to develop the project area, according to the communication officer of the Rusumo hydropower project, Louis-Andree Ndayizeye. The Local Area Development Plan (LADP) was designed to enhance regional economic and social development in the Rusumo area through constructing social infrastructures to improve livelihoods.

Part of this included a 2.7 billion shilling ($1.2 million) Nile Basin Initiative project funded by the World Bank in 2017 to help improve the water situation for the people in Ngara district. The district was required to construct a water source and water supply system for about 12,925 residents of Rusumo Ward and neighborhood areas. This initiative was expected to be a solution to the challenges for the people who currently depend on water from the Kagera and Rusumo rivers.

However, the World Bank project is stuck due to existing contractual challenges between the donor, contractor, and the Tanzania government.

According to the acting director of Ngara district council, Enock Ntakisigaye, various implementation activities have already begun, including a feasibility study and site preparation for the construction of machinery and water pumps. However, construction has stalled, and various contractual and legal mediation procedures between Ngara council and the contractors ECIA Co LTD and Abemulo Contractors are underway so that the project can resume. 

Such delays in receiving improvement in water services among other compensation and social services measures have led residents to become disgruntled, which could threaten the safety and success of the hydropower project. 

The water project signboard at Rusumo near Ruvubhu river

Pollution, collapsed houses: Impacts of Rusumo hydropower project

Residents of the Rusumo ward in the Kagera basin said the problems of accessing clean water are being worsened by the construction of the hydroelectric power project.

Several residents of Kagera in Tanzania, Kirehe in Rwanda, and Muyinga in Burundi where the project is being implemented said their expectations to benefit from the project have not been met.

They said there is a poor relationship between the electrical company, host community, and other stakeholders, which has led to a decrease in environmental protection of the rivers that feed the project – also threatening its potential for electricity production. 

Wastewater drainage from the workshop of the Rusumo hydropower project is poured into the rivers and causing pollution, they said.

An environmental health expert, Scarion Ruhula, who also works for the Tanzania Disabilities Relief Service in Kagera and Kigoma, said that there is no direct impact that can be caused by the presence of a garage or human settlement if it is built between 50 to 100 meters from the water source. However, the Rusumo project is located within this buffer zone with drainage into the river.

What is needed is to ensure that water from the residence or garage does not flow directly into the river, he said. Ruhula called on government authorities to conduct regular inspections in the Project area to control the possibility of outbreaks of pollution-related diseases.

Regarding the allegations of sewage being introduced into the river, the director of the environmental management council in Tanzania, Tanzania Environmental Management Council (NEMC) Executive Director Samuel Gwamaka said the office did not have official information on the public complaint and that the council would direct an inspector from the Lake Victoria zone to inspect it for possible action.

Later, on March 1, 2022, NEMC followed up. The agency sent inspectors from the Lake Victoria region and the Kagera River Basin to inspect the Rusumo power project site following complaints of pollution.

Inspections revealed that the contractor had violated environmental regulations by lacking a proper waste management system in the garage. Water, metals, and oil were found to be flowing into the construction site and into the Kagera River.

The inspector from NEMC, Benjamin Dotto, said that due to violations by project management authorities, NEMC had issued a stern warning and that further action would be taken against NELSAP if they failed to reform their waste management system. He did not want to name any of the fines they had inflicted, although reports from within the Ngara district council stated that 20 million shillings had been levied as fines for the violations.

In November 2021, more than 40 households found themselves in danger after being flooded with water in their homes, while some of their houses were damaged by explosions aimed at breaking rocks. 

The explosions used to create water canals for the power project have also led to the collapse of toilets, leading to sewage flows into the river.

In an exclusive interview, the E.D. of NEMC, Samuel Gwamaka, acknowledged the environmental and human impact of the Rusumo power project.

Gwamaka acknowledged that the blasting of thorns to create an underground canal has caused some local homes to be damaged. He also said floods were caused by the construction of a water barrier on the Kagera River.

According to NEMC, every project involving the environment must have an environmental impact assessment to mitigate the potential impacts of the project. However, Gwamaka explained that the current challenges stemmed from environmental changes that were not previously identified during the assessment, which took place about 10 years ago. 

The environmental assessment conducted by SNC Lavalin International under the NELSAP project states that the construction was expected to cause flooding in an area of 17,000 hectares and a change in water level by 1,700 hectares. However, adequate precautions were not taken despite the construction of a water barrier, leading to the flooding of human settlements.

Rusumo Falls at Kagera river in the Nile Basin at the border of Tanzania and Rwanda (Photo By. P . Kwigize)

There was no community awareness created to enable them to prepare for water overflows, and no bumps were built to prevent water overflowing from the river to the farm and houses as well, according to Ntiba Alfred Bilaba, the chairman of the beneficiary committee of the Rusumo hydropower project.

Other complaints came from certain households who were not paid to relocate whose homes ended up being damaged or destroyed by rock blasting operations. Only 40 houses among many others were inspected and proven damaged, but NELSAP has not yet compensated all those affected by the blasts. The allegations were made by Rusumo citizens and also confirmed by the Ngara district commissioner.

The government of Tanzania admitted the challenges and assured that the government is working with contractors to ensure that the terms of the contract for the victims of the project are complied with to provide compensation.

Ngara district commissioner Colonel Mathias Kahabi on behalf of the Kagera region government promised to ensure that the conflict of interest between the community and the Rusumo Power project is resolved.

Colonel Kahabi urged all parties to ensure that they adhere to the terms set out in the agreement between NELSAP and the Rusumo Village Government in the implementation of the Rusumo hydropower project for the public interest and to ensure that environmental assessments are given priority.

Following the complaint, the project management agency noted that all issues were resolved in accordance with the agreement signed by all 3 countries. In an exclusive interview, NELSAP Communication Officer Louis Andree Ndayizeye noted that the NELSAP Rusumo Project has repaired structures that were severely affected by blasting activities, and now, the project is preparing to repair other affected structures which include houses and toilets.  

However, an investigation conducted on March 10-12, 2022 in Rusumo ward in Ngara district revealed that NELSAP was continuing to assess the damage while under intense pressure from the Tanzania Government through the District Commissioner and the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) which conducted inspections and identified the effects of environmental damage in the area of the power project.

According to the multinational hydropower project and African Development bank Impact assessment report by the African Development Bank, impacts related to the construction phase of the project were expected to last for at least two years. These include “dust and noise emissions; soil erosion; degradation of water quality; soil contamination by bad waste management or accidental spilling of hydrocarbons; and disturbance of wildlife.”

The new water pipe reserved for the Rusumo World Bank water project is stuck due to managerial problems with Ngara District Council (Photo By. P . Kwigize)

The site where the World Bank-supported Rusumo water project is located, which the contractor has left for more than one year now (Photo By. P. Kwigize)

Promises to affected people 

Impacts to people affected by the project include loss of residential structures, business structures, loss of employment, loss of agricultural land, and loss of marshland use. The affected people who were compensated included 67 households from Kirehe District in Rwanda and 103 households from Ngara District in Tanzania. 

According to Louis Ndayizeye, the compensation of communities affected by the project was concluded before construction started in late 2015. The NELSAP Rusumo Project is now in the process of compensating owners of crops that were damaged by backwater flooding, she said.

According to more than 10 beneficiaries interviewed however, some properties were under-compensated due to delay of payment. The valuation assessment was conducted in 2015, and payments were made later in 2017 when the value of the houses had already increased, so those who were assessed for housing were forced to look for other sources of income in addition to the NELSAP payments, they said. 

The Rusumo community also said that reallocation of the people from the project catchment areas was not provided to all assessed families. Ntiba Bilaba, the chairperson of the project victims committee, complained to NELSAP for not adhering to the signed agreement and causing many community complaints to the Nile Basin Initiative, the donor, and the government of Tanzania.

According to the regional power project agreement, NELSAP was to provide $383,832 as compensation for more than 200 people whose areas were taken over by the power project. However, Dionis Albogast, the treasurer of the Livelihood Restoration Program, said that the amount disbursed to the beneficiaries in the period 2017-2021 was $293,240 – leaving $90,592 which has not yet been released, causing the complaint. 

The Kagera river basin community had also hoped to boost their livelihoods under the power project’s Livelihood Restoration Program (LRP). However, residents said the Rwandan livelihood restoration program had a better model because interventions were provided to the victims directly rather than giving them through implementing partners.

However, the coordinator of development projects funded in Ngara district council, Didymus Sebastian, said that all the development funds provided by NELSAP for the community have been used to directly benefit the beneficiaries. What differentiates Tanzania from Burundi and Rwanda is the implementation strategy alone, he said. 

Didymus further clarified that civil society organizations and public institutions including the Relief to Development Society (REDESO) and the Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service (TCRA) were hired to build the capacity of groups formed to implement economic projects.

Agnes Mutashobya, a resident of Rusumo ward, fetches water from the local borehole. (Photo By. P .Kwigize)

The impact of local communities on the environment

Along with pollution from the project itself, government officials in the Kagera region acknowledged the serious environmental challenges posed by human activities in the basin, which affect the river and possibly the success of the hydroelectric project.

Enock Ntakisigaye, a deputy director of Ngara district council, said there has been negligence in the management and compliance with environmental laws and the proper use of water among people in the Nile River basin, especially the Kagera rivers and Ruvubhu.

Ntakisigaye noted that there are laws that require citizens not to engage in any activity within 60 meters of water sources including rivers, dams, and lakes to protect and conserve water sources.

Environment Act No. 2 of 2004, the Water Resources Management Act No. 11 of 2019, and the Water and Sanitation Authority Act No. 5 of 2019 state that it is an offense for any person to damage water sources or use water in violation of the law. These laws also address the need for communities to have reliable access to clean and safe water.

Despite the existence of these laws, the community is still establishing agriculture and settlements in the Kagera river basin, and this affects conservation activities. Our reporter witnessed new farms and settlements at the intersection of the Kagera and Ruvubhu rivers, where the owner was not ready to be interviewed, claiming that the area is legally owned and that the government recognizes it and has allowed him to start his projects.

One of the newest leased farms in the Kagera River basin in Rusumo village, Ngara district (Photo By. P . Kwigize)

Below is the screenshot from the SNC report page number 19 on the environmental and social impact expected to happen in the project basin

Rusumo residents said there have been declining fish stocks due to increased human activities in the river and an increase in population that uses illegal fishing methods. They also felt the hydroelectric power project construction had affected fish availability. Manilakiza John, a fisherman, was found struggling to search for fish in the river.

However, the Nile Basin Initiative says the project system has no impact on biodiversity.

“The Project is a Run of the River (RoR); this scheme was chosen in order to minimize effects on communities and flooding to the marshlands. Therefore the project is ecologically friendly and has no impact on biodiversity. This is not a dam, so no chemicals are thrown in the river,” explained NELSAP communications officer Louis Ndayizeye.

The production of hydroelectricity in the Kagera river

In 2019, access to electricity in Burundi was at 10 percent, Rwanda 16 percent, and Tanzania 18 percent, according to the World Bank.

Using water from the Kagera River, the Rusumo hydropower project will generate an alternative 80 megawatts to the national grid of Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda, which is mentioned to be sustainable and affordable. Each country will get 26.6 extra megawatts.

According to the Nile Basin Initiative, the project supervisor, the extra megawatts will benefit 1,146,000 people in the three countries, and it will represent an estimated rapid increment of electricity of 5.4 percent (520,000 people) in Burundi, 4 percent (467,000 people) in Rwanda, and 0.34 percent (159,000 people) in Tanzania.

Modern water barrier for Rusumo waterfall power project. (Photo By. P .Kwigize)

The increase in electricity access in the East African countries by using the waterfall will lead to the expansion of economic activities by promoting the private sector and agribusiness, but if the environment is not protected, the sustainability of the project will not be achieved.

Human activities including agriculture and livestock within the water catchment in East Africa, especially Kagera river, Ruaha, Mtela (Kilombero river) Nyumba ya Mungu Dam, and others, if not controlled, will lead to a shortage of water for sustainability. Currently, Tanzania is experiencing the same which led to power rationing across the country due to scarcity of water in the main hydropower basins in the country and power generation plants being damaged. All areas that depend on hydropower including Dar es salaam, central Tanzania, and areas in the north and the south are still experiencing this shortage and rationing.

There is a high fear that if the conservation of the two rivers that supply their water to the hydropower project is not maintained, there will be no sustainability. The presence of a large amount of water connected to the Ruvubhu and Agakera rivers was what prompted the construction of a major power project that would support energy access to Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania.

A map of the Rusumo basin where the two rivers are meeting influences the construction of the hydropower station for three countries 

This article was produced in partnership with InfoNile with funding from JRS Biodiversity Foundation. It was aired by the Radio Deutsche Welle (DW) in December 2021.

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