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Annual ritual of Bagre Dam spillage, no remedy?

BY: Dr Akwasi Osei
Can Ghana not enter into some treaty with Burkina Faso to regulate the spillage of water from the Bagre Dam?
Can Ghana not enter into some treaty with Burkina Faso to regulate the spillage of water from the Bagre Dam?

In the last 10 years, Ghana has been inflicted with an annual ritual where the Bagre Dam in Burkina Faso is opened to spill off the excess water to avoid damage to the dam. Since Ghana lies along the route of the Volta River to the Atlantic Ocean, the volume of water has often caused damage to the towns and villages that lie along its course.

I remember that some eight years ago, about as many as 14 people perished in the ensuing flood in the Northern Region. Many others lost their property and farms, buildings were washed away while cattle and sheep got drowned. I do not know what diplomatic discourse ensued between Accra and Ouagadougou following the disaster.

Ironically, just before the flooding from the spillage, Akosombo Dam has always recorded dangerously low levels. A warning is also given to the people of Ghana along the course of the river to relocate to high lands. The question is, how long can this happen? When one relocates, can one do so with the cattle, farms and buildings? So every year, farms and property, if not human lives, are destroyed and it seems like it is going to be an annual ritual till thy kingdom come.

Some background

I understand that when Ghana built the Akosombo Dam, Upper Volta, as it then was, contemplated building one and Ghana came into a gentleman’s agreement to extend the power supply there. Nkrumah was overthrown shortly after the completion of the dam and, therefore, had no opportunity to redeem his pledge. Subsequent governments found it not feasible and so did not. That partly explains why Thomas Sankara changed the name from Upper Volta as he said the country did not benefit from the Volta River. Blaise Campoare, however, in 1993 thereabouts, decided to dam it. Shortly thereafter, Ghana began to experience shortfalls in the levels of the Volta Lake.

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When this point of failed promise and the subsequent damming by Burkina Faso was made, I clearly remember the authorities (government and the Volta River Authority) coming out to debunk the theory of Burkina Faso’s dam. The argument they made was that the White Volta supplies only a portion of the water that flows into the Volta Lake. That is part of the problem of Ghana, officialdom lying in the face of evidence.

Regulation

I wonder whether there are no international laws regulating the use of water bodies and rivers flowing through different countries. If there are, what do they say and how do they relate to the spillage of a dam with devastating effect on the downstream countries? If there are no laws, can Ghana not enter into some treaty with Burkina Faso to regulate the spillage?

Again, I want to propose that Ghana can arrange for Burkina Faso to embark on gradual and systematic spillage such that Burkina Faso can open the dam when it is not yet near the breaking point, just small quantities at a time to be contained in our river beds. I can hear that country say the gradual spillage many times a year will come at a financial cost and can Ghana share the cost? That should not be too difficult for Ghana to accept to share.

Also, can we not build a dam near the exit from Burkina Faso to collect the excess water which we can use for irrigation and other purposes? This is one area that I propose we can fall on our local experts, get our engineers together and put them in a room for two weeks and let them come out with a solution. It appears we do not value individual life, hence two or four deaths a year from the spillage does not seem to bother us. We should begin to be worried. One such person dying could have been the solution to our woes.

The writer is CEO, Mental Health Authority.