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Development at a cost

Severe erosion in Amedeka.

When tourists visit Ghana they often say the Volta Region is a highlight of their trip. With its lush tropical vegetation and serene beaches to the south, it’s easy to see why the Volta makes such a strong impression on visitors.

But a trip to communities near the Kpong Dam, Ghana’s second largest hydro-electric power generation facility, quickly fades the Volta Region’s idyllic first impression.

When the dam was built in 1981 it displaced several nearby communities. The residents of Togorme and Amedeka, which occupy opposite banks of the Volta River, just south of the dam, feel it has caused more harm than good.

“We sacrificed the land for the construction of this dam but we are not the beneficiary of the dam,” says Christian Ananigo, Togorme’s assembly man.

Erosion has eaten away at the shoreline in both communities. Some buildings now find themselves near a precipice that could worsen if nothing is done to improve the situation.

To generate hydro-electric power water drives a turbine inside the dam and is then released through a spillway. When this happens, the water levels near Togorme and Amedeka can rise up to several metres. The result has been severe erosion.

Officials with the Volta River Authority (VRA), Ghana’s main generator and supplier of electricity, say the erosion in both communities is due to a wide variety of factors. “We can’t say that all erosion of the shorelines is due to our operations,” says Emmanuel Amelor, a manager with the VRA’s environment department. “All activities around the shoreline contribute very much [to erosion].”

VRA spokesperson Gertrude Koomson says they have worked hard to reclaim the shoreline through dredging activities and tree planting. “We have a huge budget for reforestation along the shoreline,” she says. “We are making sure that we don’t deplete the shoreline.”

Once you get past the shoreline the next thing that strikes visitors to Togorme and Amedeka is the poor state of the housing. Togorme was relocated when the Kpong Dam was built 31 years ago. The VRA provided housing for the community but many of the buildings have now fallen into disrepair.

“If you look at our buildings, when you see them they are deteriorating. Some of them are about to fall down,” says Ananigo.

But Francis Boateng, a manager with the VRA’s real estate department, says the houses are no longer the VRA’s responsibility and that maintenance should fall to the homeowners. “VRA has no obligation to refurbish those houses,” he says. “We have done our part. It is your duty to make sure that your house is in a good state of repairs, not VRA.”

Ebenezer Dzabaku, a native of Amedeka, has been critical of the VRA’s presence in the communities. In his recent book, The Volta River: Electric Power Generation and Poverty at the Crossroads, he outlines what he believes to be the VRA’s failure to properly assist the communities after the Kpong Dam was built. Dzabaku says the resettlement houses were built with poor materials, including mud bricks above the foundation. He says the VRA should still maintain the houses because they were not built to last.

Dzabaku says the VRA has also failed to properly compensate the residents of Togorme and Amedeka. “This is a national issue,” he says. “These are people who have sacrificed their livelihood, their whole lives, for the nation. We expect that the nation should make provisions for them.”

Boateng says the VRA has paid out GHC6 million, or about $3.1 million, to landowners surrounding the dam over the years. But Dzabaku says only the chiefs have benefited from the payouts, and the average resident has not seen any of the money.

Some MPs from the region have come out in support of Dzabaku and his fight for fair treatment in both communities. The author prefers to work with the VRA to solve the communities’ problems but others, such as Francis Quarcoo, secretary for the Amedeka Community Representative, say protests against the VRA will be needed for change.

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