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Opinions of Monday, 13 September 2010

Columnist: Acheampong, Steve Y.

Opening of Bagre Dam Spillway

– For How Long Should This Annual Killing Ritual and

Property Destruction Continue?

Steve Y. Acheampong, Ph.D.

Over the past several years it has become an annual ritual by our northern neighbors

in Burkina Faso to release water from the Bagre Dam which causes flooding in parts

of northern Ghana and kills a number of unsuspecting persons and destroys property.

As at the time of writing, it has been reported that the death toll for this year is

up to seventeen (Ghanaweb, September 11, 2010) and damages to property have not as

yet been quantified. This annual occurrence makes me wonder if there is any

regional or bilateral framework for the management of the water resources of the

Volta River among the Volta River basin states.

Currently it appears that Burkina Faso operates and manages its dams on the Volta

River without any regard to the needs and safety of their Ghanaian counterparts

downstream. If this continues, it is bound to create fear and unnecessary tensions

among the border communities. Rather than waiting till the rainy season before

releasing water from the dam, Ghana and Burkina Faso can reach an agreement whereby

water can be released in various manageable quantities from the dam at various times

throughout the year to minimize the excessive one time release and flooding during

the rainy season. Such releases can be guided by the established minimum and

maximum operating levels of the dams. The two countries can reach an agreement on

the general principles instead of detailed prescriptions to guide them in matters

and operations that could affect the natural water levels or flows across the

boundary to an extent that could cause injury to health or property in either

country. Such principles should provide clear guidance that can stand the test of

time. It is believed that both countries have compiled water resources data on the

Volta River that can be used to define the status and trends of water resources

availability through time to support any regional and national management actions.

Agreements on transboundary water bodies among various nations are quite common and

this will come in handy if and when the proposed Bui Dam is completed and comes into

operation. As population growth and global climate change put stresses on natural

resources, reliable structures for transboundary and regional cooperation is

becoming more important than ever so the two countries in particular, and all the

Volta River Basin states in general, should come out with some agreements on the

utilization and management of the Volta River in order to preserve life, property,

and the ecosystem.

An alternative approach to curtail the annual flooding and destruction resulting

from the releases from the dam is that the Ghana government should construct some

reservoirs on the river at some strategic locations to receive the excess water

during such times. If such water is managed well, it could be used for farming,

drinking or recreational purposes during the year. The Water Resources Commission,

the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry for Water, Works and Housing should

come out with a plan to curb this annual occurrence that takes the lives of innocent

people and causes immeasurable property loss and wanton destruction of the

ecosystem. One death is one too many.

Steve Y. Acheampong, Ph.D.