(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

One country’s dam, another’s flood

Floods in Ghana
Evans Mensah/IRIN

The most destructive rains in Burkina Faso in almost a decade, which have led to seven reported deaths thus far, have forced  officials to open the main gate of a hydroelectric dam in the Volta River basin, near the Ghana border, threatening local populations in both countries with additional flooding.

The water rushed out at 90 cubic metres per second when state electricity company, SONABEL opened the gate of Bagré dam at 10am on 4 September, according to the firm’s director of hydroelectric power, Venance Bouda. Before opening the gate, Bouda said the dam was at 86 percent capacity and he estimated it would have reached 93 percent by 5 September.

“Even when we operate normally and release water, some people drown while crossing [the river] downstream,” said the Bouda.

When the gate opened, the water was only 66 millimetres away from the dam’s capacity of 1.7 million cubic metres.

This is the sixth time officials have had to open the reservoir’s gate since its construction in 1994. A similar opening of the dam in 2007 caused flooding in Ghana’s north. Bouda told IRIN officials are trying to control the flow this time so as to not endanger those living downstream of the Volta River. “We anticipate increased levels of water in the reservoir, so cultivated land on the reservoir’s shores and further upstream will be flooded. We warn riverside residents to stay away from the shores,” Bouda told IRIN.

Ghana National Disaster Management Organization’s (NADMO) Diana Boakye told IRIN that despite regular consultations with Burkina Faso officials in recent days about the dam, NADMO had less than 24-hour notice before the gate was opened. “Only days ago, they told us the water level was fine. No one could have expected the intense rains would fill it so quickly.”

NADMO’s regional representatives are trying to warn residents in low-lying river communities to move, she said. In 2007, NADMO had more notice to evacuate and no lives were lost, she pointed out. “Both then and now, it is not enough time to save their fields. There will be inevitable land damage if there is flooding.” While rains have tapered off in southern Ghana, there is still rainfall in the north according to NADMO.

“We do not know if, when and how our population will be affected. There will likely be flooding, especially coupled with the rain we are still getting in the north,” said Boakye. She said it would take more time to allow people to protect their fields, and that early warning is still a weak link in the country’s disaster prevention planning.

“The way it works is through word of mouth. Our meteorology services are not advanced enough to give accurate and timely information.”

In 2008 Burkina Faso officials upped the height of the Bragé dam by 1.5 metres to decrease likelihood of flooding.

Flood response

As of 4 September the Burkina Faso government has estimated it will cost US$152 million to face the consequences of flooding, according to Prime Minister Tertius Zongo. He said the government needed $15 million for immediate humanitarian assistance and infrastructure repair. The rains have destroyed a dam in the capital Ouagadougou and another in the northern Sahel region, damaged 12 bridges in the capital and flooded 75 percent of the country’s main hospital, forcing patient evacuations and early discharges.

The biggest challenge remains stocking the dozens of sites sheltering flood victims with enough drinking water, latrines and lights, government officials stressed.


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