Kampala — The World Bank's board of executive directors, will at their next sitting, discuss and is expected to decide the way forward on a report of investigations by the group's Inspections Panel.
The report is about government and the Chinese contractors for Isimba dam disregarding various environmental and social concerns with potential to cause harm to nearby local communities.
A team from the Inspections Panel, the independent accountability arm of the Bank, was in the country in December to look into concerns of potential flooding and destruction of environment raised by local communities around the Kalagala Offset Area which is in the embankment of the $570m (Shs2 trillion) dam project.
The Kalagala area covers Kalagala and Itanda Nile bank and Namavundu central forest reserves, which are 40 kilometres north of Bujagali.
While the World Bank has nothing to do with Isimba dam, sources familiar with the matter told this newspaper, they are concerned about the issues raised about Kalagala following the 2007 Indemnity Agreement they (through the funding arm , International Development Association) signed with government to preserve the area for its tourism (rafting and picnic at Kalagala Falls) and cultural significance
The Kalagala area was formed to offset the large scale flooding into people's homes and destroyed property as a result of construction of Bujagali dam, the Bank partly funded. The Indemnity agreement was thus for mitigating damages caused by the Bujagali dam and categorically stated that the area set aside would not be flooded by another hydro-dam project.
But towards the completion of Bujagali the government expressed interest in constructing another dam, and consequently approached the Chinese government for a soft loan to construct Isimba.
The Bank has continually engaged government on the matter since it jumpstarted the Isimba dam construction. The dam creates a large reservoir of around 28km that could flood into homes, submerge nearby river rapids used for sporting.
Sources said the Inspections Panel came into the country to investigate the matter after receiving "a second Request for Inspection complaint" from local communities "who are likely to be affected by the effects which is as a result of Bujagali."
The same inspections panel in 2015 investigated and confirmed claims that the state Chinese contractor, China Railway Seventh Group contracted on the 66.2km Kamwenge-Fort Portal road project was preying on minor girls and sexually harassing women. This prompted the Bank to plug on the Shs800b fund for Transport Sector Development Project, which also affected road projects under the Albertine Region Sustainable Development Project and North Eastern Road-Corridor Asset Management Project.
At least 2,000 people living in nearby communities, it is believed could be affected by the Isimba dam flooding.
Should it be found the project would negatively impact on the Kalagala Offset area, sources said the Bank could enforce the Indemnity Agreement in order to achieve its objective of preserving biodiversity. According to the agreement, Uganda committed to protect the Kalagala Falls' natural habitat and environment. One of the ways it would achieve this was by not developing power generation projects that would adversely affect the ability to maintain the falls.
The government was also to carry out tourism development activities at the falls in conformity with sound social and environmental standards. And that it would protect the spiritual - social - values of the Kalagala geographical area.
Although the government conducted an environmental impact and social assessment (ESIAs) before construction of Isimba commenced, sources said it was very "wanting" and the World Bank "poked holes in it."
The ministry of Energy in 2015 sought to hire a consultant to undertake a fresh ESIA for the project and also produce a Long Term Conservation Options report, but the spokesperson Ibrahim Kasita said they had handed over project management to the Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (UEGCL), the overseers of power generation in the country. UEGCL spokesman Simon Kasyate, in response to our inquiries said: "Kalagala Falls will not be affected or submerged completely as feared. And so it is not entirely true to posit that there will be a total loss of the rapids and livelihood as a result."
However, he added: "The benefits of hydropower development clearly outweigh those of tourism in its current form (rafting). Besides Isimba project will enhance current opportunities and promote synergies with new ones, like lost rafting time could be compensated for with boat rides on the reservoir."
Mr Kasyate, also watered down claims that the Chinese "have ignored/ disregarded" the original ESIA, saying "the impact of this Project on tourism has been well documented, including the rapids affected, lost tourism experiences and lost businesses, but Isimba brings on board a wealth of other/alternative tourism and economic opportunities, including utilisation of the reservoir/still waters for boat rides, fishing, and transportation."
"An addendum has been prepared specifically to address impacts of Isimba Project on the Kalagala offset area. Once submitted to National Environment Management Authority, it will be disclosed and will be accessible to affected persons, and at district headquarters."