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Ghana’s Northern and Upper regions are savanna grasslands and the nearest to the Sahara Desert as it occupies the border lands between Ghana and Burkina-Faso along the white Volta river basin. The area is a drought prone region with one minimal rainy season between April to mid-October every year.

As flat undulating grasslands, the soil is rich for farming. According to Ghana’s ministry of Agriculture, about 97.9 percent of households are crop and livestock farmers in these areas. 

Maize, rice, sorghum, soybeans, groundnuts, cassava, yam, cotton and all kinds of vegetables including tomatoes are commonly cultivated. Every household engages in poultry and livestock rearing. Pig farming has also become a common commercial activity – all depending on water.

Increasing drought resulting from minimal rainfalls and little to no investment on the part of government in irrigation projects over the years have drastically dwindled economic activities in the area. 

To make matters worse, perennial flooding has caused more havoc for the affected communities than drought itself. The perennial flooding in the region has often been blamed on the yearly spilling of a huge hydro Dam near the village of Bagre in Southern Burkina- Faso, a situation that has created diplomatic discomfort between Ghana and her northern neighbour over the years.

All these have contributed to increasing the already alarming poverty levels in a region where little rain enables the production of insufficient food while flooding destroys the insufficiently cultivated crops and livestock of a peasant farmers. 

Government Of Ghana Intervention 

The government of Ghana has had to deal with the social, economic and political ramifications of drought and flooding and a lack of sufficient energy to unleash the economic potential of the affected regions. Though the Pwalugu irrigation scheme already existed for several years, the insufficient water reserves have plagued the scheme, which in the past supported mainly small-scale vegetable and rice production in the area. 

Government of Ghana in 2019, commissioned a multi-million-dollar new expansion and construction project with the sole aim of solving the multiple problems of inadequate power supply, containing flooding through a large reservoir and providing sufficient water for irrigation farming to complement the insufficient rain fall pattern in the region. 

The Pwalugu Hydro-power project is funded through a Chinese loan facility at an initial cost of nearly 1 Billion USD and will add 60 MW production capacity to the national power grid. Nearby this dam project is a photovoltaic solar power plant with a capacity of 50 MW also to be built in Kurugu, in East Mamprusi in the adjoining North-East region of Ghana. 

“The 60 MW hydropower plant and the solar power plant will form the first ever hydro-solar hybrid system in Ghana. The two technologies complement each other to provide a reliable and stable power supply to the national grid,” Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo told Ghanaians at the commissioning of the project in December 2019 just before the onset of the global Covid-19 public health crisis. 

The Pwalugu hydropower plant would be backed by another renewable energy source – the Kurugu Solar Power Station. Construction started in April 2020. If works go on according to the original schedule, the project will be completed within 50 months (over 4 years). 

Though the two power projects are under separate construction, when the Pwalugu Hydroelectric Power Station is completed, it will be connected to the Kurugu Solar Power Station to generate a total of 110 megawatts of power under the joint production of the Pwalugu-Kurugu Hydro-Solar Hybrid Power Plant – the first of its kind in Ghana.

The approved multipurpose dam project is on the white Volta River. The project’s take-off had stalled in the beginning due to initial questions of associated excessively high costs – an issue raised by members of the country’s approving parliament.

Multi-purpose Project Components

In Ghana parliament’s finance committee project approval report, the Pwalugu Multi-Purpose Dam will not only serve to generate electricity for the national power grid but will also serve as a reservoir to store water for downstream irrigation farming as well as flood containment for people living within the catchment area of the White Volta Basin.

The government of Ghana awarded the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for the Pwalugu multipurpose dam to Power China International. The dam will be 165 m high on the White Volta River located within the Talensi district of the Upper East region of Ghana.

For what concerns the associated water reservoir, it will be 350 km² for holding excess water. And below the dam, will be built a hydroelectric power station equipped with two turbines with a combined capacity of 60 MW and a solid continuous output of 16.5 MW.

The reservoir will supply a 25,000 hectares irrigation system in the region. Official estimate puts the irrigation project to benefit over 15,000 farmers and their households living from agriculture on commercial and subsistence basis. 

Planting For Food And Jobs

The development of local agriculture, currently dependent on natural climatic conditions, is therefore a major component of the project. This, the Ghana government says is part of a major government agricultural policy of ‘’planting for food and jobs’’. 

“We look forward to working closely with the government and project contractors to see to the completion of this nearly 1 billion US Dollar Pwalugu Multi-Purpose Dam project, which will benefit various sectors of the economy including; irrigation, fisheries, power generation, and flood control’’, a group of local opinion leaders told government officials and the media at the project site.

They added, ‘’We will also partner with you for an expanded Planting for Food and Jobs, Rearing for Food and Jobs among others for the development and benefits of our people in the region”.

Synohydro, another Chinese company, has been undertaking environmental and social studies in the area to determine the impact of the project on the livelihood of the people in order to implement mitigation measures along the way. 

The Bagre Dam Menace And Diplomatic Rancour

The spillage of the Bagre Dam is a major cause of perennial flooding within the White Volta basin including the upper East and parts of the Northern regions of Ghana. This dam is located near Bagré village in Burkina Faso. It has a maximum level of 235 metres.

SONABEL is the power utility authority in Burkina Faso that annually opens the Bagre Dam to spill the excess water whenever it is filled beyond its holding capacity in order to preserve the dam from damages under the pressure of excess water. This situation has created convenience for the Burkinabes but massive damage to food crops and livestock as well as loss of lives and property of Ghanaians on the same river basin.

Though the spilled water from the Bagre Dam ends up in the Black and White Volta rivers, it leaves destruction on its way in the communities within the basins of these rivers.

Ghana and Burkina Faso began a high-level discussion to find a lasting solution to the perennial water spillage from the Bagre Dam. The National disaster management organization in Ghana (NADMO) has been over stretched in its capacity to constantly deal with its relief efforts towards flood victims in every rainy season. 

Although President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana and President Rock Marc Christian Kabore of Burkina Faso started talks in 2018 to find a diplomatic solution, it is clear that the most lasting solution in Ghana remains the completion of the Pwalugu Dam water reservoir to hold the excess water from the spilled Bagre Dam in order to avoid destructive flooding.  

By: Sacut Amenga-Etego