Southern African Hearings for Communities Affected by Large Dams

The Southern African hearings for communities affected by large dams, took place on the 11th and 12th of November 1999 in Cape Town, South Africa. Participants from Southern African countries met to discuss and analyse the negative and positive social, environmental and economic impacts that large dams have had on their communities. The Hearings were hosted by the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG), the Group for Environmental Monitoring (GEM), and, the Botswana Office of the International Rivers Network (IRN – Botswana), under the patronage of His Grace, the Most Reverend Njongonkulu Ndungane, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.Importantly, the World Commission on Dams (WCD) Secretariat staff, including Mr Achim Steiner, the WCD Secretary-General were present throughout the Hearings. Kader Asmal, South Africa’s Minister of Education, who chairs the WCD, hosted a reception for delegates on the evening of the 11th and delivered a speech that captivated the audience. Additional high profile speakers included the, South African Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Minister Ronnie Kasrils, Justice Albie Sachs of the South African Constitutional Court and WCD Commissioner, Joji Carino from the Philippines.The issues and themes highlighted by community representatives throughout the two-day event are reflected in the Final Declaration, which is to a large extent the voice of affected communities in Southern Africa.While, a call was not made to forever halt the construction of large dams, it became clear that the history of large dams and affected communities in Southern Africa has been one of broken promises and incalculable losses. Livelihoods, land, livestock, wildlife, cultural values, ancestral sites and lives have been lost. Large dams also caused a decrease in the standard of living of communities; a decrease in health levels; an increase in HIV/AIDS and other diseases as well as in crime and inter- and intra-community conflicts.There has been inadequate community participation, inadequate information dissemination, and inadequate compensation. Communities were often forced to move against their will. They were not treated with dignity nor with respect for their customs. In fact, large dams have been devastating to many of Southern Africa’s local communities.Participants made a number of recommendations to ensure that past injustices are rectified, and to ensure that in the future communities are treated in a just, equitable and dignified manner. In order to facilitate effective participation of communities in the decision-making and implementation process, and to increase openness and transparency, the meeting called for communities to be empowered, with information as to their rights; with the development of community committees; and that funds be provided for community and NGO participation, amongst others. Binding and enforceable contracts for compensation and resettlement programmes need to be entered into. And dams (in all their aspects) must be continually monitored.The meeting also called for a moratorium on new dams to be instituted until the World Commission on Dams has published its findings and best practice guidelines.Southern African Hearings’ Final DeclarationVoices of Affected CommunitiesThe history of large dams and affected communities in Southern Africa has been one of broken promises and incalculable losses: We lost our livelihoods and cannot regain them;Our land where we grew food was taken from us and not replaced;Our homes were demolished or drowned;Our livestock were taken from us;We lost control of our natural resources,Our wildlife have disappeared;Our cultural values, functions and roots have been destroyed;Our ancestors’ graves have been buried under deep water, andThe lives of some of our community and family members were violently taken from us.Large dams have also caused:A decrease in our standard of living,A decrease in our level of health,Costs for resources we previously used freely,Increases in HIV/AIDS, crime and other urban problems, andConflicts in our communities where there once were none.In our experience, the history of large dams is one of broken promises. Large dams have been built:with inadequate community participation,with too few jobs going to local people,with inadequate education and information dissemination, and,with inadequate compensation and resettlement resources, especially land.We have been forced to move against our will without knowing when or where we would be going, and without a way for our concerns or objections to be heard.We have not been treated with dignity, nor with respect for our customs, our ancestors or our children. We have shouldered the burden of large dams, but we have enjoyed very few of the benefits. In short, large dams have been devastating to many of our communities.To ensure that these past injustices are rectified we urge the following:Claims of past injustices should be addressed by Human Rights Commissions where applicable;Governments should compensate us for outstanding losses and damages causedby large dams;The issue of compensation and reparations for outstanding losses and damages must be addressed by governments, the Commonwealth and the Queen of England for Kariba Dam injustices; andAn independent institution should be created to address all outstanding claims and broken promises.To ensure that in the future, communities are treated in a just, equitable and dignified manner we make the following requests:Dams must be seen as a means to development, not an end in themselves.Affected communities must be allowed to participate as equal partners in the process. This means the following:Communities become “shareholders” of dam projects, resulting in benefits accruing directly to communities through such mechanisms as trust funds;Communities, including end-user communities, are involved in the decision-making process before the decision to build has been made;A process is established to facilitated negotiated agreements on key aspects of projects, including compensation, resettlement and benefit-sharing.In order to facilitate effective participation of communities in the decision-making and implementation process, and to increase openness and transparency, the following must be done.Empower communities, including informing them of their rights;Increase the involvement of local and international NGOs and the media;Facilitate the development of community committees;Strengthen other existing locally based structures;Provide capacity building and training programmes, including those related to home construction;Make available to the public all project documents, including budgets; andProvide funds for community and NGO participation.In order to ensure that projects are implemented properly and promises are not broken, Government, project authorities and other project developers must take responsibility and enter into binding and enforceable contracts for compensation and resettlement programmes. These contracts must be properly negotiated and agreed upon with affected communities.Resettlement and compensation issues must be resolved to the satisfaction of communities before construction begins. For ongoing commitments of government, project authorities and other project developers, milestones of progress must be established and sanctions imposed if not met. As long as they continue to stand, dams must be monitored, including dam safety and impacts on community health and sanitation.Communities must be treated with dignity and respect in the resettlement and compensation process:A rigorous and thorough social and environmental impact assessment must be done.Families must be kept together.Ancestors’ graves must be moved with families.Facilities such as health and education must be in place before resettlement begins.Land of suitable quality and quantity must be made available.Compensation must be adequate and fair, and based on the concept of “a structure for a structure”.Institutions and processes for making and addressing claims must be created, and community representatives must be part of these institutions.On the broader level, communities request the following:International law must be created to enforce just compensation, resettlement and benefit-sharing.An independent body must be created to address future ongoing and future dam issues.A moratorium on new dams should be instituted until the World Commission on Dams has published its findings, criteria and standards.