Neutral? Against What? Bystanders and Human Rights Abuses
The case of Merowe Dam

by Nicholas Hildyard

first published 30 April 2008

The Merowe/Hamadab hydroelectric and irrigation Dam on the River Nile in Sudan, which was completed in 2009 but is not yet producing electricity, is the largest hydro project in Africa. Its reservoir has displaced some 50,000-78,000 people, mainly from the Manasir ethnic group. Many have been moved to "resettlement" sites in the Nubian desert and are now reliant on food aid.

The Government of Sudan awarded the major contracts for equipment and project management to three European companies: Germany's Lahmeyer International, France's Alstom and Switzerland's ABB. The main construction work was undertaken by a Chinese joint venture company established between China International Water & Electric Corp, and China National Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Corporation.

The Merowe Dam will continue to have profound social and environmental impacts. Implementation to date has been characterised by human rights abuses, forced resettlement, illegality and a failure to abide by international standards or to conduct adequate environmental impact studies. The UN Rapporteur for Adequate Housing issued a damning statement on Merowe in August 2007.

Nonetheless, the companies involved consistently failed to use their influence to halt the Dam's implementation until issues surrounding its impacts wee resolved, responses (or lack of) that are hard to reconcile with their corporate rhetoric of commitments to uphold human rights. Such reluctance might be interpreted as arising less from neutrality ("we are simply contractors") as from a deliberate decision to turn a blind eye to Merowe's impacts.

This article was first published in Sudan Studies, No 37, April 2008.

For more background on the Merowe Dam and its impacts, please follow these external links: