Negotiating fair agreements between government and communities affected by dams

Negotiating fair agreements between government and communities affected by dams Large dam construction often forces villages to be moved
and their residents resettled. Thousands or tens of thousands of people may be displaced. This upsets lives, breaks up communities, disrupts agricultural systems and can lead to people losing
their society’s traditions. At the same time, large dams can bring many benefits: Electricity Irrigation for agricultural development Better roads and connections to markets Reservoirs for fishing And better social and community services including schools,
water supplies, clinics and markets. However, evidence from dams in West Africa shows that during negotiations
before the dam is constructed the benefits are often exaggerated, while disadvantages are downplayed. All too often, local people have been made promises by politicians that are
not subsequently met. There can be different reasons for this. For example, needs and expectations discussed in village meetings
may not be effectively translated into project documents. Or planners are unrealistically optimistic about how far the dam will boost
economic growth and create local livelihood opportunities. The gulf between promises made and what’s delivered has led to frustration
and ill feeling among local affected communities. Grievances are passed down from generation to generation.
Communities speak more of sacrifice than opportunity. But it is possible to learn from the past. Dam building in West Africa can be different. The ECOWAS guidelines encourage transparent agreements between
government and local communities before dam construction. These agreements clearly set out how resettled communities will be
compensated, including development opportunities the dam will create. They also clarify commitments and obligations of the different parties, agreeing how they will work together to build a dam that brings benefits for all,
including the local community. Once agreed, a social contract is drawn up – this might be a legal document
or simply an agreement of mutual understanding. Essentially, it’s a demonstrable ‘deal’ made between people and their state
that allows local communities to become active partners in the project and agree the measures that are intended to compensate and ultimately
benefit them. This deal demonstrates local people’s “free, prior and informed consent”, where they have the right to give or withhold consent to actions that will
affect them in relation to land, territories and natural resources. Such clear, formal understandings prevent the government from
over-promising the benefits that the dam will bring. They provide a constructive framework that gives affected people a stake in the
project and ensures plans for compensation and benefit sharing are agreed; and most importantly they reduce the risk of social conflict as resettled people
re-establish their lives.

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