The Volta River Basin and Ghana

The Volta River runs through six West African countries, covering approximately 410,000 square kilometres. It is an important transboundary basin for sustaining livelihoods and economic development.

FutureDAMS is researching the Volta River Basin, with a particular focus on Ghana. In the early postcolonial period dams were central to policy making in Ghana and regarded as a key tool in the quest for development, bringers of socioeconomic and cultural modernisation. Ghana thus constructed three large dams: Akosombo, Kpong and Bui. The dams were primarily for the provision of hydroelectricity, with ecological and environmental concerns outweighed by energy, economic and development considerations.

Currently, new dams and the reoperation of existing dams of national importance are being simultaneously considered. A holistic understanding of the water-energy-food-environment system and the politics of decision making will be necessary to support sustainable development. FutureDAMS, together with our partners, are co-developing tools, models, and research that enable better planning and operation of the infrastructure and resource systems of the Volta River Basin.

River basin modelling and assessment

FutureDAMS is developing online tools for the Volta River Basin based on state-of-the art simulators, allowing users to simulate the water and power systems and assess potential interventions. The benefits and negative consequences of developments are quantified, to inform decision making and support cooperative management and development of large transboundary river basins.

The tools have been applied in conceptual applications highlighting the value of considering spatial relationships and interdependencies within joined up river basin – energy systems. Also, in real-world applications as the Pwalugu Multipurpose Dam.

Integrated water-energy system analysis

Coupled water and power network design is achieved using the FutureDAMS tools, looking at how the systems perform in different circumstances, particularly when there is uncertainty, such as unpredictable climate events, river flows and energy demands. Models are used to suggest the best combination of infrastructure and policy interventions, such as irrigation canals, thermal and hydroelectric plants and multi-purpose reservoirs and their operating rules, to satisfy a range of objectives.

The tools have been applied to the Pwalugu Mulitpurpose Dam to compare the benefits of carrying on with historical reservoir operations with adopting new cooperative rules which would result in the best achievable results for riparians.

CGE modelling

The water system model has been coupled with a CGE model to quantify the economy-wide impacts of hydropower development. It is being used to assess the impacts of the construction, financing and operation of Bui dam. The results support the evidence that an economy-wide approach that goes beyond the quantification of the direct impacts of projects can be a valuable tool to include in ex-ante economic assessments of infrastructure investments.

For more information on how the models were developed, visit our research pages:

Water resources simulation | Power systems simulation | Integrated assessment tools 


Decision making and social analyses

Social impacts of dams

In Ghana the team are focussing on the social implications of Pwalugu Dam. The review suggests that for the dam to achieve its potential to contribute to the economic transformation of North-east Ghana, it’s social dimensions will be need to be very carefully planned; ensuring that it learns from earlier irrigation/dam projects in Ghana; and it will need to adopt international best practices for affected community compensation and livelihood restoration. FutureDAMS is also researching hydropower benefit sharing as an additional and positive long-term development impact, beyond replacing or marginally improving on lost assets.

Agriculture and livelihoods

The agriculture and livelihoods research is seeking to understand the performance of large-scale irrigation scheme. Their findings suggest irrigation schemes across sub-Saharan Africa are consistently failing to deliver the planned area of irrigation, with no noted improvements over 60 years of development.

The team’s other study looks at the comparative performance of alternative existing approaches to irrigation development and how they influence welfare outcomes for smallholders. The findings highlight the need for broadening public support for irrigators outside the government managed irrigation schemes, who are often neglected in official irrigation development narratives.

FutureDAMS researchers at the University of Surrey are developing an agent-based social simulation model called WATERING (WATER user associations at the Interface of Nexus Governance). WATERING provides bottom-up understanding of how decisions made at an individual level (e.g., by crop farmers or large-scale livestock farmers) affect the status of water availability and infrastructure at community level. The model also illustrates and explains the effect of WUA’s water management decisions – either as a result of monitoring resource availability in the community or due to broader socio-political issues – on the productivity and wellbeing of water users.

Politics and governance

The FutureDAMS politics team are working on three streams of research.

  • Electricity generation – Barnaby Dye analysed the politics underpinning Ghana’s electricity crises of power cuts and oversupply to show short term decision making was key and undermined the sector’s fiscal position.
  • Effective bureaucracies managing water and electricity decision making – Case study of the Volta River Authority to examine what are the political processes that support adequate finance, long-term planning and meritocratic recruitment. With Dr Ishmael Ayanoore.
  • Distributing the benefits of the electricity system – Who benefits most from the tariff regime and the electricity contracts? With Dr Simon Bawakyillenuo.

Research highlights

Keynote seminar: Integrating water-energy-food-environment planning for climate adaptation and resilience

Julien Harou Chair in Water Engineering, University of Manchester Claudia Ringler Deputy Director of Environment and Production Technology Division, IFPRI John Matthews Executive Director, AGWA Chair: James Dalton Director, IUCN Global Water Programme FutureDAMS is...

Webinar: A multi-method approach to explore the purpose, performance and potential of Water User Associations

Dr Kavin Narasimhan, Centre for Research in Social Simulation, University of Surrey This webinar presents the latest FutureDAMS research on the role of Water User Associations (WUAs) in community-based water management.  Community-based management (CBM) is central to...

Implications of hydro dams for decarbonising Ghana’s energy consistent with Paris climate objectives

Hydropower is often considered a renewable source of electricity, widely used to inform Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as part of climate mitigation. However, research suggests there are significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from reservoirs that cover...

The political power controlling Ghana’s electricity system and the ensuing crises

By Barnaby Dye On the 27 August 2012, a small group of pirates triggered the first of two major power crises in Ghana. Attempting to escape from the Togolese Navy on a captured oil tanker, the pirates left the ship’s anchor trailing. It snagged on the West African Gas...

Webinar: Financing national scale energy projects in developing countries – An economy-wide evaluation of Ghana’s Bui Dam Dr Alvaro Calzadilla,  Associate Professor at UCL's Bartlett School Environment, Energy & Resources Large energy infrastructure can imply special financing arrangements between governments in developing economies and investors or lenders....

WATERING decentralised water governance

FutureDAMS researchers are developing an agent-based model[10] called WATERING (WATER user associations at the Interface of Nexus Governance) to explore the management of WUAs and suggest alternative, viable, context-based approaches to decentralised water management. WATERING investigates the role of WUAs working with large irrigation schemes and those benefiting from small dams.

Lecture: China’s role in large hydropower dams in Asia and Africa

Yesterday we were joined by Frauke Urban, Associate Professor in the Management of Sustainable Energy Systems at KTH, as part of the FutureDAMS lecture series. The lecture focused on the findings from her recent comparative study of Chinese hydropower dams in Africa...

The context and politics of decision making on large dams in Ghana: an overview

FutureDAMS Ghana team have written their first working paper for the project. It provides a comprehensive overview of the history of dams in the Ghana up to the present day, covering their technical details, planning processes and politics. This piece of work is...

FutureDAMS symposium in Ghana

By Barnaby Dye, FutureDAMS Research Associate FutureDAMS held its annual conference in Accra, Ghana a couple of weeks ago. This was an exciting opportunity to meet our colleagues from across the world and particularly in Ghana. With a vibrant and well-established...

FutureDAMS launches in Ghana

By Adam Randon, FutureDAMS programme manager  Between 10 and 13 June, Senior Management Team members David Hulme (CEO), Julien Harou (Research Director) and Jamie Skinner (Capacity Director) attended the formal launch of the FutureDAMS programme in Ghana, organised by...
Header image: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC