The Volta River Basin and Ghana
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.
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:
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.