There is good progress in the Construction Of Regional Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project
Between July 2020 and February 2021, Governance Links Tanzania, a member of Tanzania Nile Discourse Forum conducted a study on Business and Human Rights Footprint in the Construction Of Regional Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project.

The overall objective of this study was to assess how the Tanzania section of the Regional Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project is complying with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), and specifically the requirement of human rights due diligence. The project’s human rights footprint was most significant on economic rights of communities, particularly related to land rights and livelihood opportunities. These impacts were overall well mitigated by the project and the affected people considered the compensations received as sufficient. While the project was found to positively contribute to employment and business opportunities, negative footprints on health and environment seem insufficiently addressed.

The Regional Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project (RRFHP) is a hydropower project under joint development by the Governments of Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania. This joint development was entered through a Tripartite Agreement signed on February, 2012. Rusumo Falls is located on the Kagera River, on the border between Rwanda (Southeast) and Tanzania (Northwest), about 25 kilometers of the common border point between Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania. The RRFHP is championed by the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), the intergovernmental partnership of 10 Nile Basin countries including Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania, and its investment arm, the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program Coordination Unit (NELSAP-CU).

The RRFHP is developed to address an acute shortage of electricity experienced by the three Kagera sub-region countries of Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania which is negatively affecting their economies and the livelihoods of their riparian citizens. The project will enhance regional cooperation, peace building, support sustainable management of the Kagera river basin and promote growth and poverty reduction whilst managing environmental aspects. Constructions on the RRFHP started in March 2017 and is planned to be completed this year 2021.

In Tanzania side, Ngara district, around 39,300 people in 8,360 households were directly affected by the RRFHP (16,200 people in Rusumo village and 23,100 in Kasulo village). In Rusumo village, households were relocated to allow space for the installation of a power generation turbine system.


The actual and Potential Human Rights Impact Issues

  1. Human rights impact - Land as the backbone of rural communities in the district. 39,300 people in 8,360 households in Rusumo and Kasulo villages were relocated from their ancestral land to other areas to allow constructions. To mitigate the loss of livelihoods, land and property, a Local Area Development Plan (LADP) was designed through collaboration of RPCL and the Ngara District Council.

  2. Labor rights impact - It was estimated that about 1,000 people in total would be employed by the RRFHP during and after construction. Employment opportunities were foreseen for managers, engineers, technicians, administrative staff, carpenters, structural steel fitters, cement workers, crane workers, welders, electricians, and mechanics. According to RPCL management, foreigners would occupy 10% of these positions, while nationals would occupy 90%. The high percentage of national employment is required to comply with Tanzania’s Local Content regulations (2018). By June 2020, the total number of Tanzanians employed by contractors to RPLC at the project was 290, about 87% of the country’s share. Most of them are employed as casual laborers and technicians.

  3. On Local business and Supply Chains - There have been no disruptions reported related to business operations and supply chains within the area affected by the project. The only inconveniences mentioned were those resulting from border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

RRFHP footprint on environmental rights

The project’s ESIA acknowledged that there would be substantial impact on flora and fauna due to the construction of a dam on the Kagera River and the diversion of the Kagera River to bypass the Rusumo Falls (after which it rejoins its course further downstream). Ecological impact is particularly expected due to disturbance of a forest to make a way for the dam. The forest cover used to host monkeys and a diversity of birds that are of great aesthetic value.

RRFHP footprint on social and cultural rights

  1. Impacts on Health - The RRFHP study on Environmental and Social Safeguards identified high prevalence rates of infectious diseases and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, in the project area even before the construction started. The inflow of migrant workers and truck drivers is recognized as one of the factors that can lead to an increased spread of diseases in the areas. Further, the reservoir that is expected to hold excess water is feared to create a habitat that will be favorable for the growth of vectors of waterborne disease such as Malaria, Onchocerciasis, and Schistosomiasis.
  2. Impact on Gender and Vulnerable groups – Project contractors demonstrated appreciable levels of gender perspective in the execution of the project. For the vulnerable community, three households were identified to be hosting people with disabilities at Kasulo village. The households were provided special resettlement packages besides the rated compensation.

Human rights due diligence in the RRFHP

Compliance with human rights due diligence - From the World Bank’s perspective, the Environmental and Social Safeguards of the RRFHP evaluated as high risk, because the negative impacts can be significant. Therefore, contractors were jointly obliged to develop a detailed Environmental, Social, Health and Safety Management Plan (ESHS-MP), to detail and outline mitigation measures and monitor impacts. Similarly, the project’s ESIA, approved by Tanzania’s National Environmental Management Council (NEMC), also assessed risks and proposed mitigation measures.

Recommendations from the Study

The RRFHP provides a useful learning point for corporate responsibility in complying with the UNGPs: the following recommendations were brought down by Governance Links Tanzania:

  1. The RRFH is an opportunity and living laboratory for the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) and other regulatory institutions to accelerate popularization of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights across stakeholders in Tanzania.
  2. It is critical for CHRAGG as a frontline institution to provide methodological support to local government authorities to engage with multi-stakeholders in compliance monitoring.
  3. A “whole government” approach is necessary for engaging corporate sector units involved in infrastructure projects to roll out proper due diligence procedures, in alignment with UNGPs on Business and Human Rights and compliance monitoring.
  4. Despite the absence of a national framework for business compliance with Human Rights, corporate institutions and networks should adopt strategies for due diligence through effective implementation of codes of conduct and contractual provisions as primary entry points to alignment with the UN framework.
  5. The surging investments in mega infrastructure projects calls for urgent consideration on establishment of a national framework on business and human rights aligned to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Overall, the project’s human rights footprint was most significant on economic rights of communities, particularly on land and livelihoods. Communities in Rusumo village experienced the most direct impact due to forced relocations, while those in Kasulo village suffered from limited access to their land. These impacts were compensated by the RRFH project. Affected people considered these compensations sufficient to enable them to resettle with stability. The project is also found to positively contribute to employment and business opportunities. Impacts on socio- cultural rights seem limited and, where present, considered sufficiently. Moving forward, greater attention needs to be paid to health and environmental mitigation measures, which – at present – do not suffice considering the impact of the project. Further, strengthening the impact monitoring of project activities and ensuring transparent communication will greatly add value to demonstration of accountability in this large-scale infrastructure project.

Author: Hadija Malimusi
National Technical Support Expert- Tanzania

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