The primary purpose of the Akosombo HEP was to provide electricity for the Aluminum Industry (Zakhary 1997). The Akosombo HEP was called "the largest single investment in the economic development plans of Ghana" (GHP 2007). Its original electrical output was 912 MWe, which was upgraded to 1020 MWe in a retrofit project that was completed in 2006.
The flooding to create the Lake Volta reservoir, displaced many people and had a significant impact on the environment (Gyau-Boakye 2001).
In the beginning of 2007, there were concerns over the electricity supply from the dam due to lower water levels in the Lake Volta reservoir. Some sources say these are due to problems with drought that are a consequence of global warming. During Q3-Q4 of 2007, much of this concern was abated when heavy rain fell in the catchment area of Volta River.
The dam was conceived in 1915 by geologist Albert Ernest Kitson, but no plans were drawn until the 1940s. The dam provides electricity to Ghana and its neighboring West African countries, including Togo and Benin. The dam is 660 Metres wide and 114 Metres high. It cost £130 million to build. It was built between 1961 and 1965. Its development was undertaken by the Ghanaian government and funded in part by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development of the World Bank, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
Although 20% of Akosombo Dam's electric output is provided to Ghana generally, the remaining 80% is generated for the American-owned Volta Aluminium Company. The Ghana Government was compelled, by contract, to pay for over 50% of the cost of Akosombo’s construction, but the country was allowed only 20% of the power generated. Some commentators are concerned that this is an example of neo-colonialism.
The development of the Volta River Basin was initially proposed in 1949, but because they did not have sufficient funds, the American company Valco loaned them enough so that the dam could be built. Formerly known as the Gold Coast until 1957, when Ghana became the first sub-Saharan nation to gain its independence from colonial rule (Fobil 2003). At that time, Ghana’s limited economy was sustained solely by the country’s cocoa production (Zakhary 1997). As a newly independent country, Ghana became motivated to expand the economy through industrial development. The elected Prime Minister of independent Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, adopted the Volta River hydropower project to grandly represent the beginning of a new and growing economy (GHP 2007). (with penny to assess scale)]] The final proposal outlined the building of an aluminum smelter at Tema, a dam constructed at Akosombo to power the smelter, and a network of power lines installed through southern Ghana. The aluminum smelter was expected to eventually provide the revenue necessary for establishing local bauxite mining and refining, which would allow aluminum production without importing foreign bauxite. Development of the aluminum industry within Ghana was dependent upon the proposed hydropower. (GHP 2007)
The proposed project’s aluminum smelter was overseen by the American company, Kaiser Aluminum, and is operated by the Volta Aluminum Company (Valco). The smelter received its financial investment from Valco shareholders, with the support of the Export-Import Bank of Washington. However, Valco did not invest without first requiring insurances from Ghana’s government, such as company exemptions from taxes on trade and discounted purchases of electricity. The dam, on the other hand, received its funding through loans provided by the World Bank, and support from both the U.S. and the U.K. These loans came to a total of about $40 million (48 million cedis), while the government of Ghana supplied the other $69 million (84 million cedis) necessary for constructing the hydropower plant at Akosombo. The estimated total cost of the project, in its entirety, was estimated at $258 million (313.7 million cedis). (GHP 2007) In 1961, the Volta River Authority (VRA) was established by Ghana’s Parliament through the passage of the Volta River Development Act. The VRA’s fundamental operations were structured by six Board members and Dr. Nkrumah as Chairman. The VRA’s primary task is to manage the development of the Volta River Basin, which included the construction and supervision of the dam, the power station and the power transmission network. The VRA is responsible for the reservoir impounded by the dam, the fishing within the lake, lake transportation and communication, and the welfare of those surrounding the lake. (Fobil 2003) (GHP 2007)
The construction of the Akosombo dam required the flooding of the Volta River Basin and its upstream fields, resulting in the creation of Lake Volta which covers 3.6% of Ghana’s total land area (Fobil 2003). Lake Volta was formed between the years of 1962 and 1966, and necessitated the relocation of 80,000 people into 52 resettlement villages two years prior to the lake’s completion; the resettlement program was under the direction of the VRA (Fobil 2003)(Gyau-Boakye 2001). The 80,000 people, that represented 1% of the population, made up 700 villages prior to resettlement (Zakhary 1997). Two percent of the resettlement population were riparian fishers and most were subsistence farmers (Zakhary 1997). The Eastern Region of Ghana and the populations incorporated within its districts, was most subject to the project’s effects. At least two districts within the Eastern Region represent indigenous ethnic groups (Suave 2002).
Impacts of the Akosombo HEP
Generally, the Akosombo Hydroelectric Project (HEP) benefited some industrial and economic activities from the addition of lake transportation, increased fishing, new farming activities along the shoreline, and tourism (Gyau-Boakye 2001). The power generated has provided for primary interests within Ghana, while also supplying power to the neighboring countries of Togo and Benin (Suave 2002). Ghana’s industrial and economic expansion triggered a higher demand for power, beyond the Akosombo HEP capabilities. By 1981, a smaller dam was built at the town of Kpong, downstream from Akosombo and further upgrades to Akosombo have become necessary for maintaining hydropower output (Fobil 2003). Initially, the dam’s power production capabilities greatly overreached the actual demand; while, the demand since the dam’s inception has resulted in the doubling of hydropower production (Van De Giesen 2001). Increasing demands for power exceed what can be provided by the current infrastructure. Power demands, along with unforeseen environmental trends, have resulted in rolling blackouts and major power outages (Fobil 2003)(Van De Giesen 2001). A trend of lower lake levels has been observed, sometimes below the requirement for operation of the Akosombo dam (Van De Giesen 2001). In response, speculation about new dam construction sites, such as the proposed Bui Dam, continues along Volta tributaries (Van De Giesen 2001).
from space]] In the time following the construction of the dam at Akosombo, there has been a steady decline in agricultural productivity along the lake and the associated tributaries (Gyau-Boakye 2001). The land surrounding Lake Volta is not nearly as fertile as the formerly cultivated land residing underneath the lake, and heavy agricultural activity has since exhausted the already inadequate soils. Upstream agricultural systems are losing soil fertility without the periodic floodings that brought nutrients to the soil before the natural river flow was halted by the dam (Van De Giesen 2001). The growth of commercially intensive agriculture has produced a rise in fertilizer run-off into the river. This, along with run-off from nearby cattle stocks and sewage pollution, has caused eutrophication of the river waters (Gyau-Boakye 2001). The nutrient enrichment, in combination with the low water movement, has allowed for the invasion of aquatic weeds (Cerratophyllum). These weeds have become a formidable challenge to water navigation and transportation (Fobil 2003).
The presence of aquatic weed along the lake and within the tributaries has resulted in even greater detriment to local human health. The weeds provide the necessary habitat for black-fly, mosquitoes and snails, which are the vectors of water-borne illnesses such as bilharzia and malaria (Gyau-Boakye 2001). Since the installment of the dam, these diseases have increased remarkably. In particular, resettlement villages have showed an increase in disease prevalence since the establishment of Lake Volta, and a village’s likelihood of infection corresponds to its proximity to the Lake (Zakhary 1997). Children and fishermen have been especially hard hit by this rise of disease prevalence (Zakhary 1997). Additionally, the degradation of aquatic habitat has resulted in the decline of shrimp and clam populations (Fobil 2003). The physical health of local communities has been diminished from this loss of shellfish populations, as they provided an essential source of dietary protein. Likewise, the rural and industrial economies have experienced the financial losses associated with the decimation of river aquaculture (Gyau-Boakye 2001).
The loss of land experienced by the 80,000 people forcibly relocated meant the loss of their primary economic activities from fishing and agriculture, loss of their homes, loss of their loved ones’ grave sites, loss of community stability, and the eventual loss of important social values (Gyau-Boakye 2001). The resettlement program demonstrated the social complexities involved in establishing “socially cohesive and integrated” communities (Gyau-Boakye 2001). The high death rate among the elderly community members following their resettlement is representative of the psychological and social burdens accompanying a resettlement program (Gyau-Boakye 2001). Insufficient planning resulted in the relocation of communities into areas that were not capable of providing for their former livelihoods and traditions (Suave 2002). The loss of the naturally fertile soils beneath Lake Volta essentially led to the loss of traditional farming practices (Suave 2002). The poor living conditions provided within the resettlement villages has been demonstrated by population reductions since resettlement. One resettlement village in particular experienced a greater than 50% population reduction in the 23 years following relocation (Suave 2002). Increased economic risks and experiences of poverty are associated with those communities most impacted by the Volta River’s development (Fobil 2003). The extensive human migration and degradation of natural resources within the Volta-basin area, are the products of poverty in conjunction with population pressure (Van De Giesen 2001).
Increased human migration within the area has been driven by poverty and unfavorable resettlement conditions (Gyau-Boakye 2001)(Van De Giesen 2001). This migration enabled the contraction of HIV and has since led to its heightened prevalence within Volta Basin communities (Suave 2002). The districts of Manya Krobo and Yilo Krobo, which lie within the southwest portion of the Volta Basin, are predominately indigenous communities that have attained a disproportionate prevalence of HIV (Suave 2002). The situation underlines the strength of the local factors upon these districts. Commercial sex (Thomas) work was established in response to the thousands of male workers that were in the area for building the dam (Suave 2002). Ten percent of the child-bearing females from these two districts migrated out of their districts during this time (Suave 2002). In 1986, “ninety percent of AIDS victims in Ghana were women, and ninety-six percent of them had recently lived outside the country” (Suave 2002, p. 407).
Future conditions are likely to worsen. Earthquakes have already become more common due to the crustal re-adjustments from the added weight of the water within Lake Volta (Gyau-Boakye 2001). There is an eastward shift of the river’s mouth from the changes to the river’s delta zone and this has led to continuing coastal erosion. The changes in the river hydrology have altered the local heat budget which has caused microclimatic changes such as decreasing rain and higher mean monthly temperatures. All of these larger scale environmental impacts will all further compound the problems surrounding disruptions to local economic activities and associated, difficult human welfare conditions (Gyau-Boakye 2001).