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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Namibia: Epupa Dam Study

Namibia: Epupa Dam Study
Date distributed (ymd): 980222
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Southern Africa
Issue Areas: +economy/development+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains a press release from the International Rivers Network Southern Africa Program, featuring reviews by outside experts of the feasibility study for the proposed Epupa Dam. The reviewers conclude that the study is "woefully incomplete," and particularly stress that it leaves out an accounting on the project's social impact on the Himba people of the area. For additional reports on the controversial scheme, including replies from the authors of the feasibility study and the opinions of local communities, see the web site of The Namibian newspaper ( The paper has a special update section on the project (

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


January 21, 1998

In Berkeley, California:
Lori Pottinger, 510.848.1155
In Gaborone, Botswana: Steve Rothert, 267.353.337

Lori Pottinger,
Director, Southern Africa Program,
International Rivers Network
1847 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, California 94703, USA
Tel. (510) 848 1155; Fax (510) 848 1008
E-mail:; Web:


The feasibility study for the proposed Epupa Dam in Namibia is so riddled with incorrect conclusions, false assumptions and missing data that it cannot be used as a basis for a well-informed decision on the project, according to a group of outside experts who reviewed the massive report. The reviews, which were filed on Monday with the Namibian government, clearly indicate that the Epupa project has not been justified on economic, social, environmental or power supply grounds.

The seven reviewers looked at sections of the report relevant to their field of expertise, on behalf of the people who would be affected by the dam. The review was coordinated by local and international nongovernmental organizations, including International Rivers Network.

The Epupa Dam is expected to have a capacity of between 200 to 360 megawatts. Its reservoir could inundate as much as 350 square kilometers of land, forcibly displace up to 1,000 people and affect several thousand more. The recently completed feasibility study cost US$7 million. It was funded by Norwegian and Swedish aid agencies (NORAD and SIDA).

Reviewers found inadequacies in the study's sections on economics, environmental impacts, hydrological assumptions and alternative energy analysis. But the most serious problem is that the study leaves out an accounting of the project's social impacts. The dam would have potentially devastating impacts on the pastoralist Himba, who have lived in the area for centuries. At the same time the reviews were filed, 26 of the 32 Himba chiefs in Epupa area stated publicly that they oppose the project.

Reviewer Sidney Harring, a Professor of Law at City University of New York and former Fulbright fellow in Namibia, says:

"There should be no public hearings at all on this woefully incomplete report. Large scale dams are no longer simply engineering matters: the human and environmental impacts are fundamental and must be given full weight. Since this information was not included in the study, the study should not be used further, in any context, until it is complete."

The feasibility study also describes the controversial project as the "least-cost" option for Namibia's growing energy needs - an assertion that reviewers found to be based on false assumptions of cost estimates for both Epupa and alternatives to the dam. Steven Rivkin, a professor of economics at Amherst College, says the project will be an economic loser, contrary to the report's assertions. Rivkin says:

"I do not believe that this dam project passes the narrow test of economic viability using only the quantifiable costs and benefits, much less so when all costs and benefits are considered. I strongly recommend that this project not be undertaken."

The reviews, by experts in the fields of hydrology, freshwater ecology, economics, international law and alternative energy, were submitted to the government as background for a public hearing on the project and the feasibility study, scheduled for February 7 in Windhoek, Namibia.

For more information:

Biographical information about the reviewers and the reviews themselves are available on-line
( See IRN's web site for past stories and press releases on the project ( The feasibility study is also available on the web, but it takes a long time to download and requires "unzipping." The study can be found at

Below is a summary of some of the reviewers most important findings.

Economics Askew

  • The dam offers Namibia the least flexibility and the most risk compared to other energy options. Because the project is very risky and permanent and a large percent of Namibia's total investment, the required rate of return (discount rate) is almost certainly much higher than the rate used in the study (10%). A higher, more realistic rate makes the project economically unviable, even if all non-quantifiable costs are ignored.
  • Both electricity demand and future power costs seem overestimated in the study. These questionable estimates raise serious questions about the project's feasibility.
  • Non-quantifiable impacts are downplayed. The fact that this project would permanently eliminate the homeland for the Himba people and the precious natural resource of Epupa Falls reduces further the likelihood that this project will benefit the people of Namibia.

Social Impacts Ignored

  • The Feasibility study is so incomplete that any scheduling of public hearings is premature: none of the project's social issues can be adequately addressed in hearings until a full social mitigation study is completed.
  • The study does not include the elaborate program of study, consultation, careful scoping of potential negative impacts on affected people's lives, nor a social mitigation program, that is required by international law and recognized professional standards.
  • The scant information on the social impacts trivializes the Himba culture and economy, minimizes the project's impacts on the Himba way of life, glosses over the Himba's land- and water-rights, and offers a glib assessment of resettlement costs.

Alternative Energy Costs Misrepresented

  • Contrary to claims in the Feasibility Study, the dam is not the least cost energy alternative for Namibia. The cost of energy from a combined cycle gas power plant would be 40% cheaper than electricity from Epupa. The study also misrepresented the costs of energy from the Kudu gas fields, now under development.
  • The consultant inappropriately uses assumptions in the analysis that underestimate the viability of alternative energy sources. For example, using conventional assumptions about solar electric systems would result in approximately 20 percent lower costs than what the study indicates.
  • The study's assumption that wind power would require 20 years to develop is greatly exaggerated. Wind power could make a substantial contribution to Namibia's energy portfolio by the year 2005.

Hydrological Data Poor

  • The analysis is based on scant hydrological data (a meager 12-year stream flow record from a location 200 km upstream of the dam site), and does not take into account changing hydrological conditions. Changes in the study's hydrological analysis could make this project an economic burden on the country.

Environmental Impacts Downplayed

  • The authors downplay the impacts of the reservoir's high rate of water evaporation. Evaporation losses from the Epupa reservoir would in fact amount to many times Namibia's total urban consumption. The authors say "the external costs of evaporative losses must be set at nil due to a lack of alternative uses for this water." Setting the value of a natural resource at zero just because it has not been utilized disregards all future possibilities and needs. Considering that Namibia has an ever-increasing water shortage problem, the Cunene represents a priceless water reserve. The dam's huge evaporation loss and the desperate need for water in Namibia alone should conclusively eliminate any proposal to build this dam.
  • The report recommends a "minimum flow" for the river below the dam site during the construction (which will last years) that is not based on a full analysis of the river's ecology and water requirements (called Instream Flow Requirements, or IFR). It is unacceptable that flow recommendations were made in the absence of an IFR study.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups individuals.

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