Stakeholder engagement: A key ingredient for project success

Prior to the late 1970s, the environmental and social impacts of large dam developments were not considered a priority in the decision-making and implementation processes of developers constructing dams. Through Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs), the voices of sociologists and environmentalists, as well as Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and community members now inform the construction of large dams. This change has ensured a fuller knowledge and understanding of the benefits, impacts and risks associated with constructing large dams.

Although ESIAs in Africa, and in large dam projects in particular, face numerous institutional and ideological challenges, there are examples of successful ESIA implementation. One such example is the ESIA undertaken for Maguga Dam in Swaziland between 1997 and 2002. The project is a bi-national water development project between the Republic of South Africa and the Kingdom of Swaziland. According to the Komati Basin Water Authority (KOBWA), the ultimate aim of Maguga Dam is to reduce poverty and unemployment through commercial agricultural development that targets rural areas.

SRK was part of a consortium which undertook the ESIA for the construction of the Maguga main dam, including the coordination of specialist studies, public involvement, and liaison with the relevant authorities. In the Maguga Dam Project, affected people received water and energy assistance to establish farm cooperatives, health and sports facilities. On completion of the dam, workers’ homes were sold to the local population to help alleviate the housing shortage in the area. An independent dispute resolution process was established to assist KOBWA in addressing project affected peoples complaints. Added to this, the Maguga communities were able to build their own homes and they were encouraged and assisted to use part of their compensation to develop businesses. These initiatives were supported by an effective stakeholder engagement process, which meant that the opinions and concerns of Maguga communities were incorporated into the project design and implementation.

Effective stakeholder engagement was a key ingredient in the success of Maguga Dam. It ensured local communities benefited directly from the project.

Tandi Reilly:

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