Downstream of River Sanaga in Batchenga where locals use to fish and extract sand, now out of their reach
By Andrew Nsoseka
The Nachtigal Hydro Power Company, NHPC’s construction of the Nachtigal Dam, in order to realise its giant electricty project in Batchenga, Lekie Division of Cameroon’s Centre Region, is creating another problem for locals and the environment.
The giant electricity project is expected to provide 420 MW of electricty, to power Cameroon and help lightup and power a chunk of the country that is still without electricity. The danger for Batchenga’s locals and the environment is due to the fact that the NHPC is failing to properly implement part of the project, which is the sustainable fallback plan for locals who have been ushered out of the water where they fished and extracted sand for a living. Others whose lands were taken from them to create space for the giant electricity project too are still waiting to be fully compensated.
The sluggish process, the locals say, has left many frustrated, as they have no fallback plan. After writing several petitions to local administrators, and the project controllers, locals in Batchenga say they have been ignored, or just given promises that have never been fulfiled.
With several problems created by the construction of the dam for Batchenga and some of its neighbouring communities, IFI Synergies Group came in since 2019, to help the locals claim their rights. After the several petitions, some of which were written through the NGO to administrators, which have seeminly yielded no tangible results, the locals requested the presence of the media, for them to cover and spotlight it for all to see. With this, the NGO, in collaboration with others, brought in 10 journalists, who were schooled on the impacts of the project, its implications for the people and the environment, and then on the second day, sent to the field to see for themselves what was going on in Batchenga. A tour around Batchenga was undertaken by the journalists, during which several persons, including traditional rulers and leaders of local groups, were spoken to, to better understand their plight. Several affected areas were also visited, but for the actual project site, where the journalists were prevented from going to.
During the tour, it was established that the construction of the Dam effectively took away from natives and settlers in Batchenga, their source of income, which was principally fishing, fish mongering (for the women), sand extraction and farming. The NHPC project is sponsored by Electricité de France (EDF), the African Development Bank, AFRICA50, Dutch Development Bank (FMO), the World Bank and other partners. These institutions all have policies that favour the preservation of the environment and adequate compensation of natives in areas where they fund projects. However, in Batchenga, a short-sighted approach was used, because, while ensuring that the project is environmentally friendly, the project owners did not envisage a sustainable fallback for the natives, in terms of their making a living from alternative sources.
The company did put in place a livelihood restoration plan, which, from all indications, was poorly executed, leaving locals bitter and confused on how they can make a living in challenging times.
Locals who were supposed to benefit from the Batchenga restoration plan are bitter with the paltry sums given some of them. A percentage of the compensation package was given to some, and others say nothing has been given to them.
With such lapses, locals in Batchenga’s over a dozen villages are now left stranded and are falling back to exploiting their community forest, 70 percent Savanah, 30 percent secondary forest – spread across Lekie Division’s over 4800 hectares of land – for livelihood. Unprogrammed and uncoordinated timber harvesting, burning of wood for charcoal and sawing of timber for planks by locals may be the only alternative – a dangerous one in the climate change era.
Such a situation could spell doom for the environment, its people and even animals that depend on it.
Talking to the press, the Chief of Olembe Village, who also spoke as an owner of a sandmine, regretted that the Dam Project has instead impoverished them, and taken from them their means of livlihood. He said the meagre amount given as compensation has not even been given in its entirety.
Similar worrries were expressed by the fishing community, who said little or nothing has been done about their case, several years after the project strarted off.
On the environmental front, there has been the cutting of trees into water bodies, a practice which, experts say, will lead to the emission of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is one of the greenhouse gases that is responsible for the rapidly changing climate. Some of the felled trees along paths where high tension poles to transport the electricity have been erected, will also emmit methane into the atmosphere as they decompose, especially those in marshy areas, as locals have been barred from collecting and using the wood for other activities.