A new report from research and advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) describes construction of the Republic of Guinea's Souapiti dam as breaching human rights requirements for displaced persons. The group examines the impact of the 450 megawatt dam on the villages and hamlets that are affected by the flooding of the reservoir and the lack of support provided by the government of Guinea president Alpha Conde.
The report is based on information from over 90 interviews with displaced residents and villages in the West African Republic on whose land people are resettled, as well as interviews with government leaders involved in the resettlement process, also offering recommendations on how resettlements can be improved going forward, and describing remedies needed for communities that have already been displaced.
When it commences operations in September 2020, the new hydropower project will significantly change the country’s access to electricity. However, in order to complete construction an estimated 16,000 people from over 100 villages and hamlets have been displaced, leaving ancestral homes, farmlands, and livelihoods.
Displacement breaks social and cultural links between families and the land and, for the most part, disrupts income-earning capability. In Guinea, those already displaced have been resettled in concrete houses on land given over by other villages. No legal titles have been transferred, presenting the potential for future discord. No land has been allocated to replace the purloined means of subsistence and no compensation for loss of the land has been offered.
HRW reports that dozens of displaced residents are already struggling to find adequate food for their families. “Residents from several villages said that, whereas before being displaced they used to grow their own food, they must now find enough money to buy it from local markets.”
The report identifies that international human rights standards require that resettled populations have immediate access to livelihood sources, and that resettlement sites should include access to employment options. Although a plan to meet these obligations exists, at the end of 2019, the Souapiti Agency responsible for the relocations had not started implementing livelihood restoration measures and displaced populations were receiving no support to help them re-establish the farming-dependent lifestyle they had left behind.
The Souapiti project is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has supported similar large-scale infrastructure investment in over 70 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. China International Water & Electric Corporation (CWE), a wholly-owned subsidiary of China Three Gorges Corporation, is constructing the facility which it will jointly own and operate with the Guinean government. State-owned Export-Import Bank of China has financed the $1.175 Billion USD project.
Human Right Watch has called on "Chinese companies, banks, and regulators to respect human rights and use their influence to ensure that the Souapiti Agency fulfils its responsibilities and redress the flawed resettlement program currently in place".