Why damming Isimba Falls will destroy tourism on R. Nile

The proposed dam is likely to tamper with commercial activities along the course of the river like white-water rafting and kayaking operations which many believe will affect more than 100 tourism businesses in Jinja and beyond.

Saturday September 14 2013

A tourist bungee jumps at the source of the Nile. Bungee jumping is among the major tourism activities along the Nile.

A tourist bungee jumps at the source of the Nile. Bungee jumping is among the major tourism activities along the Nile. 



In July, the governments of Uganda and China signed a memorandum of understanding to construct a 188 Megawatts hydro-power dam at Isimba Falls in Kayunga District, 40kms downstream from the newly built Bujagali Hydropower Dam.

Following the May 2007 motion passed by Parliament authorising government to guarantee $115m for the Bujagali hydro power project, an Indemnity Agreement was signed in July 2007 between the government of Uganda and International Development Association (IDA), giving a partial risk guarantee on credit extended to the Bujagali project.

In the agreement, the government undertook to set aside the Kalagala Falls site to protect its natural habitat and spiritual values. In addition, the government agreed not to develop hydro power generation that could adversely affect the protection of the Kalagala Falls site without prior agreement with IDA.

Six years down the road, with the Bujagali dam completed and a sustainable management plan for Kalagala Offset developed and in place, a project has been approved that could erode all the efforts to preserve Kalagala falls and its associated natural features and attractions.

Most likely to suffer because of the construction of Isimba Dam is the adventure tourism industry along the River Nile in Jinja and Kayunga districts. The 40km section between Bujagali dam and the proposed Isimba dam site is used by companies running white water rafting and river kayaking trips.

According to the people operating on the affected section of the Nile, there has been very little consultation on the impacts of the Isimba dam and where it was done; many of the companies were not involved. “There was a stakeholders’ meeting about one year ago in which only two companies were invited, Adrift Adventure Company (who never attended) and Hairy Lemon Resort. The meeting had no prior knowledge of the tourism base in Jinja and was more concerned with the farmers or landowners that would be affected. It wasn’t concerned about the tourism industry at all,” says Jon Dahl, proprietor of Nile River Explorers white-water rafting company.

Information accessed by the company at the initial stages of the Isimba dam feasibility study suggests three options were being considered for the dam reservoir size. In the first option, the dam reservoir would back-up to the base of the Hairy Lemon Island resort in Nazigo, leaving the popular river kayaking wave chain, Nile Special, intact. The impact on independent river kayakers would be minimal.

However, commercial river rafting and kayaking operations would be the most affected since the major family rafting and kayak learning sections run from Hairy Lemon Resort in Nazigo to Busana, the Isimba Dam project location in Kayunga District.

The second option suggests the dam reservoir would recede up to the top of the Hairy Lemon resort in Nazigo, flooding the popular Nile Special rapid and leaving the section of water between the flooded rapid and Kalagala falls. This option would have a huge impact on the number of visitors which would affect the kayak community badly.

The third dam option would be flooding the whole section of the river from Busaana up to Kalagala Falls. According to the adventure companies on ground, the impact would be serious, resulting in a complete stop to independent kayakers visiting Uganda, which would be a major loss to river rafting and kayaking companies. In this option, the dam would flood into Kalagala offset, destroying the only viable section for white-water rafting as there are no more rapids between Isimba and Karuma.

End of adventure tourism
It would end adventure tourism in terms of rafting and kayaking on the river causing a major drop in tourist numbers and affecting businesses around and thousands of people who benefit from it. In the July 2013 World Bank Economic and Statistical analysis of Tourism in Uganda, adventure tourism was cited as the third most popular trip activity for leisure tourists coming to Uganda. For the over one million non-residents who visited Uganda in 2013, the most popular trip activities among leisure tourists were; wildlife safari accounting for 39 per cent of tourist visits, gorilla tracking at 26 per cent, adventure tourism at 25 per cent, and backpacker travel at 17 per cent.

As Jeffrey Gettleman summed it up in his 2009 New York Times article, ‘Wild on the Nile in Uganda,’ “Uganda is a wonderful place to experience Africa, and rafting is just a piece of it. You can trek deep into Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and stand eye-to-eye with a 500-pound critically endangered mountain gorilla.

You can scale mountain peaks in the Rwenzoris (also known as the Mountains of the Moon) and see wild elephants at Queen Elizabeth National Park. You can bungee jump, jet boat and kayak…” A kayak is a small, relatively narrow, human-powered boat designed to be manually propelled by means of a double bladed paddle.

Following the completion of the Bujagali Dam whose construction submerged Bujagali Falls, kayakers use the stretch of white water from Kalagala or Itanda Falls down to Nile Special, a grade five rapid which is level with Nazigo, about five kilometres above Isimba Falls.

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