Rebecca Turner - Bambuna Dam

I travelled on from Makeni to Bumbuna Hydroelectric Dam with CODEP secretary and Civil Engineer Michelle Maloney. The dam is located 124 miles northeast of Freetown and took us over 2 hours from Makeni to reach (again travelling on dirt roads).

Bumbuna is the worlds largest hydro dam and was opened recently on the 9th of November 2009. It is estimated to have cost USD 327 million and has taken 34 years from the start to finish with the interuptions and delays from both the civil war and resulting lack of resources and funding. However this was recently overcome and the dams first stage was finally completed so that it is now supplying 50 mega watts of electricity to Freetown and some surrounding communities. This is just the first stage, when the second stage is completed, the dam will output 160 mega watts and will supply not only Sierra Leone but also other countries in the sub-region. The project is inarguably one of Sierra Leone’s most coveted achievements both in terms of infrastructural and sustainable development.

So until the dam was opened it has meant that much of Sierra Leone was without electricity. Sierra Leoneans tend to have to resort to using a generator, which needs to be fuelled by diesel. This means that without money to buy diesel, many simply do without. With a litre of diesel currently costing $5,000 Leones, the equivalent of £1.25, this makes fuelling a generator something only people in employment are able to afford as the average Sierra Leonean earns just £0.50 per day. Alternatively communities will pool resources and have one generator to a building and only switch it on for a few precious hours per day.

So in addition to the electricity being supplied by a renewal source, it also means that the hundreds of thousands of diesel operated generators in Freetown are now quiet, thus saving the atmosphere from the tonnes of carbon monoxide spewed forth daily.

(Michelle and I were met by the dam’s Administration Manager Corrado Petrucci who is employed Salini, the Italian engineering firm which were consulted to built and oversee the project. Engineer Vandy gave us a thorough tour of the dam, which has taken 4 years of intensive labour by 500 Sierra Leonean workman to built.) Keep this info re workman??

So the effects on the towns of Makeni, Bambuna and the city of Freetown, in being supplied with electricity are enormous, however the lack of infrastructure from the Sierra Leone Electricity Board means that there are still not enough lines being fed into houses, and the cost of the electricity is very high which means that even for those with access to electricity, they would still have to watch how much they use. However there is also the option of installing a meter, but there is a high charge for the units of electricity. One local I spoke to had paid the equivalent of £90 for a quarter which means that for the average Sierra Leonean in Freetown, it is not affordable to have electricity 24/7. In addition to these challenges, the output of the dam is not what it seems. Although it is able to supply 50 mega watts of electricity, it is intermittendly supplied and regularly goes off without warning. When speaking with an engineer at the dam, he had advised that the power is only ever off when certain maintenance needs to be completed. However in my experience in the short time I was in the country and also speaking with locals, it was so regular that it implies that the dam is not running properly or at its full output.

This is looks to be an ongong challenge until the infrastructure is improved.

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