The project was designated a high priority by the Strategic Social and Environmental Assessment of Power Development Options prepared by the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program – Coordination Unit (NELSAP-CU) in 2005, which evaluated the potential for regional power development in the Nile Equatorial Lakes region. At the time of project preparation, electricity coverage ratios were 2% in Burundi, 5% in Rwanda, and 11% in Tanzania. Hydropower provided a renewable, low-cost alternative. The Rusumo Falls Project will provide a little over 26 MW to each country – which is significant considering it is roughly half the current installed capacity in Burundi and a third of that in Rwanda.
The feasibility studies for the power generation component have compared three alternative development scenarios - the Full Development, Intermediate Development, and Run-of-River (RoR) - including their technical, economic, social and environmental aspects.
17,500 households would be affected during the construction and operation phases under Full Development, whereas 7,300 households would be affected under Intermediate Development. By comparison, the construction and operation phases of an RoR design were estimated to affect 200 households and 660 households respectively. Given its location in one of the most heavily inhabited parts of Africa, these numbers have significant implications for the choice of the project. In February 2012, based on the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the three options, participating governments selected an RoR design with a normal operating water level of 1,320 metres above sea level as the preferred development option. This option has minimal environmental and social impacts of the project, and therefore is the least costly in terms to environmental management and resettlement implementation.
A detailed Resettlement Action Plan informed by comprehensive data collection and analysis has been critical in selecting a run-of-the-river design with minimum environmental and social impact. The project has active support from the governments and citizens of the three beneficiary countries as well as from other Nile riparians – a strong testament to the mission and work of the Nile Basin Initiative.
The Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project is a successful case where analytical work delineating the benefits of cooperation has led to investment in transboundary water resource development – this project serves as a model project for CIWA activities.