• Austin Zacharko

Whats with the Name? What is SOMBO?

It's time to talk about SOMBO - Wait what (or who?) is a SOMBO? Well come and find out!

When thinking about a name for my blog I got stuck. I made myself think that it had to be important and significant. It had to be catchy. It had to be unique. I even delayed publishing content until I could figure out the right name.

I thought about my life and my experiences. I thought about my reasons why. There must be something unique about my story. How hard can it be to make up a new word? Why did I want to make a blog? Why did I want to write? It took weeks (if not months) of pondering thoughts to end up with SOMBO.

Above: Akosombo Dam penstocks and the start of the Volta River.

In the summer of 2018, I was lucky enough to live in Accra, Ghana as part of a fellowship with Engineers Without Borders Canada. During the fellowship, I interned for a group called BarCamp Ghana. While being an intern was my main purpose of being in Ghana, my true joy was the time in which I got to explore the wilderness of the country.

My passion for sustainability was well developed at that point in my life and I was fairly vocal about it. During my first few days, some friends mentioned a large hydroelectric dam that provided power to the majority of the country. I knew I had to go and see it. I remember watching movies and documentaries about hydro facilities but had never seen one. I knew where I was going next weekend.

I was able to visit the Akosombo Dam on May 27th, 2018. It was breathtaking. I remember just sitting down and watching the water flow. Thinking about the engineering that went into the facility. Thinking about how much it cost. How much power it provided for the country. How much damage it could've done when being built. How many people it relocated. How much land it had disappeared.

I decided to call it the SOMBO blog - in homage to the ako"SOMBO" dam; and the hours I spent there thinking about sustainability that day. The balance of good and evil. The balance of gain and loss.

Above: See Images of the Akosombo Damn taken by Austin on May 27th, 2018. The parrot shirt!

I was enamored by the scale of the facility. At the power, it could produce and how it had transformed the country. The dam was completed in 1965 at a cost of $196m USD. The facility was upgraded in 2006. This increased the total cost of the project to $258m USD. The most recent estimates but this project at $2.1bn USD in today's dollars.

Its original electrical output was 912MW, boosted to 1,020MW by modifications in 2006. Originally, the project supplied Ghana’s aluminum industry with the power it needed. Today the scheme provides 85% of the country’s electricity.

At 124m tall and 660m long, the dam holds back the waters of Lake Volta – the largest man-made lake in the world by surface area. With a volume of 148km cubed, and at 400km-long Lake Volta is also the third-largest artificial lake in the world by volume.

With all the good - I think it's also important to remember the harm that this project brought. More than 80,000 people (approx 1% of the population at that time) were relocated. This meant that most of the population of the eastern region of Ghana was affected by the construction of the scheme. The dam created Lake Volta which has a surface area of 8,502 sq. km. This means that it may be fair to assume that the facility flooded 3.6% of the countries total surface area (which is 238,535 sq. km.). A total of 28 workers died over the five years of the project’s construction.

Above: A map of Ghana highlighting Lake Volta which was created when the Akosombo Damn was built.

The relocation of such a large number of people caused numerous issues for the country and the individuals who used to live there. The change in the water body changed the climate surrounding the new lake. The land and soil surrounding the lake have slowly lost their fertility. In many cases this caused farmers to increase their use of fertilizers. This impacted the lake and caused an increase in the growth of weeds and algae. The weeds provide a habitat for black-fly, mosquitoes, and snails, which are the vectors of water-borne illnesses.

If you want to learn more about the impact of the Akosombo Dam and Lake Volta check out the references and sources at the bottom of the Blog.

At the end of the day, this experience instilled in me need to always reconsider. The need to always check your assumptions about what is good. When we do good - at what cost is the good? Is it good enough? To make sure to always look at the other side.

And with that, I hope SOMBO does good. While I'm not sure what damage a blog could make (maybe to my reputation lol) - you never know until you know. Until next time.



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