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Effect of dams on malaria - rethinking

January 5, 2015 - 08:41 -- Solomon Kibret

I had written on this topic sometime ago. My present research on dams and malaria in Africa triggered me to invoke some more thoughts ( Several dams are under construction in sub-Saharan Africa. According to FAO database, some 118 dams are currently under construction while several more are planned. My analysis indicated that over half (57%) of these dams are located in areas with unstable/seasonal malaria. Previous studies indicated that dams in unstable semi-arid areas intensify malaria transmission. Now the question is why malaria control is not considered why designing, planning and operating such water storages that have potential to increase malaria? Water management particularly reservoir management has previous been used in western world. This tool has never been used in Africa. WHY? Shall we just rely on bednets and IRS? Or do we need to consider additional vector control measures such as reservoir management? We need to discuss this matter as it is a pressing issue in sub-Saharan Africa.

Solomon Kibret
University of New England, Australia


William Jobin's picture
Submitted by William Jobin on

You have touched on an important point being neglected by WHO and the US PMI in Africa. But there is a long history of dam design and operation to minimize malaria mosquito production, starting with the Tennessee Valley Authority in the southern US in the 1930's. It involves keeping the shoreline as straight and short as possible, and fluctuating the water level during the normal mosquito breeding season. I have recommended such modifications on several dams in Africa as they were being planned (See my book Dams and Disease published by Rutledge in 1999). And now engineers at MIT are evaluating such fluctuations for stranding anophelines around reservoirs in Africa, especially in Ethiopia. Some of their results are coming out soon in Parasites and Vectors, by Endo, Kiszewski and ElTahir.

When an African country asks the World Bank for a loan to build a dam, if there is a risk of malaria or other water-associated diseases, a Health Impact Assessment is required which includes the exploration of alternative designs and operation plans to minimize the diseases. This doesn't always work as it should, but it is a logical way to avoid malaria in these new dams.

But you are right, I think we need to broaden our vector control measures and get off the biocide and drugs kick. Can you suggest a broader venue for discussing this, besides this website?


William Jobin Director of Blue Nile Associates

Submitted by Solomon Kibret on

A new study has revealed that over 1 million malaria cases are associated with large dams in sub-Saharan Africa ( Current planned dams are expected to contribute to 56,000 cases, assuming constant population. This is quite worrisome! This requires urgent action. Dam builders must invest on malaria control measures. I've read your book (Jobin 1999; 2003) and you've been highlighting this issue for decades now. Yes, dam operation can be optimized to incorporate malaria control (Reis et al. 2011. Water resources implications of integrating malaria control into the operation of an Ethiopian dam. Water Resources Research, 47(9).). In view of the current extensive dam constructions across Africa, aiming to promote economic development and ensure food security, WHO should urge dam builders to implement recommendations from Health Impact Assessment.

I suggest we open discussion here in this blog with WHO, dam engineers and malaria professionals to assess the existing knowledge on the link between malaria and dams and plan for what need to be done from vector control point of view particularly while planning, designing and operating dams.

Solomon Kibret, UNE

Solomon Kibret Malaria Researcher Ethiopia