Small dams offer a lifeline to rural communities in northern Ghana during the dry season. The paper discusses issues related to water use, socio-economic significance, and sustainability of small dams following substantial State interventions and donor agency investments in the development and management of small dams in Ghana. Through the lenses of political economy narrative, the paper explores the political, economic and social realities that shape the development, operation, and management of small dams. Evidence from sixteen small dams examined, using multiple indicator approach revealed overall satisfactory to highly satisfactory performance indices for small dams. Economic returns from irrigation offer incentives to improve performance but give limited account of performance dynamics of small dams. A holistic view of values and priority attached to multiple uses account for satisfactory performance. Whilst operational limitations of small dams prevail, the paper argues that moving beyond ‘technical or engineering fix’ and focusing on limitations in national and local institutional arrangements, politics, interests, and rights are crucial for effective planning, management, and enhanced performance of small dams.
Key words: Small dams, development, management, performance, multiple uses, indicators.
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