West African countries have built over 150 large dams on the region’s rivers, increasing water storage capacity and regulation of water courses to support the economic development of the countries of the region. Over the next 30 years, many more will be built, not least as a response to increasingly fluctuating rainfall. However, the construction of these dams has often led to the complex and difficult displacement and relocation of populations, often affecting thousands of people: 80,000 people in the case of Ghana’s Lake Volta created by the dam at Akosombo; 75,000 people with the dam at Kossou in Ivory Coast. The first part of this report reviews the documented West African experience with resettlement. The second part analyses the issues further by reviewing the tools and approaches currently in use around the world to better share the benefits from large dams. It seeks to stimulate multi-stakeholder dialogue on ways to formulate a step-wise, collaborative strategy to introduce benefit sharing on large dams suited to West African needs. While it focuses on the equitable sharing of benefits with local communities and traditional river users, it acknowledges that benefit sharing between states is also essential for effective cooperation to manage West Africa’s international river systems sustainably. Only a handful of publicly available assessments have been made of relocation projects linked to the dams already constructed in West Africa. In some countries, where new dams are proposed, there are few existing projects, which means that national knowledge and experience is often limited. Thus, plans for future projects urgently need to be informed by experience – so efforts to record this experience and to foster regional learning processes are sorely needed. Undoubtedly, population displacement and relocation processes have been problematic, with many issues as yet unresolved. On the positive side, short-term objectives have often been achieved – planners and decision-makers involved in dam construction have provided the displaced people with infrastructure and the means to alleviate the short-term consequences of displacement. Displaced populations have generally had access to adequate drinking water and health services, and education has been significantly improved. However, countless flaws have also been observed, many of these stemming from a lack of socio anthropological sensitivity amongst relocation project managers. Furthermore, the level of compensation paid has rarely met the displaced populations’ expectations. Delayed payment processes have had a negative impact on the process of resettlement and development of the relocation zones. Consequently, living conditions amongst the displaced and host populations have often deteriorated some 5-10 years after relocation, often when the project-specific development funding linked to the construction of the dam comes to an end. This situation poses an ethical question of fairness, especially when the displaced bear the environmental and social brunt of the dams while other groups (city-dwellers and industrialists for example) may receive the benefits throughout the lifetime of the dam. Today, the stakes are high in terms of development, adaptation to climate change, culture, demographics, land tenure and distribution of wealth. It is therefore increasingly vital to ensure that displaced people benefit directly from the development opportunities generated by dams in order to improve their living standards throughout the lifetime of the dam – which may be 50-80 years or more – and not just for the first 5-10 years when the projects’ main supporters are still engaged. Where a favourable political environment for the sharing of benefits exists, decision-makers have developed some useful strategies to redress injustices affecting displaced populations. Although the stated principle of leaving affected people “better off” has often eluded projects in practice, some river basin authorities have achieved considerable success in operationalising the principle of sharing the profits generated by hydro electric and irrigation facilities. For example, the Senegal River Authority (OMVS in French) is strongly committed to socioeconomic development and protection of the environment of the basin following the construction of major infrastructure for the control of water resources at Diama and Manantali. A fiduciary fund was set up by the Volta River Authority in Ghana to provide the displaced populations with electricity, clean water, sanitation, education and road facilities. We conclude that the prospects for better living conditions are improving with the relocation projects for some upcoming West African dams (e.g. Kandadji, Sambagalou, Fomi, Taoussa and Bui) that have already anticipated engagement on benefit-sharing issues by setting up local development plans. But the challenge will be to ensure that these programmes are sustainable and able to persist over the entire lifetime of the dam. The equitable sharing of benefits is a way of thinking, as well as a practical approach to catalyse and fund local actions that join many strands of water governance reform and sustainability planning under a framework for integrated water resource management. The approaches can reinforce social equity in infrastructure strategies and promote sustainability, rather than narrowly optimising dams as physical assets that deliver water and energy services, or navigation benefits. Close examination shows that the introduction of benefit sharing mechanisms is positive from all stakeholder perspectives. They allow project-affected people and traditional river users to become partners in projects, giving them a stronger voice in decisions that affect them, and an opportunity to be first among project beneficiaries, not last. From the government perspective, benefit sharing is a practical policy tool to achieve greater social inclusiveness and improve livelihoods of local people. From the dam operator perspective, benefit sharing promotes good community relations that reduce the risk of project delays. From the perspective of potential investors, realistic provisions for local benefit sharing mean that locally affected communities and the public are more likely to support a dam project. As a consequence, the investor’s risk exposure is reduced and investors are more inclined to become financing partners. Benefit sharing also helps to address past shortcomings in dam planning and management that are well documented. These include failures to honour social commitments made to project-affected communities and failures to finance environmental mitigation measures. It addresses the need to ensure that there is a stream of financing to meet such needs over the longer term (e.g. a percentage of electricity sales included in the bulk tariff).We conclude that many mechanisms for benefit sharing exist, where there is a political will for their implementation. A process is laid out for developing an improved approach for benefit sharing in West Africa that goes beyond thinking of local communities only in terms of compensation for land or property loss and short-term resettlement payments – to recognize that they have legitimate entitlement to part ownership of the economic rent that dams generate. Equally, dam-affected populations have a legitimate stake and role to play in the sustainable operation of dams. Collectively such actions are likely to reduce the long term social cost of large dams and ensure that affected people are among the direct beneficiaries of large projects.