African Press International (API)

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Repeating past failures

Posted by African Press International on May 18, 2013

The Congolese government will today announce plans to move forward with the Grand Inga Dam at a conference in Paris. World Bank President Jim Kim is expected to support the return to mega-dam projects in Africa during his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda on May 21-24. The proposed dam on the Congo River – which would be the largest hydropower project ever undertaken – will figure prominently on the agenda of his trip. NGOs warn that with such projects, donors are about to repeat the grandiose failure of past mega-dams. 

International financiers have invested billions of dollars in the Inga 1 and 2 dams and transmission lines on the Congo River over the past 40 years. The projects produce power primarily for the mining industry, while only 6-9% of the country’s population has access to electricity. The new dams proposed for the Congo River are again designed to serve the mining industry and export markets in South Africa, and would bypass the rural poor in the DRC.

“If the World Bank and other donors plunge back into large hydropower in Africa, the majority of Africa’s poor will remain without power, at a time when better solutions are available,” says Rudo Sanyanga, Africa Program Director of International Rivers.

“Projects such as Inga 1 and 2 have not unleashed economic development, but have been major contributors to African countries’ unsustainable debt burden,” according to a May 15 letter to World Bank President Kim from 19 civil society organizations and networks from Africa, Europe and the United States. “In a period of growing hydrological uncertainty, focusing support on centralized dams will also increase the climate vulnerability of poor countries that are already highly hydro-dependent.”

The International Energy Agency found that grid-based electrification – including through large hydropower projects – is not cost-effective for much of rural Sub-Saharan Africa because of the continent’s low population density. Decentralized renewable energy solutions such as wind, solar and micro-hydropower projects are more effective at reaching the rural poor. According to the civil society letter, “distributed renewable energy solutions would provide the triple benefits of increasing energy access, strengthening climate resilience and protecting the environment.”

“We hope that Jim Kim’s Presidency will be associated with a break-through of energy solutions that reduce poverty, address climate change and protect the environment, rather than a return to the failed mega-projects of the past,” says Sanyanga.

The Bank announced its intention to return to funding mega-dams in Africa – including Inga on the Congo and also Batoka Gorge and Mphanda Nkuwa dams on the Zambezi – in a report for the IDA 17 negotiations and a recent media story. The governments of the DRC and South Africa will announce their plans to move forward with the Inga dams in Paris on May 18.

 

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