Damming the Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is looking to capture the more of powers of the Congo River in what will be the largest and most powerful hydroelectric dam in the world. The Grand Inga Hydropower Project will produce up to 40,000 megawatts of electricity, doubling current dam champion, Three Gorges in China. The dam will generate more than one third of the electricity currently produced in Africa as it captures the force of the 1.5 million cubic feet per second cascading into the Atlantic Ocean.

Electricity from the project will benefit industries, manufacturing and urban consumers in South Africa though, not the local population. The Bunda Valley will be flooded to create a reservoir for the project forcing the relocation of several farming communities. Rudo Sanyanga, the Africa Program Director of International Rivers anticipates the general population will incur additional burdens and be impoverished as a result.

Funding is through the World Bank, African Development Bank, European Investment Bank, French Development Agency and Development Bank of South Africa. Initial estimates for the project, which begins October 2015, are $80 billion U.S. dollars.

“The World Bank has announced plans to increase its support for large dams particularly in Africa, and is using the Inga 3 Project for a poster child of this approach,” said Peter Bosshard, the International Relations Policy Director at International Rivers. “Decentralized renewable energy projects would be more effective at expanding access to electricity for the poor and protect the environment.”

The Inga 3 dam will be located on the world’s largest waterfall by volume, Inga Falls. Inga Falls is 50 kilometers upstream of the Conga River’s mouth and already incorporates the Inga 1 (351 MW) and Inga 2 (1,424 MW) hydroelectric facilities, commissioned in 1972 and 1982, respectively. The DRC, still in debt from these projects, currently operates at only 50% due to lack of maintenance. Inga 1 and 2 currently divert approximately 30 percent of river flow; the addition of the Grand Inga project will increase that by as much as two-thirds.

“The extent of environmental impacts will only be known after and if a detailed Environmental Impact assessment is carried out,” said Sanyanga. “Based on our own assessments we are certain that the Congo Plume will be affected and that the diversion of flow will affect the aquatic biodiversity along the Inga Falls. In addition the flooding of the Bundu Valley as well as the clearing of forest for the grid transmission will cause huge losses in terrestrial biodiversity.”

Article by Robin Blackstone, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.

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