TANZANIA’S CONTROVERSIAL HYDROELECTRIC PROJECT ON HERITAGE SITE COULD START WITH AFDB FUNDING

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Tanzania presses on with its ambition to build a 2,100-megawatts (MW) hydroelectric power plant in the Selous Game Reserve despite warnings from conservationists about the adverse effect of such a project on animals in one of the world’s largest game reserves.

During the weekend, Tanzania’s finance ministry said in a statement that President John Magufuli, who is personally pushing the long-delayed project, made the financing request to Africa Development Bank’s President, Akinwumi Adesina during talks in Tanzania’s administrative capital Dodoma.

Confirming this request after the talks with the Tanzanian president, Mr Akinwumi told the press on Saturday that “President Magufuli is very committed to ensuring that the country industrialises, but you cannot industrialise unless you have access to electricity,” he said. “The president is very keen to talk to us about the Stiegler’s Gorge project … he mentioned that to us and we are going to be looking at that with him and the government, but we are also very keen to look at other alternative sources of energy.”

Early last year, Tanzania’s government said it needed $46.2 billion in investments over the next 20 years to revamp the ageing energy infrastructure and to meet soaring demand for electricity. The fastest growing economy in Africa with a population of about 55 million people is suffering from chronic electricity shortages with current capacity at about 1,500 MW. This project would more than double the country’s current power generation capacity.

The project is planned for the heart of the Selous, a game reserve covering about 50,000 sq km — more than the size of Switzerland. The Selous Game Reserve is one of the largest protected areas in Africa, according to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). It is also home to a large variety of species like elephants, cheetahs, giraffes, black rhinos and crocodiles.

The reserve is a world heritage site but was listed as “in danger” by UNESCO a couple of years ago when there were catastrophic falls in the number of animals after heavy poaching.

When the government invited bids in August for the Stiegler’s Gorge project a lot of criticism trailed the announcement. In July last year, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an organization focused on wildlife conservation and endangered species, stated in a report that the proposed large-scale hydropower dam “puts protected areas of global importance, as well as the livelihoods of over 200,000 people who depend upon the environment, at risk.”

“The impact on Tanzania’s largest river would affect many ecosystem services it provides. It would affect tourism in Selous downstream in some of the most abundant wildlife areas in the game reserve,” it read.

It seems rather unlikely that the Tanzanian government would abandon this project; instead it is pushing for financing from the AfDB in order to begin construction by July. It is however important to note that there are options which the gas-rich country could have considered; an even better alternative would be investing these finances in renewable energy to reach its 10,000 MW target in the next decade.