‘State of rivers’ looks bleak as Africa plans colossal dam

2014-08-28 18:06

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Cape Town - International Rivers has launched an online database showing how dams are impoverishing the health of the world’s river basins, as Africa gears up for the construction of the world’s biggest dam.

“The database shows how river fragmentation due to decades of dam-building is highly correlated with poor water quality and low biodiversity,” an International Rivers statement says.

“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for ‘river change’ in the world’s major basins,” said Jason Rainey, Executive Director of International Rivers.

The State of the World’s Rivers website was created using Google Earth and maps nearly 6 000 dams in the world's 50 major river basins, and ranks their ecological health according to indicators of river fragmentation, water quality and biodiversity.

The Congo River has recently been earmarked to power the world's biggest hydroelectric dam.

SA to buy half of the power

Earlier in August South Africa approved the ratification of the Grand Inga Treaty with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sapa reports that according to the treaty SA will buy over half of the power generated by the world’s biggest hydroelectric dam which aims to generate 40 000 megawatt (MW) of power on the Congo River.

South Africa’s main energy provider, Eskom, services 45% of the electricity needs in Africa and has a generation capacity of 41 194MW.

Negative impacts

In a special focus International Rivers has highlighted the potential negative impacts of the dam which is set go into the construction phase by October 2015 and will take five to six years to complete:

- Based on the history of the Congolese government there are high risks of corrupt deals and cost escalations.

- Ecological impacts including nutrient and sediment trapping.

- Diversion of the Congo River could flood the Bundi Valley, affecting agricultural lands and natural environments.

- Reduced flow in the Cong River may cause loss of biodiversity and a shift in dominant species.

- Transmission lines will result is huge forest corridors being cleared.

The World Bank together with the African Development Bank has approved a combined sum of $106m to fund technical studies to analyse the dam's environmental and social impact and ensure it is sustainable.

But International Rivers policy director, Peter Bosshard, told Reuters that the proposed Inga 3 dam will fail to reduce energy poverty and protect the environment in the DRC.

The group has called on the World Bank to fund smaller, more local energy projects which it says will be less destructive to the environment, according to the Reuters report.

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