World bank pledges support for DRC's Grand Inga dam
Sept 11, 2009 - Bank Information Center
Observers, however, are skeptical that the proposed project presents a solution to Africa's energy problems and whether the millions of Africans without access to electricity stand to benefit.
During his recent visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), World Bank President Robert Zoellick expressed the Bank’s support to help finance the Grand Inga hydropower project through guarantees or partnerships with the private sector. The Grand Inga dam project - estimated to cost $80 billion - is being touted by proponents for its potential to bring electricity to millions of Africans and jumpstart industrial development on the continent. Observers, however, are skeptical that the proposed project presents a solution to Africa’s energy problems and whether the millions of Africans without access to electricity would stand to benefit.
Located in western DRC, the Inga site is said to hold 40,000 to 45,000 MW of the country’s 100,000 MW of hydropower potential. It currently comprises two power plants, Inga 1 and Inga 2, with a capacity of 1,800 MW each. The Congolese government is looking to capitalize on Inga’s potential with the construction of Inga 3 and Grand Inga. According to Reuters, the government is seeking about $2.5 billion to rehabilitate existing infrastructure, $3 billion to increase production, and $22 billion to develop Inga 3, and ultimately to fund Grand Inga.
The World Bank is currently providing about $300 million through the Regional and Domestic Power Markets Development Project (PMEDE) to finance the rehabilitation of Inga 1 and 2 hydroelectric power plants in the hopes to increase reliability and operational capacity from the present level of 700 MW to almost 1,300 MW. Plans for Inga 3, meanwhile, have become muddled as DRC has apparently reneged on its agreement to export power to Southern Africa, and instead has promised its output to power BHP Billiton’s planned aluminum smelter in the mineral-rich country.
Feasibility studies suggest the 40,000 MW Grand Inga dam, which would dwarf the output of China’s Three Gorges Dam, will be 150 meters high and will harness 26,000 cubic meters of water per second, with more than 50 turbines each producing as much power as a British nuclear reactor. Proponents of the Grand Inga project are claiming it will supply electricity to 500 million of Africa’s 900 million people, but according to International Rivers, the project's electricity won't reach even a fraction of the continent's 500 million people not yet connected to the grid.
The 94 percent of people in the DRC who do not have electricity are unlikely to benefit from the dam, states Terri Hathaway, International River’s Africa campaigner. This is because Grand Inga’s financial support depends on exporting its electricity to existing mining, industrialized and urban centers in Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria even as far away as Europe. According to the Guardian, the Grand Inga project would supply power to southern Europe, at a time when less than 30 percent of Africans have access to electricity - a figure that can fall to less than 10 percent in many African nations.
Environmental and advocacy groups warn that Grand Inga could bypass those who need it most and ignore the local people by leaving them in the dark about project plans. In April 2008, the World Energy Council, which organized a conference for financiers and African politicians in London to discuss plans of how to finance the $80 billion Grand Inga Project, failed to invite Congolese civil society and communities living around the dam area, leaving no voice to defend their interests.
8000 plus villagers face the possibility of displacement, despite claims by the WEC that the Grand Inga project will require no resettlement. Villagers living near the dam site are left to wonder how they will be impacted by the potential project and whether their rights will be protected. Social and environmental impacts with Inga 1 and 2 still remain unresolved, with, among other issues, displaced communities yet to be compensated for their resettlement. The good management of any further development at Inga would be impossible without the resolution of long standing issues with the local communities.
World Bank Urges Congo to Better Energy Governance by Lesley Wroughton, Reuters, August 10, 2009
Fury at Plan to Power EU Homes From Congo Dam by Nick Mathiason, Guardian, August 23, 2009
Inga Electric Project Talks On by Kagire Edmund, The New Times, July 22, 2008 (AllAfrica website)
DR Congo Power Plant Holds Promise for Energy Supply to Millions Across Africa, World Bank, April 6, 2009
Grand Inga, Grand Illusions? by Terri Hathaway, International Rivers, April 1, 2005