World Bank set to fund Congo dam
17 March 2014
The World Bank is likely to approve $73m next week to fund an expansion of the Inga hydroelectric dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a bank official said over the weekend.
The decision will be a relief to investors, particularly mining firms, which have been threatened with electricity rationing due to a lack of power generation, but environmentalists say the effect of the project has not been properly evaluated.
Projections indicate that once completed, Inga would generate 4,500MW of electricity. South Africa is expected to be among the hydroelectric dam´s major beneficiaries.
The World Bank, the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, JFPI Corporation, bilateral donors, and the southern African power companies have all expressed interest in pursuing the project which is estimated to cost about $80bn.
Grand Inga would generate 39,000MW - and would significantly boost the energy needs of the African continent. Connecting Inga to a continent-wide electricity grid for main population centres would cost $10bn more and would be the world's largest hydroelectric project.
Critics contend the huge amounts of money required for the project would be better spent with smaller-scale, localised energy projects that would better meet the need s of Africa´s poor majority.
The World Bank´s administrative council had been due to meet on the matter in Washington on February 10, but that was postponed to March 20, raising the prospect that the third phase of expansion of the Inga dam on the Congo, 250km southwest of Kinshasa, would not be approved.
But World Bank country director in Congo, Eustache Ouayoro, said in Kinshasa: "We have had discussions with the (Bank) administrators which indicated to us that the project will be supported."
Only 9% of country´s population has access to electricity and the mining sector on which its economy relies has been hamstrung by a lack of power.
In January, Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo wrote to President Joseph Kabila setting out plans to ration power to major mining companies in the copper-rich Katanga province and demanding that miners halt any plans for expansion.
The suspension of new mining projects comes as Congo is achieving record high copper production: 942,000 tonnes last year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Two existing hydropower stations on the Congo river - Inga I and II - are decades old and in disrepair, struggling to provide enough electricity to meet demand.
Inga III, once built, would provide 4,800MW of energy. This would comfortably cover the 450MW deficit mining companies in Katanga complain of.
Campaign group International Rivers has called on the World Bank to fund smaller, local energy projects that it says would be less environmentally damaging and more effective.
"The proposed Inga III Dam fails to reduce energy poverty and protect the environment in the DRC," the group´s policy director, Peter Bosshard, said.
The US represent ative at the World Bank is likely to vote against the Inga project following recent legislation in Congress directing US officials at international forums to vote against big dams, but Mr Ouayoro believes the financing will be approved anyway.