The Congo River is one of Africa’s most amazing waterways, ranking first in depth and second in length among the world’s rivers, with a basin that covers 13 percent of the African continent. Unsurprisingly, the idea of harnessing its power to provide electricity to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and surrounding nations has tempted developers for decades. Now the reality could be closer than ever: The Guardian reports that the Inga 3 dam project could be starting in just months, while a core group of activists are raising questions about the potential impact on the environment and the people who live near the project site.
According to The Guardian:
“The $14bn (£9.5bn) Inga 3 project, the first part of the mega-project, is being fast-tracked by the Democratic Republic of Congo government,” according to The Guardian, and “will span one channel of the vast river Congo at Inga Falls. It involves a large dam and a 4,800MW hydro-electric plant.”
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Inga is located in the far western part of DRC, a couple of hundred miles from the capital, Kinshasa. In addition to the DRC government, the South African government, the World Bank and the African Development Bank are all backing the project. Chinese contractors would be responsible for constructing the dam and plant.
The Guardian states that a legally-binding contract is part of the reason for the push to begin construction, and that “[South Africa’s] state owned power company, Eskom, will receive 2,500MW of the 4,800MW produced by Inga III, the project’s first phase.” This power is supposed to be delivered by 2021; estimates on completion of the dam range from four to six years.
In later phases, the dam is expected to span the entire Congo river and provide more than 40,000 MW of power – enough to provide up to 40 percent of Africa’s current power needs. If it is successful, the DRC would be able to sell power to other nations, strengthening its own economy.
Bruno Kapandji, head of the Grand Inga Project Office, says, “As Congolese we have no choice but to build Inga 3. And for the cities in Kinshasa, Bas-Congo and Katanga, Inga 3 is the only solution … Today the price of commodities is falling and we need revenue. If we have a lot of energy to export, like Canada and Uruguay, we won’t have a problem.”
But the “if” is a substantial one, to hear the critics tell it.