Tanzania hydropower project a threat to heritage site

Friday April 28 2017

Animals in Selous game reserve, Tanzania. Picture: File

Animals in Selous game reserve, Tanzania. Picture: File 

By ERICK KABENDERA

The directive by the Tanzanian Controller and Auditor-General that the government revive a $2.6 billion Stiegler Gorge hydroelectricity project may harm one of East Africa’s largest protected areas.

The project, which is to be constructed in the Selous Game Reserve — a Unesco World Heritage Site — is projected to generate 2,100MW, but conservationists warn against developing it.

In his report tabled in parliament, the Controller and Auditor-General said the Rufiji Basin Development Authority (Rubada), which is managing the project, was facing an acute shortage of financial resources to execute the project and asked the government to intervene to save the project.

The project is located in the Rufiji catchment areas, the largest river basin in East Africa, covering 175,000 hectares and producing over 80 per cent of the country’s hydroelectricity. However, there are concerns that human activities are threatening water sources.

Mtera reservoir, which is the largest dam in the country and has an installed capacity of 80MW and the Kidatu power station, which has an installed capacity of 204MW, have been facing low water levels leading to massive power rationing.

A Tanzanian environmentalist and executive director of Lawyers Environmental Action Team (LEAT), Rugemeleza Nshala, told The EastAfrican that the government should suspend the project altogether because of concerns that it could cause harm to the environment.

A 2012 Unesco report noted that a dam at Stiegler’s Gorge, which is situated in the middle of Selous Game Reserve, would have a serious impact on its World Heritage status.
“The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that major dam projects are not appropriate developments inside natural World Heritage properties. The state party should reconsider this project in line with its commitments under the convention,” the report concludes.