BHP Billiton has been involved with the Inga 3 Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the hope of obtaining electricity for an aluminium smelter. For background to Peter Bosshard’s blog below, see Africa’s Energy Future – Down a Dark Tunnel, NGOs call to halt BHP Billiton’s Congo aluminium smelter and Congo Says Talks With BHP Billiton on Inga 3 Power Plant Are Very Advanced.
The World Bank’s Inga 3 Project Goes From Bad to Worse
International Rivers blog
10 February 2014
The Inga 3 Dam on the Congo River, which has incited the dreams of dam builders and investors for three decades, was finally scheduled to receive its first grant from the World Bank on February 10. Last week the Bank added another twist to the Inga saga and withdrew the project from its board calendar. Working with a Chinese company, the Bank now plans to develop the dam as a private investment through the International Finance Corporation (IFC), rather than as a public project. This is bad news for poor people and the environment in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
With a capacity of 4,800 megawatts and a price tag of $12 billion, Inga 3 is the World Bank’s biggest ever hydropower project. The IFC has no expertise in developing such complex projects. The biggest hydropower project it has ever managed is the 600 megawatt Upper Marsyangdi 2 Dam in Nepal. Because wind and solar projects are becoming ever more attractive, the IFC’s support for hydropower projects has shrunk from $300 million to a mere $50 million per year since 2008.
The IFC has a poor social and environmental track record. Only in recent months, the Corporation was admonished by its own ombudsperson for human rights violations and other abuses in the Tata Mundra thermal power plant in India and the Dinant oil palm project in Honduras. The Upper Marsyangdi 2 Project was rocked by strikes as well. International Rivers has documented that the planned Environmental Impact Assessment for Inga 3 falls short of good international practice. We can expect further environmental short-cuts and compromises if the project is developed by IFC and private investors.
The mining sector and other heavy industries consume 85 percent of all the power generated in the DRC. Less than 10 percent of the country’s population has access to electricity. Increasing access is the highest development priority for the DRC’s energy sector. Yet this is of no interest to private investors. A World Bank evaluation of the power sector found in 2004: “In most countries, the rural poor tend to be overlooked because private operators are reluctant to serve low-income clients given that these markets are not financially viable on a freestanding basis.”
Similarly, Ali Mbuyi Tshimpanga, the director of the existing Inga hydropower station, warns: “The problem is that, with a public-private partnership, you patch up only the part of the grid that interests the private financiers. It’s of almost no benefit to the community.” The Inga 3 Dam is designed to serve mining companies and the South African market. If it is developed as a private investment, poor consumers are bound to be excluded from its benefits.
As International Rivers has learned from internal sources, the IFC deal was arranged by the heads of the World Bank, IFC and USAID behind the scenes, without any accountability to the DRC parliament, the World Bank’s board of directors and civil society. Such elitist, non-democratic approaches will not bring about broad-based development in the DRC. Non-transparent deals like Inga 3 are the best recipe to entrench corruption in the country further.
Public support for a privatized Inga 3 Project becomes ever more indefensible. International Rivers will continue to oppose destructive mega-dams in the DRC and other countries, and will promote clean local energy solutions that are more effective at reducing poverty and protecting the environment.
Peter Bosshard is the Policy Director of International Rivers. He tweets at @PeterBosshard.
World Bank Indefinitely Postpones Inga 3 Project
International Rivers press release
5 February 2014
The World Bank has just made a surprise decision to indefinitely postpone the board discussion of its support for the huge Inga 3 Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Bank’s board of directors was scheduled to vote on a $73 million grant to prepare for the project on February 11. Opposition from local and international NGOs has been mounting, and civil society groups are now urging the Bank to fundamentally reconsider the Inga 3 Project.
As proposed, the Inga 3 Dam would generate power for mining companies and the South African market, not for the more than 90 percent of the DRC population that has no access to electricity. In a letter to the World Bank, a coalition of 12 Congolese NGOs asks that the needs of the local population be prioritized in a comprehensive assessment of the country’s energy needs and options. If the Inga 3 Dam were to go ahead, they state, at least 50 percent of the power generated by the dam should serve the energy needs of the population.
Danny Singoma, the Executive Director of the NGO CENADEP, comments: “The project assumes that the revenues from the power exports will benefit local people. These kinds of development have never worked in our country, where there is so much corruption and no accountability to the citizens by those in power.”
The DRC has a large potential of clean local energy sources such as solar and micro-hydropower. Rudo Sanyanga, the Africa Director for International Rivers, comments: “Decentralized energy is the only feasible way of meeting the energy needs of the majority in such a vast country with limited capacity for maintaining huge infrastructure. It is time to move quickly to develop these resources, rather than destructive mega-hydro plants.”
In a briefing paper, International Rivers documents how the Environmental Impact Assessment that would be carried out under the proposed World Bank grant falls short of good international practice and the Bank’s own guidelines. Most importantly, the Bank has indicated it is not prepared to assess the cumulative impacts of the 11 dams and 6 hydropower projects that are planned under the Grand Inga scheme. Such short-sighted approaches to dam cascades have caused the death of critical ecosystems by a thousand cuts in the past.
Peter Bosshard, the Policy Director of International Rivers, says: “The proposed Inga 3 Dam fails to reduce energy poverty and protect the environment in the DRC. The World Bank should use the project’s delay to fundamentally reconsider the value of Inga 3 and prioritize the clean local energy solutions that are more effective at reducing energy poverty.”
The Inga 3 Dam is the first phase of the giant Grand Inga Project on the Congo River, the largest hydropower scheme ever undertaken on the planet. Inga 3 is projected to cost $12 billion and have a capacity of 4,800 megawatts if completed. The US budget bill that was passed by Congress in January instructs US representatives in multilateral development banks to oppose large hydropower dams such as Inga 3.
. Background information on Inga 3
. Letter from 12 DRC NGOs to the World Bank
. International Rivers briefing paper on the environmental flaws of Inga 3
. Rudo Sanyanga, Africa Director, International Rivers, Pretoria, (m) +277 6842 3874
. Peter Bosshard, Policy Director, International Rivers, Berkeley, (o) +1 510 848 1155 x 320, (m) +1 510 213 1438
. Danny Singoma, Executive Director, CENADEP (Centre National d’Appui au Développement et á la Participation Populaire), Kinshasa, +243 990 023 637, +243 818 451 405 (preferably in French)
. Taty Maniania, Executive Director, Jeunes Volontaires pour l’€™Environnement (JVE-DRC), Kinshasa, +243 814 676 480, +243 991 801 640 (preferably in French)