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South Africa in a fix over blood electricity

by Mandla Ndlovu
08 Nov 2018 at 11:19hrs | Views
South Africa has come under fire over the Grand Inga Dam, a mammoth hydroelectric project, on the Congo River in the western Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

International Rivers, an NGO dedicated to the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them, has appealed to the Southern Africa Permanent People's Tribunal seeking to oppose the implementation of the project which is set to commence next year.

The Southern Africa Permanent People's Tribunal will meet in Newtown, Johannesburg on Friday 9 November to hear cases of environmental and human rights violations, including arguments against the Inga 3 hydroelectric project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Community representatives from the DRC will be present at the Tribunal and will outline the disastrous human, social and environmental consequences should the project go ahead. This will include the displacement of more than 30 000 people in the DRC as well as threats to the region's biodiversity as a result of the destruction of aquatic plant and animal species of the Congo River.

The planned Inga 3 project is the result of a Treaty signed between the South African and DRC governments in 2014.

South Africa is a key partner, having pledged repeatedly to buy the excess electricity produced by the dam. The government  signed the Grand Inga Hydropower Project Treaty, which commits South Africa to buying 2 500 megawatts (MW) of electricity if the Inga 3 Dam actually gets up and running. As the department of energy told Parliament in 2016, according to the parliamentary monitoring group: Without South Africa, the project would not go ahead.

South Africa s military is also understood to be uneasy about the Inga plan. Having critical energy infrastructure outside a country s borders is a national security problem. To get power from Inga 3, power lines will have to span thousands of kilometres, which is likely to traverse the DRC, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Complicating things even further is the likely effect of climate change and shifting rainfall patterns — all hydropower projects are dependent on a steady flow of water. But the Congo River basin has had three decades of declining rainfall. Research based on satellite photographs of the region shows that the vegetation is steadily becoming less green, indicating lower rainfall and higher temperatures. The basin is also shared by six countries, each with their own plans for using the water.

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