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The Grand Inga would be the world's largest hydropower scheme. It is proposed for the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of Africa's most politically volatile and corruption plagued countries. The massive dam is part of a greater vision by the international economic community to develop a power grid across Africa that will spur the continent's industrial economic development. Grand Inga could produce up to 40000 megawatts of electricity, over twice the power generation capacity of the Three Gorges in China, and more than a third of the total electricity produced in Africa. The proposed dam is the fourth and largest of a series of dams that have been built or are proposed for the lower end of the Congo River in the DRC. The Grand Inga dam will be constructed in 6 phases, with Inga III being the first of these phases. Six power stations will be constructed on the northern banks of the Congo River downstream of Inga I and Inga II. The construction of the successive phases of Grand Inga will hinge on availability of a market and funding for the projects.
The Congo River is the deepest in the world and the fifth longest, with a flow rate second only to the Amazon's. The Congo River is home to at least 700 fish species, with 300 documented fish species occuring in its lower section alone. The river empties water and sediment into the Atlantic Ocean, creating the 'Congo Plume'- a natural process which is thought to be one of the largest carbon sinks in the world, and plays a globally important role in the ocean's carbon cycle. In the years following independence, the Inga I Dam (351 MW, commissioned in 1972) and the Inga II dam (1,424 MW, commissioned in 1982) were built despite feasibility studies that found both projects uneconomical and far in excess of the country's electricity needs at the time.
Neglect, financial mismanagement, years of war and siltation caused the Inga dams' turbines and the associated electrical infrastructure to deteriorate long before the end of their expected lifespan. By 2002, the dams were producing only 40% of their capacity. The related transmission line, which runs for 1,725 kilometres, was the largest contributor of DRC's debt burden. Within 10 years, poor maintenance, theft and the ravages of the tropical climate caused the lines to deliver less than half the electricity they were designed to carry. In 2003, after years of war, peace treaties were signed in the DRC, signalling the re-entry of donors to support reconstruction projects across the country. Funds were earmarked by the World Bank to target three main components:- the Inga I, Inga II and the transmission line (Inga-Kolwezi transmission line). That same year, the World Bank calculated that the DRC power grid, including the dams and transmission lines, could be rehabilitated for less than USD 200 million and be completed by 2007. In 2007, the Bank approved a USD 297 million project to fully rehabilitate the dams. Additional financing was secured from the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank. By 2011, very little progress had been made and additional cost overruns were incurred. Since that time, the total cost for rehabilitating the dams and transmission lines have skyrocketed to over 1.2 billion.
Besides rehabilitation, the Government of the DRC is planning the construction of Grand Inga starting with the first phase Inga III dam (4800MW)- Grand Inga when completed will generate an astounding 40000 MW in total. The Grand Inga project is hyped by donors and the dam industry as a magic bullet to electrify the entire African continent and export electricity as far as Southern Europe and the Middle East. The Grand Inga hydropower scheme has been argued to be one that will provide cheaper and readily available evergy and allow Africa's industrial and manufacturer industry to take off, as well as bring peace to the region.
On 25th July 2016, the World Bank Group suspended their funding to the Inga III Dam. A 73 million grant from its International Development Association (IDA) was awarded in March 2014, of which 6 per cent has already been disbursed. In their statement, the World Bank says '...the Government of DRC’s decision to take the project in a different strategic direction to that agreed' has been the reason of suspension.
What must happen
The African Development Bank, European Investment Bank and French Development Agency should not agree to finance this project until the existing dams are fully operational and a plan is put in place to maintain the dams and transmission systems; until a full analysis of how the dams will affect the Congo Plume has been completed and reviewed by climate experts; a binding legal agreement detailing compensation between the government of the DRC and communities displaced by Inga I and II is reached; and a plan is in place detailing how the project will address DRC's energy poverty. The Grand Inga price tag of USD 80 billion is too heavy for a poor, corrupt and volatile country as the DRC. The Inga I and Inga II dams were responsible for a huge part of the country's debt burden.The DRC government needs to put up convincing measures to combat corruption and a debt repayment plan.
Very little of the electricity generated by Grand Inga will provide for city or village level power to Congolese people. It will instead be transported to other markets in Africa and Europe through more than 10,000km worth of direct current power lines.
The dam will lead to the flooding of the Bundi Valley which will displace local communities from their homes and farmland.
Eighty billion dollars would exacerbate the debt burden of the DRC, a debt which can only be paid by exploitation of natural resources.
Those displaced by the building of Inga I and Inga II have not yet been compensated for damages and many still live in "Camp Kinshasa" without basic services such as adequate water and sanitation.
Scientific studies indicate that dams and reseviors are globally significant sources of the greenhouse gases; carbon dioxide and, in particular, methane. The vast flow of the Congo River delivers various nutrients and sediments far offshore, where it is consumed by small sea life such as phytoplankton. These microorganisms "fix" carbon by taking it out of the atmosphere. The organisms eventually sink, taking carbon with them to the deep seafloor. Dams could change the delicate workings of this ecosystem service by holding back the river-borne and nutrient-rich sediment that feeds this cycle. In brief, the Grand Inga would interrupt the biological activity in the fan and plume of the Congo River.
The Grand Inga project also subjects a large area of forest to be logged and cut with roads in order to build transmission lines. This will have significant environmental and social impacts, not to mention the security and maintenance risks posed by such a long transmission system.
Diverting flow from the Congo River to Grand Inga Dam will flood the Bundi valley, resulting in a loss of agricultural land and a new aquatic regime. The effects of reduced flow in the main Congo River may cause loss of biodiversity and a shift in the dominant species. The flooded area may also create an environment that is conducive for the breeding of water-borne vectors as that of the "malanquin" mosquito reported for the Inga 1 reservoir.
9% of DRC's 70 million people have access to electricity:-about 30% in urban areas and an alarming 1% in rural areas. The DRC capital of Kinshasa has over 10 million people and less than 30% of them have access to electricity. Connections are intermittent and less than 10% have electricity for 24 hours a day. Despite this huge energy divide in the country, a series of high-voltage transmission lines exceeding 10,000km would tap Grand Inga's power and transport the electricity to industrial and urban centres far away, possibly even to Europe and beyond. These transmission lines will not bring power to the Congolese people. Transmission grids are also expensive to bring power to the isolated rural populations.
The DRC is rich with solar, wind, geothermal and biogas as alternative sources of energy. In terms of solar energy potential, the DRC is in a very high level sun belt where values are between 3240 and 6000 watts-peak/m2/s. This makes installation of photovoltaic systems viable in many parts of the country. Unfortunately the DRC has done almost nothing to develop these resources. There are some areas in the DRC where wind speed is equal to or greater than 5km/h. However, wind energy is not used in the DRC with the exceptionn of few pilot facilities or isolated cases where the energy is used to supply pumps and/or lighting. If these alternatives could be be harnessed, then the huge energy crisis in the DRC would be mitigated.
World Bank suspends support for Inga 3 dam
The USD 73 million grant, approved by the World Bank in 2014, was cancelled on July 25th 2016. The grant was intended for environmental, social and technical studies to be conducted, which have not been finished yet. The withdrawal of the World Bank clearly shows the deficits of the project and should be a warning for other investors.
Workshop on Inga 3
A meeting was held in Kinshasa by the minister of Energy of the DRC, concerning funding arrangements for the Inga 3 dam as part of a regional integration program
DRC Government announced date on dam construction after Meeting in Paris
The DRC declared that it will start work on the world's largest hydroelectricity Inga dam on the Congo River in October 2015. This announcement was made after talks between the DRC and International Officials ended in Paris. The Paris meeting followed a deal signed on 7 May 2013 between South Africa and the DRC for cooperation in the energy sector. For more information click on the link http://allafrica.com/stories/201305210073.html
South African Government Drafts Treaty on DRC hydro project
The South African Cabinet approved a draft treaty between South Africa and the DRC for the development of the Grand Inga Hydro-electric project. The purpose of the treaty was to develop an enabling framework linking the DRC and South Africa into the Grand Inga project, and allowing for the two countries to jointly explore different economically feasible options for the development of the project.