Mphanda Nkuwa is a large hydroelectric dam planned for construction on the lower Zambezi River in Tete Province, Mozambique. It is planned to be located about 70km downstream of the existing Cahorra Bassa Dam constructed back in the early 1970s, which has already caused significant damage to the health and well-being of ecosystems and human communities upstream and downstream. The Mphanda Nkuwa dam’s reservoir will lead to the forcible resettlement of an additional at least 1,400 people.
With a total basin area of 1,570,000 sq. km, the Zambezi brings together water, nutrients, and sediment from 7 different countries. Currently, almost 90% of the Zambezi River is regulated by large dams. This has devastating impacts along the lower Zambezi.
Large dams are being build or proposed, typically without analysis of the risks from hydrological variability that are already a hallmark of African weather patterns, much less the medium and long term impacts expected from climate changeRichard Beilfuss
Mphanda Nkuwa is expected to cost over US$2.3 billion (a 2002 estimate that is likely too low). It is supposed to have the capacity to produce about 1300 MW of electricity but 85% of the power generated from the dam is to be sold outside Mozambique, and will not be used for the people of Mozambique or for rural electrification. At this point, much of the dam’s electricity is intended for use by South Africa’s utility company, Eskom.
For over 10 years, JA! has worked for information and key studies on the project to be released for public debate, but despite all the contributions made by Justiça Ambiental (JA!) to the Terms of Reference (TORs) and the Pre-feasibility Study (EPDA), many questions remain unanswered.
At the public meeting held in Maputo on August 5th, 2011, at the presentation of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) final draft, the conclusions were presented as scientific truths. This is unethical, misleading, and incorrect considering the faulty methodologies used. The data presented did not take into account the medium to long term future. The time and funds available for sampling did not allow for scientifically-valid studies, especially in the case of the sediments and seismicity sections. The “experts” did not even acknowledge the limitations of their data, until after they were confronted by JA with facts, thus leading us to question the reliability of their methods and findings.
It was found that certain necessary Environmental Impact Assessment study elements are missing. There are some huge flaws. Dam planners have not even decided which flow regime to operate the the dam under (base-load or mid-merit). Before these crucial decisions have been made, and without knowing how the dam will be operated on a day-to-day basis, it is impossible to seriously discuss the environmental impacts. So there is no realistic picture of the real risks and impacts of the project. Equally problematic is the fact that there is still no defined location for the resettlement of communities.
Additionally, the Zambezi River is predicted to be hit very badly by climate change, leading to a significant reduction in rainfall and hence water flows. However, dam planners haven’t taken these dire climate change predictions into account.
The supposed “EIA” was a farce. An EIA needs conclusive and scientifically-valid studies in order to predict the real impacts of the project, on social and environmental issues, and these were simply not done, allegedly due to lack of time and funds, despite the projected costs of the project being around an enormous $2 billion. These excuses are unacceptable and reveal lack of will or ability to take necessary steps for the project to be sustainable and for its impacts to be minimised. If it turns out that it is not possible to mitigate the damages, then the dam planners should have the courage and common sense to reject the project.
But the EIA presented nothing more than a Viability Assessment of different options for the construction of a dam, and not a proper Environmental Impact Assessment which must include far more specific construction and other plans. Hence this invalidates the very conclusion of the consultants that the “project is environmentally viable given that the benefits associated with it are greater than the damages caused, if properly minimised”!
Can we then assume that if the damage is not properly minimised the project is not viable? The above conclusion is very worrying and doesn’t address the many questions that have always been asked. It is even more worrying to recall that we live in a country where our government cannot control illegal exploitation of forest resources, usurpation of rural community land, and where the judicial system does not work; a government which constantly refers to its scarce human and financial resources when unable to control these phenomena. Can we accept the proposed mitigation measures considering this clearly worrying scenario? If they do not have the capacity, will or resources to address the numerous and present challenges, how can we expect that they will in this particular case?
Mphanda Nkuwa as it stands now will increase poverty, inequality and endanger the people living in the valley. JA questions the viability of this project and we do not accept this study as an EIA, especially when there are still unaddressed issues.
- Still undefined flow regime that the dam will operate (base-load or mid-merit)
- Still undefined location for the resettlement of communities
- Sediment analysis done using insufficient data which does not allow for a scientifically valid analysis
- Poor seismological analysis done without concrete data and with results and conclusions that are contrary to the studies of renowned experts
- The lack of consideration for and the neglect to follow the guidelines of the World Commission on Dams referring particularly to rights and social and environmental justice
Without a satisfactory answer to all these questions, the project MUST be rejected until these issues are resolved, and its true impacts are assessed and analysed in an honest, genuine, and scientifically-valid manner.