ALERT member Alice Hughes, ecologist extraordinaire, tell us about a scheme to create an enormous hydroelectric dam -- the biggest in the world -- in the heart of the Congo Basin. The scale of this project and its environmental implications are beyond alarming.
Until this point the world's largest dam was Three Gorges in China. It is a giant, with a generating capacity of 22,500 Megawatts.
However, the massive Three Gorges Dam will be swamped in size by the proposed Inga 3 Dam in the Congo Basin, in the western Democratic of Congo. Its power-generating capacity will be almost double that of Three Gorges, and it will cause huge social and environmental damage.
Social and Environmental Impacts
For starters, the proposed dam could displace up to 60,000 people. Beyond that, the reservoir will flood the Bundi Valley, which harbors both local agricultural lands and a rich mosaic of natural environments and wildlife habitats. It's expected that the flooding of masses of vegetation will lead to huge emissions of methane -- among the most potent of all greenhouse gases.
There will also be impacts on aquatic wildlife. The dam could devastate the freshwater diversity of the region, which includes the second highest freshwater-fish diversity on the planet following the Amazon Basin, with nearly 1,300 fish species recorded to date. The flooded area may also favor water-borne vectors such as the malaria-carrying "malanquin' mosquito.
Ironically, the biggest impacts from many hydro projects come not from the dam itself, but from the networks of roads used for dam construction and the creation of huge powerlines. These roads and powerlines could criss-cross large expanses of the Congo Basin, opening up great expanses of forest to poachers, colonists, illegal loggers, and illegal miners.
In Brazil, for instance, it has been estimated that a series of dams planned for the Tapajós River would increase deforestation by nearly 1 million hectares over the next 15 years.
Shocking Lack of Transparency
Remarkably, the head of the Grand Inga Project Office, Bruno Kapandji, has stated it has “no intention” of completing environmental or social-impact assessments before the start of the project. For a project of this magnitude, this is truly a shocking position.
And there are also enormous questions about the financial viability of the project. The current cost estimate for the project is $80 billion. However, 75% of dam projects have cost overruns of 96 percent on average, suggesting the true cost of the dam could be much higher than projected.
Overruns can be especially severe in nations suffering from endemic corruption. Transparency International, which monitors corruption globally, rates the Democratic of Congo as one of the most corrupt nations on Earth and describes its budgetary openness as "scant or none".
The Congo Basin is the world's second-largest rainforest, and it is one that is being dramatically altered by increasing incursions of loggers, poachers, and mega-projects such as the Inga 3 Dam as well as massive 'development corridors' that could slice through huge expanses of the basin.
Perhaps most ominously, the apparent lack of any form of serious risk assessment despite the potential severity of the environmental and social impacts from the Inga Dam should be setting off alarm bells across the planet.