[DRC] Grand Inga Dam Project: Unrealised potential
About the Grand Inga dam
The Grand Inga Dam, located in western Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on the Congo River, is the world’s largest proposed hydropower scheme. 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 40,000 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 Grand Inga dam will be constructed in 6 phases. Inga I (351 MW) and Inga II (1,424 MW) were commissioned in 1972 and 1982 respectively. Inga III is currently in the design phase, with the ultimate design and size being a subject of signficant debate. The construction of the successive phases of Grand Inga will hinge on availability of a market and funding for the projects.
The project has been estimated to cost US $80 billion, including cost of the transmission lies needed to carry its power across Africa and potentially to Europe. Many consider this amount to be an underestimate.
Why this profile?
The Grand Inga Dam has caused, and is expected to further cause, a number of harmful impacts. The construction of Inga I and Inga II led to the physical displacement of many people, who have still not been adequately compensated for damages. The proposed design of Inga III would result in even more people being displaced, including those already affected by Inga I and II. The project also threatens an increase in greenhouse gase emissions; a loss of biodiversity; and deforestation. In addition, no environmental impact assessment or mitigation and environmental management plans have been adopted to this date. There is a huge lack of transparency in the process.
What must happen
The African Development Bank and any other financial institution 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 US $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, and Inga III will inevitably add to this debt burden.The DRC government needs to put up convincing measures to combat corruption and a debt repayment plan.
The DRC government are pushing ahead with the Grand Inga Dam project against all reservations and advise by concerned stakeholders. The government are looking for investors to build Inga Dam III even though the construction would displace thousands of more people. We would recommend that the DRC government focus on repairing Inga Dam I and II to deliver its design output. The government should also endeavour to rehouse or reimburse people that were displaced from their homes by building these dams. If the existing Inga dams cannot deliver any evidential value to the people of DRC, then the goverment should stop investing into hydropower projects.
We hope that the Grand Inga Dam project is completed because it will benefit DRC and Africa economically and environmentally. That said, we cannot ignore the incompetence shown by the DRC government in maintaining and operating Inga Dam I and II. It is only logical to assume that the same behaviour will persist with the Inga Dam III project and the overall Grand Inga Dam project. A way out of this could be for the DRC government to establish a public private partnership with an investor who has the resources to bring this project to fruition and continually ensure it delivers to the required benefit realisation it was designed for. What cannot and should not be taken for granted is the economic and environmental benefits hydropower energy can bring to DRC and Africa.