Friday, March 14, 2014

World Bank set to approve financing for Congo's Inga dam

World Bank set to approve financing for Congo's Inga dam
By Peter Jones
Reuters, March 14, 2014

KINSHASA, March 14 (Reuters) - The World Bank is likely to approve $73
million next week to fund an expansion of the Inga hydroelectric dam in
Democratic Republic of Congo, a bank official said on Friday.

The decision will be a relief to investors, particularly mining
companies which have been threatened with electricity rationing due to a
lack of power generation, but environmentalists say the impact of the
project has not been properly evaluated.

The World Bank's administrative council had been due to meet on the
matter in Washington on Feb. 10, but that was postponed to March 20,
raising the prospect that the third phase of expansion of the Inga dam
on the Congo, 250 km (156 miles) southwest of Kinshasa, would not be

But World Bank country director in Congo, Eustache Ouayoro, told a news
conference in Kinshasa: "We have had discussions with the (Bank)
administrators which indicated to us that the project will be supported."

Only 9 percent of Congo's 65 million people have access to electricity
and the mining sector on which its economy relies has been hamstrung by
a lack of power.

In January, Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo wrote a letter to
President Joseph Kabila setting out plans to ration power to major
international mining companies in the copper-rich Katanga province and
demanding that miners halt any plans for expansion.

The suspension of new mining projects comes as Congo is achieving record
high copper production: 942,000 tonnes in 2013, according to the
International Monetary Fund.

Two existing hydropower stations on the Congo river - Inga I and II -
are decades old and in disrepair, struggling to provide enough
electricity to meet demand.

Inga III, once built, would provide 4,800 MW of energy - this would
comfortably cover the 450 MW deficit mining companies in Katanga
complain of.

Campaign group International Rivers has called on the World Bank to fund
smaller, more local energy projects that it says would be less
environmentally damaging and more effective.

"The proposed Inga 3 Dam fails to reduce energy poverty and protect the
environment in the DRC," the group's policy director, Peter Bosshard, said.

The U.S. representative at the World Bank is likely to vote against the
Inga project following recent legislation in Congress directing U.S.
officials at international organizations to vote against big dams, but
Ouayoro believes the financing will be approved anyway.

President Joseph Kabila's government has said it hopes to begin
construction of Inga III by the end of 2015 but Ouayoro said this was
ambitious and he expected work to begin by the end of 2016.

"This is a gigantic project with enormous risks," he said. "The earlier
it starts the better, but 2015 will be difficult. We think the first
turbine will be operational five years after the start of construction,
but again it is a huge job." (Editing by Daniel Flynn and Robin Pomeroy)

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