Controversial $5bln project between Zambia and Zimbabwe gets UN approval

Controversial $5bln project between Zambia and Zimbabwe gets UN approval

By Business Insider Africa

United Nations has given Zambia and Zimbabwe permission to build a $5 billion hydroelectric dam downstream from Victoria Falls, a Unesco World Heritage Site, according to the organization supervising its development.

Environmentalists have protested the 2,400-megawatt Batoka Gorge project, which is located 47 kilometers (29 miles) from the world’s biggest waterfall and might have an influence on the cascade, which is a popular tourist destination in both nations.

Munyaradzi Munodawafa, chief executive officer of the Zambezi River Authority noted that “Unesco sent inspectors in 2022 after complaints by some environmentalists that the Batoka project was going to affect the Victoria Falls.”

They “looked at the reports and our presentations and agreed that Batoka could go ahead” at a World Heritage Committee meeting last month, he added.

Construction pushed back

According to a report by the American newsgroup Bloomberg, the construction of the 181-meter (594-foot) high wall and power plants by a consortium led by General Electric Co. and China’s Power Construction Corp. was scheduled to begin in 2020 but was pushed back because of the Covid-19 outbreak and finance issues.

Zambia and Zimbabwe, which already share the Kariba hydroelectric complex further east on the Zambezi, have struggled to satisfy their demand at times.

“Now we are good to go,” said Munodawafa. “We are on solid ground and by the end of next month, I will have an actual date of commencement.”

The African Development Bank is the primary arranger for Batoka‘s finances. The project is built as a run-of-river project, which means there would be little water storage behind the turbines, limiting the impact on Victoria Falls.

There are still disagreements between Zambia and Zimbabwe about the project. Zambia’s energy minister, Peter Kapala, stated in June that the arrangement with GE and Power Construction was too expensive and that a smaller plant would be more acceptable.

Munodawafa also stated that the $130 million repair of a plunge pool behind the wall of the Kariba dam, which holds back the world’s largest manmade reservoir, will be finished by early 2025.

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