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Overview of Chinese Dam Building in Africa

Overview of Chinese Dam Building in Africa

By Lori Pottinger Director, Africa Program International Rivers Network February 7, 2007


Chinese corporations, financial institutions, and the Chinese government have shown an increasing interest in large dam projects in Africa. Civil society and dam-affected peoples’ movements are concerned that China’s own poor record on protecting human rights and the environment could mean trouble for African rivers now targeted for Chinese-built large dams.

Africa is a growing source of raw materials for China’s industrial sector as well as a marketplace for Chinese goods. China-Africa trade has seen rapid growth in recent years, and reached $39 billion in 2005.1 Much of this growth is fueled by the market opportunities in Africa for Chinese imports, and China’s immense need for oil. China’s oil deals with Africa are also on the rise: Africa now covers almost 30% of its needs.2 Chinese companies are heavily involved in many fields: oil, mining, logging, and infrastructure. Western nations and international financial institutions often link their foreign aid to conditions regarding liberalizing and privatizing the economy, and a country’s record of human rights, good governance and transparency. In contrast, China’s assistance comes with almost no strings attached. One of China’s only requirements is that its African partners do not recognize Taiwan.

China’s Current Involvement in Key African Dams

Sudan: The Chinese companies China International Water & Electric Corp. and China National Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Corporation share the main civil-engineering contract for the 1,250 MW Merowe dam on the Nile River.3 This project, now under construction, has been marred by human rights violations of dam-affected communities, and a disregard for significant cultural sites and antiquities. At least 50,000 people are being displaced from fertile lands in the Nile Valley to harsh desert lands, against their will. Some of the 1,700 Chinese workers brought in to build the project have also reportedly experienced hostilities after appropriating local communities’ water supply for the dam project.4 (For more information see www.irn.org/programs/merowe)

Zambia: The largest utility in Zambia, Zesco, announced in 2003 that it will contract with Sinohydro for the development of the 660 MW Lower Kafue Gorge power station. The proposed power station would have a generating capacity of about 750 megawatts and the estimated cost of US $600 million. Zambia plans to export more electricity to the region.

In Ethiopia, Chinese corporations are building the 300MW Tekeze hydroelectric dam. China National Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Corporation (CWHEC) is building the main concrete dam for Tekeze which, at 185 meters high will be one of Africa’s tallest dams. Details on the social and environmental impact are sketchy. The project is expected to bring about higher rates of malaria in the region, and is also a security concern. The Tekeze Dam is within range of Eritrean artillery and is thought to be a vulnerable target. And in July (YEAR?) it was announced that China’s Gezhouba Water and Power Co. is likely to win the contract to build a 100 MW hydropower dam on the Neshi River in Ethiopia.

In Mozambique, the China Exim Bank in May 2006 agreed to finance the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa Dam on the Zambezi River, which has already suffered serious harm from the upstream Cahora Bassa and Kariba dams. Today, significant work is underway to restore the lower Zambezi by improving Cahora Bassa’s water release patterns to more closely mimic natural flows. But that effort could be undermined by a new dam at Mphanda Nkuwa, just 70 kilometres downstream of Cahora Bassa. Mphanda Nkuwa will require Cahora Bassa to operate according to its current destructive release patterns, and make downstream restoration very difficult. The dam could also worsen downstream environmental damage by causing daily fluctuations in river levels, and reducing the natural flow of river sediments, which are critical to the delta’s health. (For more information: www.irn.org/programs/mphanda) According to local river experts, Chinese funding has also been made available for the Boa Maria Dam on the Pungue River -- the first significant structure on the Pungue, which like Mphanda Nkuwa is expected to have severe negative effects on the Zambezi delta.

In Nigeria, China has expressed interest in a number of dam projects, particularly in connection to oil concessions. In May 2006, Nigeria accepted a US$2.5 billion loan from China, $1 billion to finance the Mambila hydropower dam, which would increase Nigeria’s electricity supply by nearly 4,000 MW, doubling its current capacity.5 Some of these projects are being spearheaded by the China Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Company.6

In Ghana, the Government reportedly has signed a $600 million loan agreement with the Chinese Government for the Bui Dam Project. President Kufuor was quoted in early January 2007 saying that “plans [for the new dam] were far advanced.” Bui Dam would flood nearly a quarter of the Bui National Park, destroying habitat for rare hippos, forcibly resettling 2,600 people and affecting thousands more. The project could cost up to US$700 million. In addition to Bui, a local journalist reports that the Volta River Authority (VRA) has identified 16 potential sites for the production of hydroelectricity and that more rivers will be damned throughout the country. In recent years, Ghana has been plagued by power rationing because of its dependence on large hydro projects.

In Democratic Republic of Congo, the Chinese government has been wooing authorities involved in the planning of the Inga 3 and Grand Inga hydropower schemes. Several utilities and African governments interested in Inga have also visited China’s Three Gorges Dam.7 Current plans for Grand Inga include power capacity 2-3 times that of Three Gorges; its impacts remain unstudied, but its cost could soar to US$50bn. (For more info: www.irn.org/programs/congo)

In Republic of Congo, the China Exim Bank bankrolled the construction of a 120 MW dam at Imboulou on the Lefini river, a tributary of the Congo river. It was estimated to cost $280 million.

In Gabon, a Chinese consortium headed by China National Machinery & Equipment Import & Export Corp signed a deal in September 2006 to invest US$3 billion to mine iron-ore for export to China - the world`s largest producer of steel. The project also includes construction of railways, a port and two hydroelectric dams to be completed within three years.

  1. za.today.reuters.com
  2. www.bangkokpost.com
  3. www.enr.com
  4. www.sudantribune.com
  5. www.allafrica.com
  6. www.allafrica.com and www.thetidenews.com
  7. english.people.com.cn
Additional Information

For further information, please contact:

    Lori Pottinger, International Rivers Network
    E-mail: lori@irn.org
    Phone: +1 510-848-1155