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 IRN’s Mphanda Nkuwa Campaign

The Zambezi River downstream of
the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa Dam

The Zambezi is one of the most heavily dammed river systems in Africa. More than 30 large dams have already been constructed throughout its basin, at great cost to local people and wildlife. These impacts have been particularly harsh in Mozambique, where the giant Cahora Bassa Dam displaced tens of thousands of people, and severely degraded downstream floodplains and fisheries. Significant work is currently underway to restore the lower Zambezi by improving the water release patterns of Cahora Bassa. Water release patterns that more closely mimic natural flows will improve the richness of the degraded downstream environment.

Now, the Mozambican government is proposing to build the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam 60km downstream from the Cahora Bassa Dam. It is estimated that the dam would produce as much as 1,300MW of electricity that the government anticipates using to attract energy intensive industries to Mozambique, including expansion of the Mozal Aluminum Smelter, but this power would come at a high price. The proposed dam is already a priority infrastructure project under the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), which is promoting Mphanda Nkuwa for increased supply of the regional electricity grid, primarily for industrial supply.

In addition to displacing 1,400 rural farmers, the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam would require the Cahora Bassa Dam to operate according to its current destructive release patterns, and make downstream restoration very difficult to achieve. Mphanda Nkuwa could also exacerbate downstream social and environmental damage by causing daily fluctuations in river level. These mini–floods are predicted to flood ecologically important sandbars and riverbank food gardens which provide the only vegetable resource for many local farmers and are essential for ensuring food security during the dry season. The water fluctuations will also impair fishing and navigation by canoe, especially in the stretch between Mphanda Nkuwa and the city of Tete.

Map of the area

See a larger map of the affected area

See a map

The $2 billion project also poses significant economic risk to Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest nations. If the Mozambican government finds it difficult to secure buyers for Mphanda Nkuwa’s electricity, it is unclear who will foot the bill. The worst–case scenario could be the same fate as Cahora Bassa: selling the dam’s hydroelectricity to South Africa’s utility, Eskom, at below cost because there is not enough local demand. Mozambique’s rural poor are in desperate need of electricity, but due to the high cost of extending the transmission grid, Mphanda Nkuwa will not contribute significantly to rural electrification. Smaller, decentralized options would better suit the needs of Mozambique’s rural majority.

The Mozambican environmental group Justiça Ambiental (JA!) is asking the government to put the project on hold until a thorough assessment of all Mozambique’s energy needs and options as specified in the World Commission on Dams (WCD) is completed and publicly debated. This is the first step to ensuring that Mozambicans’ energy needs are met with the least human, environmental, and economic costs. JA! Also believes that an audit of the Cahora Bassa Dam on the Zambezi River must be done and its negative effects be mitigated by implementation of environmental flow releases for better management of the river basin. JA! can be contacted at ja_ngo@yahoo.com.


  latest additions  
Livelihoods at Risk: The Case of The Mphanda Nkuwa Dam
A risk assessment reveals that Mphanda Nkuwa Dam, proposed for the Zambezi River in Mozambique, could leave thousands worse off. The study, by a geographer with expertise in disaster mitigation, reveals how the risks of this large hydro dam would be borne disproportionately by those with the least power to influence how the project is developed.  
Mozambique Mega–Dam Will Exacerbate Poverty, Livelihoods
IRN, JA! Justiça Press Release. Also available in Portuguese.