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Stieglers Gorge Dam, Selous National Park, Tanzania

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

President John Magufuli laid the foundation stone to commemorate the start of the building of the dam at Stieglers Gorge in Selous National Park, Tanzania on 26 Jul 2019. The associated Julius Nyerere Hydropower Station (JNHS), also called Rufiji Hydroelectric Power Station, will be a 2,115 megawatts (2,836,000 hp) hydroelectric dam. The power station is expected to produce 5,920GWh of power annually. The dam will be fourth largest in Africa and ninth largest in the world. The intent is to interconnect the grids of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.

The project was commissioned by the Tanzanian Ministry of Energy and is being managed by Tanzania Electric Supply Company Limited (Tanseco). The construction contract has been awarded to Egyptian Contractors (Cairo-based JV Arab Contractors Company and the El Sewedy Electric, an Egyptian engineering firm) with no apparent previous experience of building dams. The impacts of climate change on the dam include forecast heavier seasonal rains. Any design weakness, technical or material ‘short cuts’ or use of poor quality materials, will reduce the dams lifespan and its structural strength; should the dam fail this would inevitably lead to loss of life and an environmental catastrophe.

Tanzania’s objectives are to rapidly create a vibrant Energy Sector that contributes significantly to economic growth and improved quality of life of Tanzanians and provide reliable, affordable, safe, efficient and environment friendly modern energy services to all while ensuring effective participation of Tanzanians in the sector. Whilst experience in other parts of the world shows that dams are not the answer, there is a shortage of power in Tanzania and neighbouring countries. Tanzania’s vision of an industrial economy requires cheap and reliable power. Clever integrated use of renewable energy would have offered a more environmentally friendly and sustainable solution but would of course have taken longer to realise. For now Selous, including its 47 hunting blocks and several lodges, continues to attract tourist dollars to Tanzania and generate tax income.  

Selous has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982 and is home to iconic species such as the elephant and the critically endangered black rhinoceros. In 2014, the reserve was included on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to elephant poaching, and in 2018 the threat from the Rufiji project was added to the justification for danger-listing as amongst other issues it would flood the habitats of the site’s last remaining black rhinos and could open up the core of the reserve to human development. UNESCO has concluded that building of the dam is not compatible with World Heritage status and it would likely lead to irreversible damage to the Site’s ‘Outstanding Universal Value’. Selous is at risk of losing its World Heritage site status if deforestation and other activities related to construction of the dam lead to irreversible damage to the site. 

The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a document required to inform decision making prior to work commencing. It was commissioned and completed after the construction contract for the project was signed and work had already begun! An independent review of the SEA commissioned by IUCN concluded that the report is ‘completely inadequate and does not assess the project’s economic viability, social and environmental impacts, or project alternatives’.

New and improved roads will provide easier access to the National Park from Dar es Salaam, some 220 kilometres (137 mi), to the North East. This easier access may encourage an increase in tourism and improved access to markets in the city but may also lead to further development within the National Park and loss of habitat. In the mean time some local communities are reported to be enjoying short term benefits including better prices for their crops to feed a construction workforce estimated to be about 6000 at the peak.

Whilst dams are contentious structures, their impacts should be properly planned for and mitigation measures developed and implemented to reduce the associated consequences. In this 'dash for energy' it appears that 'lip service' has been paid to good planning practice. The SEC was an 'after-thought' and does not fully identify the strategic impacts of the dam. It is anticipated that (crisis) management of the consequences will be very challenging with significant negative effects on a number of areas including communities and associated livelihoods, wildlife and associated ecosystems, agriculture and the wider environment.

................................... why can't we get this right?

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