This House would build the Grand Inga Dam

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is one of the poorest and most war torn countries in the world. Yet it is also a country with immense natural wealth, not least of which is the great Congo river itself. The Congo river is a river of superlatives, one of the biggest in the world it is 4700km long with a drainage basin of 4million km2 and a discharge of 41,000 m3/sec.[1] The Congo river is also unique in having rapids in its lower course. These rapids for centuries made the interior of the region impenetrable to outsiders now they provide an opportunity for hydroelectric power which relies upon being able to use water and gravity to drive turbines and create electricity. The Congo at Inga drops 96 Meters over 14.5Km of waterfalls and rapids.[2]

There are already two dams at the Inga falls and a third on the way. Inga I and II were constructed during the rule of dictator Mobutu along with the Inga-Shaba high voltage power lines completed in 1982. These grand projects brought Zaire (as it was then called) deeply into debt despite the power being meant to allow investment in natural resources.[3] Inga III is currently under construction and will produce 4,800 MW of electricity without much disruption to the river as the river won’t be closed off and no tunnels built. Inga III might be said to be stage I of the Grand Inga dam even though it will be able to operate independently.[4]

The biggest project is the proposed $50 billion Grand Inga dam which would generate up to 40,000MW. It is a ‘run-of-river’ project in which water is siphoned off the main flow of the river before going through turbines to get back into the main channel. In the case of the Grand Inga this means flooding side valleys at a bend in the river. The advantage is that the main course of the river is left unaltered.[5] Despite this it is clearly an immense project that will provoke opposition from environmental activists and questions about the DRC’s ability to manage such a project.

[1] Canden Bossche, J.P, and Bernacsek, G.M., ‘Zaire/Congo River’, Source Book for the Inland Fishery Resources of Africa, Issue 18, Vol.1, 1990, p.338, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=WLZRxM9vfXoC&pg=PA338&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

[2] ‘Grand Inga Dam, DR Congo’, International Rivers, accessed 28 November 2013, http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/grand-inga-dam-dr-congo

[3] Schatzberg, Michael G., ‘Beyond Mobutu: Kabila and the Congo’, Journal of Democracy, Vol 8:4, 1997, http://www.wioc.wisc.edu/events/2007-MMSD/readings/africa-kabila.pdf p.4

[4] ‘Grand Inga Dam, DR Congo’, International Rivers, accessed 06 December 2013, http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/grand-inga-dam-dr-congo

[5] Vasagar, Jeevan, ‘Could a $50bn plan to tame this mighty river bring electricity to all of Africa?’, The Guardian, 25 February 2005, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/feb/25/congo.jeevanvasagar

 

Title 
The dam would power Africa
Point 

Only 29% of Sub Saharan Africa’s population has access to electricity.[1] This has immense consequences not just for the economy as production and investment is constrained but also on society. The world bank says lack of electricity affects human rights “People cannot access modern hospital services without electricity, or feel relief from sweltering heat. Food cannot be refrigerated and businesses cannot function. Children cannot go to school… The list of deprivation goes on.”[2] Conveniently it is suggested that the “Grand Inga will thus provide more than half of the continent with renewable energy at a low price,”[3] providing electricity to half a billion people so eliminating much of this electricity gap.[4]

[1] World Bank Energy, ‘Addressing the Electricity Access Gap’, World Bank, June 2010, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTESC/Resources/Addressing_the_Electricity_Access_Gap.pdf p.89

[2] The World Bank, ‘Energy – The Facts’, worldbank.org, 2013, http://go.worldbank.org/6ITD8WA1A0

[3] SAinfo reporter, ‘SA-DRC pact paves way for Grand Inga’, SouthAfrica.info, 20 May 2013, http://www.southafrica.info/africa/grandinga-200513.htm#.UqGkNOImZI0

[4] Pearce, Fred, ‘Will Huge New Hydro Projects Bring Power to Africa’s People?’, Yale Environment 360, 30 May 2013, http://e360.yale.edu/feature/will_huge_new_hydro_projects_bring_power_to_africas_people/2656/

Counterpoint 

It is not the best solution to Africa’s energy crisis. According to a report by the International Energy Agency as an immense dam requires a power grid. Such a grid does not exist and building such a grid is “not proving to be cost effective in more remote rural areas”. In such low density areas local sources of power are best.[1] DRC is only 34% urban and has a population density of only 30 people per km2[2] so the best option would be local renewable power.

[1] International Energy Agency, ‘Energy for All Financing access for the poor’, World Energy Outlook, 2011, http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/media/weowebsite/energydevelopment/weo2011_energy_for_all.pdf p.21

[2] Central Intelligence Agency, ‘Congo, Democratic Republic of the’, The World Factbook, 12 November 2013, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cg.html

Title 
An immense boost to DRC’s economy
Point 

The Grand Inga dam would be an immense boost to the DRC’s economy. It would mean a huge amount of investment coming into the country as almost all the $80 billion construction cost would be coming from outside the country which would mean thousands of workers employed and spending money in the DRC as well as boosting local suppliers. Once the project is complete the dam will provide cheap electricity so making industry more competitive and providing electricity to homes. Even the initial stages through Inga III are expected to provide electricity for 25,000 households in Kinshasa.[1]

[1] ‘Movement on the Grand Inga Hydropower Project’, ujuh, 20 November 2013, http://www.ujuh.co.za/movement-on-the-grand-inga-hydropower-project/

Counterpoint 

While it is clear that such an immense project will have an impact we have little idea what that impact might be. Will the builders be local? Will the suppliers be local? It is likely that the benefit will go elsewhere just as the electricity will go to South Africa rather than providing electricity to the poverty stricken Congolese.[1]

[1] Palitza, Kristin, ‘$80bn Grand Inga hydropower dam to lock out Africa’s poor’, Africa Review, 16 November 2011, www.africareview.com/Business---Finance/80-billion-dollar-Grand-Inga-dam-to-lock-out-Africa-poor/-/979184/1274126/-/kkicv7/-/index.html

Title 
Will enable the rebuilding of DRC
Point 

DR Congo has been one of the most war ravaged countries in the world over the last two decades. The Grand Inga provides a project that can potentially benefit everyone in the country by providing cheap electricity and an economic boost. It will also provide large export earnings; to take an comparatively local example Ethiopia earns $1.5million per month exporting 60MW to Djibouti at 7 cents per KwH[1] comparable to prices in South Africa[2] so if Congo were to be exporting 500 times that (at 30,000 MW only 3/4ths of the capacity) it would be earning $9billion per year. This then will provide more money to invest and to ameliorate problems. The project can therefore be a project for the nation to rally around helping create and keep stability after the surrender of the rebel group M23 in October 2013.

[1] Woldegebriel, E.G., ‘Ethiopia plans to power East Africa with hydro’, trust.org, 29 January 2013, http://www.trust.org/item/?map=ethiopia-seeks-to-power-east-africa-with-hydro

[2] Burkhardt, Paul, ‘Eskom to Raise S. Africa Power Price 8% Annually for 5 Years’, Bloomberg, 28 February 2013, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-28/south-africa-s-eskom-to-raise-power-prices-8-a-year-for-5-years.html

Counterpoint 

In the short to medium term during the decades the dam is being built investment will surely be concentrated in one place in this vast country; in the west where the dam is, not the east where the conflicts are. Later there is little guarantee that the government will spend the proceeds wisely to develop the country rather than it disappearing through corruption. And this assumes the money flows in from the export of electricity. To enable such exports 3000km of high voltage cable will need to be laid which would be vulnerable to being cut by rebel groups seeking to hurt the government through its wallet.[1]

[1] ‘Explained: The $80 billion Grand Inga Hydropower Project’, ujuh, 21 November 2013, http://www.ujuh.co.za/explained-the-80-billion-grand-inga-hydropower-project/

Title 
A dam could make the Congo more usable
Point 

While the Congo is mostly navigable it is only usable internally. The rapids cut the middle Congo off from the sea. The building of the dams could be combined with canalisation and locks to enable international goods to be easily transported to and from the interior. This would help integrate central Africa economically into the global economy making the region much more attractive for investment.

Counterpoint 

There is currently not enough traffic to justify such a large addition to the project. If it were worthwhile then it could be done without the need for building an immense dam. 

Title 
Such a big project is beyond DRC’s capacity
Point 

The Grand Inga dam project is huge while it means huge potential benefits it just makes it more difficult for the country to manage. Transparency international ranks DRC as 160th out of 176 in terms of corruption[1] so it is no surprise that projects in the country are plagued by it.[2] Such a big project would inevitably mean billions siphoned off. Even if it is built will the DRC be able to maintain it? This seems unlikely. The Inga I and II dams only operate at half their potential due to silting up and a lack of maintenance.[3]

[1] ‘Corruption Perceptions Index 2012’, Transparency International, 2012, http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2012/results/

[2] Bosshard, Peter, ‘Grand Inga -- The World Bank's Latest Silver Bullet for Africa’, Huffington Post, 21 April 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-bosshard/grand-inga-the-world-bank_b_3308223.html

[3] Vasagar, Jeevan, ‘Could a $50bn plan to tame this mighty river bring electricity to all of Africa?’, The Guardian, 25 February 2005, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/feb/25/congo.jeevanvasagar

Counterpoint 

The World Bank would be taking a lead role in the project and it proclaims “The World Bank has a zero-tolerance policy on corruption, and we have some of the toughest fiduciary standards of any development agency, including a 24/7 fraud and corruption hotline with appropriate whistle-blower protection.” All documentation would be in the public domain and online so ensuring complete transparency.[1]

[1] Maake, Moyagabo, ‘Concern over SA’s billions in DRC Inga project’, Business Day Live, 24 March 2013, http://www.bdlive.co.za/business/energy/2013/03/24/concern-over-sas-billions-in-drc-inga-project

Title 
A dam would damage the environment
Point 

Dams due to their generation of renewable electricity are usually seen as environmentally friendly but such mega projects are rarely without consequences. The Grand Inga would lower the oxygen content of the lower course of the river which would mean a loss of species. This would not only affect the river as the Congo’s delta is a submerged area of 300,000km2 far out into the Atlantic. This system is not yet understood but the plume transmits sediment and organic matter into the Atlantic ocean encouraging plankton offshore contributing to the Atlantic’s ability to be a carbon sink.[1]

[1] Showers, Kate, ‘Will Africa’s Mega Dam Have Mega Impacts?’, International Rivers, 5 March 2012, http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/grand-inga-will-africa%E2%80%99s-mega-dam-have-mega-impacts-1631

Counterpoint 

Hydroelectric power is clean so would be beneficial in the fight against global warming. Providing such power would reduce the need to other forms of electricity and would help end the problem of cooking fires which not only damage the environment but cause 1.9million lives to be lost globally every year as a result of smoke inhalation.[1] Because the dam will be ‘run of the river’ there won’t be many of the usual problems associated with dams; fish will still be able to move up and down the river and much of the sediment will still be transported over the rapids. 

[1] Bunting, Madeleine, ‘How Hillary Clinton’s clean stoves will help African women’, theguardian.com, 21 September 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/sep/21/hillary-clinton-clean-stove-initiative-africa

Title 
Dams displace communities
Point 

Dams result in the filling of a large reservoir behind the dam because it has raised the level of the water in the case of the Grand Inga it would create a reservoir 15km long. This is not particularly big but the construction would also displace communities. The previous Inga dams also displaced people. Inga I and II were built 30 and 40 years ago, yet the displaced are still in a shabby prefabricated town called Camp Kinshasa awaiting compensation.[1] Are they likely to do better this time around?

[1] Sanyanga, Ruto, ‘Will Congo Benefit from Grand Inga Dam’, International Policy Digest, 29 June 2013, http://www.internationalpolicydigest.org/2013/06/29/will-congo-benefit-from-grand-inga-dam/

Counterpoint 

Yes they are. Big international donors like the World Bank who are supporting the project will ensure that there is compensation for those displaced and that they get good accommodation. In a budget of up to $80billion the cost of compensation and relocation is tiny. 

Title 
The cost is too high
Point 

The Grand Inga is ‘pie in the sky’ as the cost is too immense. At more than $50-100 billion it is more than twice the GDP of the whole country.[1] Even the much smaller Inga III project has been plagued by funding problems with Westcor pulling out of the project in 2009.[2] This much smaller project still does not have all the financial backing it needs having failed to get firm commitments of investment from anyone except the South Africans.[3] If private companies won’t take the risk on a much smaller project they won’t on the Grand Inga.

[1] Central Intelligence Agency, ‘Congo, Democratic Republic of the’, The World Factbook, 12 November 2013, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cg.html

[2] ‘Westcor Drops Grand Inga III Project’, Alternative Energy Africa, 14 August 2009, http://ae-africa.com/read_article.php?NID=1246

[3] ‘DRC still looking for Inga III funding’, ESI-Africa.com, 13 September 2013, http://www.esi-africa.com/drc-still-looking-for-inga-iii-funding/

Counterpoint 

The difficulty of constructing something should not be considered a good argument not to do it. As one of the poorest countries in the world construction will surely have significant support from developed donors and international institutions. Moreover with the energy cooperation treaty between DRC and South Africa there is a guaranteed partner to help in financing and eventually buying the electricity.

Bibliography 

‘Westcor Drops Grand Inga III Project’, Alternative Energy Africa, 14 August 2009, http://ae-africa.com/read_article.php?NID=1246

Bosshard, Peter, ‘Grand Inga -- The World Bank's Latest Silver Bullet for Africa’, Huffington Post, 21 April 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-bosshard/grand-inga-the-world-bank_b_3308223.html

Bunting, Madeleine, ‘How Hillary Clinton’s clean stoves will help African women’, theguardian.com, 21 September 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/sep/21/hillary-clinton-clean-stove-initiative-africa

Burkhardt, Paul, ‘Eskom to Raise S. Africa Power Price 8% Annually for 5 Years’, Bloomberg, 28 February 2013, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-28/south-africa-s-eskom-to-raise-power-prices-8-a-year-for-5-years.html

Canden Bossche, J.P, and Bernacsek, G.M., ‘Zaire/Congo River’, Source Book for the Inland Fishery Resources of Africa, Issue 18, Vol.1, 1990, p.338, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=WLZRxM9vfXoC&pg=PA338&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

Central Intelligence Agency, ‘Congo, Democratic Republic of the’, The World Factbook, 12 November 2013, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cg.html

‘DRC still looking for Inga III funding’, ESI-Africa.com, 13 September 2013, http://www.esi-africa.com/drc-still-looking-for-inga-iii-funding/

International Energy Agency, ‘Energy for All Financing access for the poor’, World Energy Outlook, 2011, http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/media/weowebsite/energydevelopment/weo2011_energy_for_all.pdf ‘Grand Inga Dam, DR Congo’, International Rivers, accessed 28 November 2013, http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/grand-inga-dam-dr-congo

Maake, Moyagabo, ‘Concern over SA’s billions in DRC Inga project’, Business Day Live, 24 March 2013, http://www.bdlive.co.za/business/energy/2013/03/24/concern-over-sas-billions-in-drc-inga-project

Palitza, Kristin, ‘$80bn Grand Inga hydropower dam to lock out Africa’s poor’, Africa Review, 16 November 2011, www.africareview.com/Business---Finance/80-billion-dollar-Grand-Inga-dam-to-lock-out-Africa-poor/-/979184/1274126/-/kkicv7/-/index.html

Pearce, Fred, ‘Will Huge New Hydro Projects Bring Power to Africa’s People?’, Yale Environment 360, 30 May 2013, http://e360.yale.edu/feature/will_huge_new_hydro_projects_bring_power_to_africas_people/2656/

SAinfo reporter, ‘SA-DRC pact paves way for Grand Inga’, SouthAfrica.info, 20 May 2013, http://www.southafrica.info/africa/grandinga-200513.htm#.UqGkNOImZI0

Sanyanga, Ruto, ‘Will Congo Benefit from Grand Inga Dam’, International Policy Digest, 29 June 2013, http://www.internationalpolicydigest.org/2013/06/29/will-congo-benefit-from-grand-inga-dam/

Schatzberg, Michael G., ‘Beyond Mobutu: Kabila and the Congo’, Journal of Democracy, Vol 8:4, 1997, http://www.wioc.wisc.edu/events/2007-MMSD/readings/africa-kabila.pdf p.4

Showers, Kate, ‘Will Africa’s Mega Dam Have Mega Impacts?’, International Rivers, 5 March 2012, http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/grand-inga-will-africa%E2%80%99s-mega-dam-have-mega-impacts-1631

‘Corruption Perceptions Index 2012’, Transparency International, 2012, http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2012/results/ ‘Movement on the Grand Inga Hydropower Project’, ujuh, 20 November 2013, http://www.ujuh.co.za/movement-on-the-grand-inga-hydropower-project/

‘Explained: The $80 billion Grand Inga Hydropower Project’, ujuh, 21 November 2013, http://www.ujuh.co.za/explained-the-80-billion-grand-inga-hydropower-project/

Vasagar, Jeevan, ‘Could a $50bn plan to tame this mighty river bring electricity to all of Africa?’, The Guardian, 25 February 2005, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/feb/25/congo.jeevanvasagar

Woldegebriel, E.G., ‘Ethiopia plans to power East Africa with hydro’, trust.org, 29 January 2013, http://www.trust.org/item/?map=ethiopia-seeks-to-power-east-africa-with-hydro

World Bank Energy, ‘Addressing the Electricity Access Gap’, World Bank, June 2010, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTESC/Resources/Addressing_the_Electricity_Access_Gap.pdf

The World Bank, ‘Energy – The Facts’, worldbank.org, 2013, http://go.worldbank.org/6ITD8WA1A0

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