Chinese Dams in Africa
Chinese corporations, financial institutions, and the government are involved in billions of dollars worth of large dams 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 dam companies.
Africa is a growing source of raw materials for China’s industrial sector as well as a marketplace for Chinese goods. Chinese companies are heavily involved in extraction of oil, minerals and logging as well as in construction of large infrastructure. Unlike western financiers China’s assistance comes with almost no strings attached.
China’s Current Involvement in Key African Dams
The 1250 MW Merowe Dam on the fourth cataract of the Nile is Sudan's biggest hydropower project. The project was funded by Chinese and Arab financiers, and built by Chinese, German and French companies. A proper environmental impact assessment was never carried out. The reservoir with a length of 174 kilometers displaced more than 50,000 people from the fertile Nile Valley to arid desert locations, and submerged unique archeological treasures. The protests of the affected communities were met with serious human rights violations.
In 2010, the Sudanese government contracted the Chinese company Sinohydro to build the 360 MW Kajbar Dam on the Nile's third cataract. The dam would displace at least 10,000 people. The project is located on the lands of Nubia, a nation with a proud history which risks being wiped out by successive dam projects.
In 2010, the Sudanese government also contracted two other Chinese companies to build the Shereik Dam on the Nile's fifth cataract, and a hydropower and irrigation project on the Atbara River in Eastern Sudan. In 2015, Sudan and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement on developing the Kajbar and Dal dams, which are to be constructed on the third and second cataract of the Nile, in Northern Sudan.
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 Dam. The proposed power station would have a generating capacity of about 750 MW and the estimated cost of US $600 million. The Lower Kafue Gorge Dam will be suited on the Kafue River-a tributary of the Zambezi. Construction of the dam has yet to begin.
Chinese contractors have built the 300 MW Tekeze hydroelectric dam. China National Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Corporation (CWHEC) built the main concrete dam for Tekeze which, at 185 meters high, is one of Africa’s tallest dams.
After the World Bank and many other banks declined to get involved in the Gibe III Dam on the Omo River, China's biggest bank ICBC approved a loan of $500 million for a Chinese equipment contract for the project. Gibe III began generating electricity in October 2015. The operation of the dam is expected to have devastating social and environmental impacts on the Lower Omo Valley and the Lake Turkana region.
China’s Gezhouba Water and Power Company built the 90 MW Amerti-Neshe hydropower dam on the Neshi River. The dam at a cost of US$137.8 Million was commsioned in December 2011. China's Sinohydro has expressed interest in the Gibe IV project on the Omo River.
The China Exim Bank expressed intrest in financing the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa Dam on the Zambezi River (at the time of writing it is not clear who will finance the hydropower project). The Zambezi has already suffered serious harm from the upstream Cahora Bassa and Kariba dams. The project could derail efforts to restore the lower Zambezi delta by improving Cahora Bassa’s water release patterns to more closely mimic natural flows. 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. 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.
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. Some of these projects are being spearheaded by the China Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Company.
China's Exim bank financed the construction of the Bui Dam Project. The dam, at a cost of US$790 million was commisioned in 2013, flooding nearly a quarter of the Bui National Park, destroying habitat for rare hippos, forcibly displacing 1,216 people and affecting thousands more. In addition to Bui, it is rumoured 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.
Republic of Congo
The China Exim Bank bankrolled the construction of the 120 MW Imboulou Dam on the Lefini river, a tributary of the Congo river. It was estimated to cost $280 million. China's Sinohydro is also involved in the construction of Zongo II.
In Gabon, a Chinese consortium headed by China National Machinery & Equipment Import & Export Corporation signed a deal in September 2006 to invest US$3 billion to mine iron-ore for export to China - the world`s largest producer of steel. The project also includes construction of railways, a port and two hydroelectric dams to be completed within three years. Belinga dam located in the Lvindo National Park is one of the planned hydro infrastructure.
Previously, Chinese companies were involved in the construction of the Koungou Falls Dam, that was approved without an Environmental Impact Assessment. However, public opposition to the project in Gabon led the Gabonese government halting the project in 2009.
China International Water & Electric Corporation (CWE) is immersed in the construction of a 30 MW Lom Pangar Dam which is set to cost, US$ 400 million. The Lom Pangar dam’s reservoir will see part of the Deng Deng forest reserve in Cameroon flooded. China’s Export Import bank is also funding the construction of a 201 MW Memve’ele Dam, in Cameroon. Memve’ele Dam’s transmission line could cut through Campo Ma’an National Park in Cameron while its reservoir may also flood a portion of the park affecting downstream ecology of the river which runs through the park.