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Harnessing power from the Congo River

Gretchen Wilson Apr 22, 2008


Lisa Napoli: African governments, international banks and construction firms are meeting at the World Energy Council in London today. They’re planning an $80 billion hydropower dam on the Congo River. Gretchen Wilson reports the project could double the electricity available on the continent.

Gretchen Wilson: The dam in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would be the world’s largest hydroelectric power station — even bigger than the mammoth Three Gorges Dam in China. Supporters, including the World Bank, say harnessing the power of Africa’s second-longest river will spark industrial development on the continent. It could provide sustainable power to hundreds of millions of people from Nigeria to Egypt and be exported as far away as Europe and the Middle East. Western countries, including the G-8, like it too. And they’re willing to help build it.

But there are red flags. Environmental and community groups say the dam’s electricity will likely bypass the poorest locals who don’t yet have power. That’s because most electricity will be exported to existing industrial areas, such as South Africa. They also say it will affect nearby ecosystems and economies, while running the risk of burdening an already-poor country with substantial debt.

In Johannesburg, I’m Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.

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