THE 2 400 megawatt (MW) Batoka Gorge Hydro-Electric Scheme (BGHES) came under threat this week after pockets of “influential people” scaled up a campaign to force communities adjacent to the multibillion project to make objections.
The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) said on Monday it had received the reports but said it could not establish if they were authentic.
ZRA is a firm established by Zambia and Zimbabwe to manage the Zambezi River basin, where it already oversees operations of the Kariba North and Kariba South hydroelectric power stations, operated on the Zambezi by the two countries respectively.
ZRA chief executive, Munyaradzi Munodawafa spoke as the campaign was said to have intensified, even after the final date for submitting objections to the US$2,6 billion project closed on January 25, 2021 after opening in March last year.
“The Zambezi River Authority has observed with great concern online public campaigns by some stakeholders aimed at frustrating the efforts leading to the sustainable implementation of this multi-billion-dollar 2 400MW hydro power project, which seeks to address the adverse power challenges affecting the people and economic activities in Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Sadc region as a whole,” he noted.
“The authority has received reports of alleged threats of violence against people living in the project area by people of influence who are opposed to, or questioning the implementation of the BGHES project. The authority takes such allegations very seriously and has carried out preliminary investigations on these claims. The authority has been, and will continue, to work with the local leadership in the project area who keep the authority management abreast of any suspicious developments on the ground. In November 2020, the local leadership in Hwange alerted the authority of some unscrupulous individuals that were swindling locals of their hard-earned money by claiming to be recruitment agents for the authority,” he said.
Munodawafa said ZRA was ready to engage citizens with objections to the project, which is seen as a huge step towards ending a long-running power crisis in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Zimbabwe currently produces about half of an estimated 2 000MW required to power its industries and for domestic consumption.The other half is imported.
Power from Batoka, which has been on the cards for over two decades, will be shared equally between the two countries.
There have been pockets of stakeholders who have been opposing the projects, saying it may trigger an ecological disaster.
Some experts have said water levels upstream of the Zambezi may rise, affecting white-water rafting activities while others have warned of negative implications to nearby national parks.
But Munodawafa said working with the Environmental Resources Management (ERM), an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) had been carried out with all concerns looked at.
“The other measures highlighted included the adopted variable reservoir operation rules that were developed with a view to ensuring the balancing of power generation whilst allowing for the continuation of other river-based activities (like) white-water rafting and provision for adequate ecological flow to sustain downstream ecology throughout the operations of the scheme. The authority also prepared the Livelihood Restoration Plans for the project components in respect of which it was established that households may experience economic displacement. Those economically impacted would be adequately compensated, in line with the Livelihood Restoration Plan to ensure their livelihood is better than before. While some stakeholders might have viewed the disclosure process as a formality and casual activity, the Authority takes this process very seriously as it is also a critical condition precedent for accessing financing for Project implementation,” he said.
“It is for this reason that the Authority engaged one of the independent and internationally renowned Consulting firms, ERM, to carry out independent Environmental and Social Impact Assessments. In as much as face-to-face engagements would have been most desired, the unprecedented circumstances arising from the outbreak of the Covid-19 global pandemic meant that this was not practicable,” he said.