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Plans for a dam in Zambia’s Luangwa River come to a halt

  • Plans for dam in Zambia’s Luangwa River come to halt
    Southern reach, Luanwgwa river, Zambia. Credit: Wikipedia

Zambia’s government has abandoned plans to construct a dam and hydropower station on the Luangwa River, reports Mongabay. The Luangwa, a major tributary to the Zambezi River, flows unaltered 1100 km and drains a basin of approximately 50,000 square kilometres, home to a rich wildlife.

Developer MDH South Africa had submitted a proposal to construct a 235 MW hydropower project in Zambia's Ndevu Gorge. The US$1.26 billion plant on the Luangwa would have formed a lake about 165 kilometres long and 17 kilometres wide. The proposed power project had the potential to irreversibly alter the free-flowing Luangwa River.

According to WWF, Zambian authorities have cancelled a pre-feasibility study of the project after exhaustive consultations, thus ending the plan to dam the river. The NGO has referred to the decision as ‘a major boost for communities and wildlife’. Project critics claimed the project would fragment the river and threaten wildlife and fish, in addition to agriculture and tourism which are the livelihood of locals. The reservoir would inundate or alter parts of protected areas adjacent to the Luangwa River.

An assessment done in 2017 by scientists from California State University estimated ‘the reservoir would inundate 29.5% of the length of the Luangwa River within South Luangwa National Park, at least six safari camps, and as much as 80% of adjacent hunting areas. It would inundate portions of at least six chiefdoms adjacent to the river’. The area of wildlife corridor between South Luangwa National Park and Lower Zambezi National Park, already threatened by human encroachment on either side of the river, would also be reduced. Hydrological impacts were also expected upstream and downstream from the reservoir.

The decision to end the dam project opens the door to declare the Luangwa a Water Resource Protected Area, the purpose of a campaign by WWF and partners, supported by 200,000 signatures. Senior Chief Luembe, from the Nsenga people, thanked the government for their decision, and proposed other energy sources such as solar and wind power.

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