Stiegler’s Gorge project stirs German parliament

23Jan 2019
By Financial Times Reporter
Financial Times
Stiegler’s Gorge project stirs German parliament

Germany’s parliament has raised concerns over the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower project asking the country’s government to find alternative ways of assisting Tanzania to produce much-needed electricity.

Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower.

Legislators from parties forming the German coalition government said in a debate over a bill on the same subject that the project will jeopardize the Selous Game Reserve’s status as World Heritage Site.

The bill was seconded by lawmakers from the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), and the Green Party. Legislators from a right wing party, Alternative for Germany (AFD), did not vote.

Proposals by the Economic Cooperation Committee were the basis for the bill.

The resolution passed by the parties had the MPs asking their government to assist in finding alternative ways of generating electricity in Tanzania without harming the environment.

The MPs noted during the debate that the project, aimed at producing 2,100MW of electricity, will put at risk the entire ecosystem of the Rufiji River, one of the big waterways of Africa.

Though Tanzania needs the electricity to quench its socio-economic ambitions, German legislators noted that the area which the government has earmarked for the project is of paramount importance socially and environmentally.

In addition to conservation, the Rufiji River is key to many people’s farming and fishing activities. MPs noted that the project would entail cutting a lot of trees leading to untold environmental repercussions.

MPs from the opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP) proposed production of electricity using gas which is abundantly available in Tanzania. The lawmakers asked the German government to convey their proposals to the Tanzanian counterparts.

But President John Magufuli, for whom the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower dam is one of his special projects, has allayed environmentalists’ concerns and asserted that, on the contrary, the project will help to safeguard the Selous environment.

"Only 3.5 per cent of the total area in the reserve will be used for hydro-electric power generation. However, the wildlife will get enough drinking water compared to the past," Magufuli said in one of his numerous speeches in defence of the project last year.

He added: "Since the wildlife will be better maintained in the reserve than before, the implementation of the project will also reduce poaching."

According to the president, unlike Japan which produces electricity from uranium, Tanzania has not opted for using the mineral for power generation, but has instead chosen to go for hydroelectric power generation.

Mid-last year, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism released a statement saying that UN ESCO has agreed to cooperate with Tanzania to ensure the project is environmentally safe. The government has already contracted Egyptian firm Arab Contractors to build the huge dam at the basin of the Rufiji River.

Upon completion, the dam is expected to provide 2,100MW of electricity to a country that is currently extremely under-supplied. With a population of approximately 53 million, Tanzania has just 1,400MW of installed grid capacity.

Spanning over 20,000 square miles, a land area larger than Denmark, the Selous game reserve is considered one of the largest protected wild areas in Africa, and is home to several wildlife species as well as an “exceptionally high variety of habitats” according to UNESCO.