Batoka hydro scheme a welcome move

Villagers in the Sikumbi and Chisuma areas, which are nearer to the Batoka Gorges have embraced the project

Villagers in the Sikumbi and Chisuma areas, which are nearer to the Batoka Gorges have embraced the project

Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
Zimbabwe’s power generation capacity has been going down over the years raising concern that this could affect its ability to attract investors. There are also reports that the country experienced a 17,69 percent power deficit on its total domestic and commercial electricity requirements in the first eight months of the year.
According to the reports, the magnitude implies that industry and households have had to contend with the cost and inconvenience arising from rolling power cuts that national power utility Zesa Holdings is using to balance available power supplies.

In an effort to balance demand and power supply Zesa Holdings has resorted to load shedding during peak demand periods usually in the mornings and evenings.

Government through Zesa is mooting several projects to avert power shortages that are threatening industrial and commercial development in Zimbabwe.

Among several project earmarked to ease the power shortages is the development of Gokwe North power project that would feed 1 400MW to the national grid.

Government has called for bids for the Gairezi mini-hydro power station with an estimated US$90 million. The Chisumbanje Ethanol Plant that would add at least 30 megawatts to the national grid when operating at full throttle.

Several other independent power producers are being courted to augment power supplies in Zimbabwe.
However, the Batoka Gorge Hydropower Scheme seems to have more realistic chances of seeing the light of day amid indications that the project would start by the end of 2014.

The hydropower station would contribute  1 600 megawatts to be shared equally between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The Zimbabwe River Authority recently organised a media tour for journalists to note progress made towards the realisation of the scheme. The dam wall where the hydropower generators will be installed will be 54 kilometres downstream from the Victoria Falls.

The process leading to project implementation would be under five stages including preparatory works, tendering process, organisation of project implementation, approval and awarding of contracts and, construction and supervision of physical work.

ZRA spokesperson Ms Elizabeth Karonga said construction of the dam wall could start at the end of 2014 and the scheme would be complete within seven years.

She highlighted the close co-operation between the Zimbabwean and Zambian leadership to see through the project.
The project is currently at the preparatory works stages.

“We are working on identifying the company that would do an Environmental Impact Assessment. We have, however, realised that they would not be much impact on both the environment and society,” she said.

Another EIA was conducted in 1992 indicating that they would be minimal impact of the project to the environment and societies close to the dam project.

“We do not envisage any resistance from the communities such as the challenges faced when people were working on the Kariba Dam project and even the need for any programme like Operation Noah is not expected in this project,” she said.

Her sentiments were echoed by her counterpart, ZRA’s hydrology specialist Mr Samuel Mwale, who said the dam’s water would be confined in the gorges.

“The dam’s water would be confined in the gorges, which are at least 181 metres deep and no human settlement would be destroyed while there would be minimal effect on the environment.

“We are not going to move any animals from the gorge.”
And true to their word, most homesteads, though sparsely populated, are more than 12 kilometres away from the gorges where the dam would be constructed. The rehabilitation of the access road has been completed on the Zimbabwean side with little disturbances on the communities. Ms Karonga said the completion of the access road had actually contributed to the development of the area.

“The rehabilitation of the access roads has opened up the area to the world. We expect businesspeople to access the area because it is easily accessible.

“There is also going to be a major development especially in social amenities including business centres, schools and clinics. The people in the area have also had a chance to benefit through employment creation as they provided much of the labour during the road’s construction.”

Meanwhile, progress on the access road on the Zambian side was still to be complete.
The access road, which is approximately 26 kilometres to the dam wall site, is yet to be complete.

Efforts to get to the site on the Zambian side were futile as the vehicles used by journalists during the tour could not clear the terrain as work was still in progress.

The delegates who spent close to three hours battling to have their cars back on the road expressed fear that the slow progress on the Zambian side could affect construction of the dam wall.

Villagers affected by the construction of the access road have also threatened to plough through the road during the agricultural season accusing authorities of not consulting them.

Speaking through their village head, the villagers said they are not sure of how they would be compensated after losing their fields during the road’s construction.

Some sectors have also raised concern over the dam construction would have on other activities on that section of the Zambezi River especially white water rafting.

“There are people who are making quiet a killing through whitewater rafting and there could be problems with operators,” one observer said in Victoria Falls.

Ms Karonga was, however, quick to dismiss such problems.
“Yes, the dam construction will affect whitewater rafting but this is a minority sport and we are expecting various other sporting events to start once the dam is there,” she said.

But are the villagers satisfied with the benefits of such a massive project earmarked for their areas?
Villagers in the Sikumbi and Chisuma areas, which are nearer to the Batoka Gorges, have embraced the project saying this would bring development to their distrct.

Mr Fanny Moyo, a headmaster in the area, outlined some of the benefits that have been received in the area since the successful rehabilitation of the access road to the Batoka Gorges.

“We have held consultation meetings with the people involved in the project since October last year.
“The company that was involved in the rehabilitation of the road has helped us paint the school, the reconstruction of some classroom blocks while we are expecting to complete the drilling of a borehole that will serve the school and the surrounding areas.”

The school received 150 window panes to replace broken windows while the company was also renovating teachers’ houses.
“We have also started secondary school classes while a site has already been identified for the construction of a proper school,” he said.
And the local traditional leadership is carefully monitoring progress on the project while expressing hope that the project would trigger development in the area.

Speaking in a telephone interview, Chief Shana said:
“This is a noble project that we believe would benefit us more before it goes to benefit the nation. It should not be like other projects where we only see power lines taking electricity to Bulawayo or Harare while we live in darkness.”
He, however, urged the authorities to make sure that the area benefits from the project.

“We own the land that has the gorges and we should be proud that the gorges are a God-given resource. The people should see the benefits of such a project so that they appreciate it.”

He said there was need to develop more schools and clinics in the area.
“Most of the people who are working in our industries set up in the district especially Hwange are from other areas of Zimbabwe. The local people cannot even get stands to build their own houses, let alone businesses in Victoria Falls.

“The companies coming with such projects should give our children scholarships so that they develop the necessary skills and are not used as cheap labour on our land.”

Chief Shana, however, expressed sympathy for his Zambian counterparts in Zambia.
“The Zambians believe the declaration of independence in their country in 1964 was to their disadvantage because the colonisers took everything to the then Southern Rhodesia.

“There is serious need to assist our colleagues so that we are on the same levels while we benefit from our natural resources.”
He however urged the ZRA to rehabilitate the roads leading to his homestead.

“It is unfortunate you did not get the chance to come to my place but there is not much development that we have seen and I hope the roads in the area would be rehabilitated soon,” he said.

The opening up of the access roads to the gorges would see construction material being transported to the hydroelectric power site.
ZRA is a statutory body jointly owned by Zimbabwe and Zambia and responsible for the Zambezi River.

The authority in December last year invited bids from companies with experience in developing hydro projects.
The proposed hydroelectric scheme would involve the construction of a dam and a hydropower plant on the Zambezi River.

Studies have shown that the project may cost between US$2,8 billion and US$3 billion. Once completed, the project would increase generation capacity and reduce reliance on electricity imports.

The Batoka hydro concept was conceived in 1972 out of a study instituted by the predecessor of Zambezi River Authority, the Central African Power Corporation.

The study’s aim was to identify possible power sources which the inter-governmental institution could develop to meet Zimbabwe’s and Zambia’s power demands.

The Batoka hydro scheme is among Zimbabwe’s long-term plans to deal with the prevailing power deficit in the region.

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