One of Africa's most dramatic waterfalls will be destroyed by a hydroelectric project in Gabon, according to reports from a Gabonese NGO and the Inter Press Service (IPS).
Kongou Falls, a 184-foot (5 6m) two-mile-wide (3.2 km) cataract on the Ivindo river in the Congo rainforest, will be flooded by a dam to provide power for a $3.5 billion plan to mine iron ore at Bélinga in northeastern Gabon. The project -- financed by a Chinese consortium led by CMEC, a Chinese company -- is scheduled to get underway in December, with the first ore reaching China by 2011. China says the project will create 30,000 jobs and result in the construction of a deepwater port.
Brainforest, an environmental group based in the Gabonese capital, Libreville, says that road construction for the project has already begun, despite the fact that the environment ministry has not approved the project and that Kongou Falls lies within Ivindo National Park. Further, in a letter to Gabonese president Omar Bongo, Brainforest says the Ministry of Mines appears to have selected the dam site without conducting the required environmental impact study. The group goes on to question whether the project will really create jobs for 30,000 Gabonese or if Chinese firms will bring in their own workers as is customarily done in other parts of the world. Brainforest argues that the Ministry of Mines should at least consider another dam site outside the national park. It says that the Tsengué-Lélédi site would carry lower construction costs and was recommended in a Electricité de France study from the 1960s.
The Gabonese government has responded to the criticism by saying the alternative dam site would be more that twice as costly, while President Bongo has warned environmentalists not meddle with the project.
IPS reports that some environmental groups fear that should the project go ahead, it could lead to the declassification of Ivindo National Park, potentially opening the door to commercial exploitation of Gabon's 12 other parks which were only created in 2002. IPS notes that the Gabonese government has already granted a concessions to a Chinese oil firm to look for oil in the country's only marine park.
Sources: "Central Africa's 'Most Beautiful Waterfall' Under Threat" by Nadine Stella of the Inter Press Service (1 November 2007). "C'est décidé, le barrage hydroélectrique sera érigé sur les chutes Kongou" from Brainforest.