Tanzania asks bank to finance hydropower project in heritage site

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – Tanzania has approached the African Development Bank (AfDB) to finance a 2,100-megawatt (MW) hydroelectric plant in a World Heritage site renowned for its animal population, despite concerns from conservationists.

The East African nation considers the project at Stiegler’s Gorge in the UNESCO-designated Selous Game Reserve to be vital in its bid to diversify its energy mix and end chronic electricity shortages.

The project would more than double the country’s power generation capacity.

But critics say securing financing for it could prove difficult because construction of a dam on a major river that runs through the Selous Game Reserve could affect wildlife and their habitats downstream.

Tanzania’s finance ministry said in a statement on Saturday that President John Magufuli, who is personally pushing the long-delayed project, made the financing request to AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina during talks in Tanzania’s administrative capital Dodoma over the weekend.

The AfDB confirmed that it was reviewing Magufuli’s request but did not say how much the project would cost.

“President Magufuli is very committed to ensure that the country industrializes, but you cannot industrialize unless you have access to electricity,” Adesina told journalists on Saturday after his talks with the president.

“The president is very keen to talk to us about the Stiegler’s Gorge project … he mentioned that to us and we are going to be looking at that with him and the government, but we are also very keen to look at other alternative sources of energy.”

Adesina said the AfDB plans to work with the Tanzanian government to develop integrated power projects with the private sector.

Tanzania’s Finance and Planning Minister Philip Mpango said on Saturday that East Africa’s third-biggest economy was also seeking a $200 million loan from the AfDB to build a new airport in Dodoma, and additional financing for the construction of roads.

The government invited bids in August for the Stiegler’s Gorge project and hopes construction work will begin as early as July.

Covering 50,000 sq km, the Selous Game Reserve is one of the largest protected areas in Africa, according to UNESCO. It is known for its elephants, black rhinos and giraffes, among many other species.