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The Grand Inga Scheme

According to the Department of Energy, Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income in environmental laws, regulations and policies. Currently, there is a severe environmental justice problem with the construction of dams in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 


Dams are a renewable energy source with some good promise. The renewable element of dams creates immense potential in a world that depends on finite resources. But the Grand Inga, the world’s largest hydropower scheme, resides within the Congo River in the mineral-rich, corrupted and poverty-plagued Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 


The massive dam is part of the international economic community’s efforts to establish a power grid across Africa that will stimulate the continent's industrial economic development. Terri Hathaway, with the environmental activism organization International Rivers, explains that the dam is an idea with good intentions, but one with a price tag of $80 billion, and a laundry list of negative environmental and social impacts.  


The cost of the dam’s production initially put the country at an even bigger economic disadvantage than they were already at. The dam may provide cheaper and readily available energy, supposedly allowing industrial and manufacturing industries to take off. However, these benefits have yet to be realized for the DRC's majority population. 


The DRC ranks among the poorest countries in the world, at position 176 out of 187 countries, on the most recent Human Development Index calculated by the UN in 2015. This is a clear indicator that the project primarily benefits local elites and multinational industrial interests, doing little to ease the electric and/or developmental needs of Africa’s poor majority.  


Dams also cause nutrient and sediment trapping, inflame methane emissions and reduce flow in the river transmission lines, causing deforestation. For the Grand Inga Dam, these consequences are even more severe, as the Congo River, the world’s second-largest river in terms of flow, empties into the equatorial Atlantic Ocean, creating the Congo Plume.


The Congo Plume is a high-productivity area arising from the rich nutrient flow from the river, which accounts for 40 to 80 percent of total carbon productivity and is one of the largest carbon sinks in the world. The Grand Inga Dam will dampen this valuable environmental asset. 


This project will also flood the Bundi Valley, harming local agricultural lands and natural environments and causing methane emissions to flare due to the diversion of the Congo into a reservoir. 


This project has hurt Africa’s economy and is unlikely to help those in actual need, despite its claims to promote peace and environmentalism in the region. This promise is nothing short of a stretch, and forcing people from their homes and harming their ancestral lands will do anything but develop peace. 


It’s doubtful the Congolese people will benefit from the energy promised by this project, as very little of the electricity generated by Grand Inga would provide for city or village-level power. According to International Rivers, there is so far no strategy to show how poor communities would access electricity.


What may seem a productive, environmental initiative at first is anything but.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

 

Gabby Ostrov was a SE&T intern for ONC during the Fall 2021 semester. 


Sources:

“Democratic Republic of Congo Overview: Development news, research, data.” World Bank, https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/drc/overview

Fong, Rowena, et al. “Disproportionality and Disparities.” 9 March 2019, https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199975839.013.899

Girard, Ollivier. “Congo.” International Rivers, https://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/grand-inga-dam-dr-congo

“Grand Inga Dam.” International Rivers, 9 March 2019, http://www.irn.org/files/en/africa/grand-inga-dam-dr-congo.html

Vic, Clement et al. “Dynamics of an Equatorial River Plume: Theory and Numerical Experiments Applied to the Congo Plume Case.” American Meteorological Society, 9 March 2019, https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/JPO-D-13-0132.1

“What Is Environmental Justice?” Department of Energy, https://www.energy.gov/lm/services/environmental-justice/what-environmental-justice

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