Congo River to Power Africa Out of Poverty
Private and Public Sector Meets at UNEP to Forge Sustainable Development Partnerships
Nairobi, 24 February 2005 - Plans to harness the power of the mighty Congo River to generate electricity are being drawn up by one of Africa’s biggest energy companies, it was announced at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today.
The scheme, which will initially focus on the Inga Rapids, aims to eventually generate more than enough electricity to power Africa’s industrialisation.
Surplus electricity can be sold to places like Spain and Italy in southern Europe via an inter-connector under the Mediterranean Sea.
The plan was announced by Reuel Khoza, chairman of the South African-based power company Eskom Holdings.
He is among a delegation of business leaders attending “Africa Business and Sustainable Development” meeting taking place at UNEP headquarters where environment minister from across the globe have gathered for UNEP’s 23rd Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum.
Mr Khoza said: “Africa urgently needs energy to lift its people out of poverty and deliver sustainable development. The Congo River offers enormous opportunities for doing this. We calculate that hydro electricity from the Congo could generate more than 40,000 meggawatts, enough to power Africa’s industrialisation with the possibility of selling the surplus to southern Euorpe”.
He said the idea had been suggested in the past, but that it was now gaining real political momentum under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
The prospects of peace in the region were also concentrating minds, said Mr Khoza.
He said the plans envisaged engineering works that would siphon off the river, divert it through electricity-generating turbines, before funneling the water back into the Congo.
At least half if not more of the electricity can be generated in this way which, according to Eskom, makes the project environmentally-friendly.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, which came into force last week, developed countries can off set some of their emissions at home by clean energy schemes in developing countries.
Mr Khoza said it had been agreed that the Congo project would qualify for such carbon offset projects which are run under the Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism.
Co-organised by UNEP with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Energy Council (WEC), the meeting examined how the provision of water and energy underpins the sustainable development needs of Africa and can contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.
Today, only 64 % of Africa's population has access to a reliable clean water supply. An estimated 526 million people in Africa do not have access to electricity.
The situation in rural areas is expected become even worse over the next two decades if current patterns continue. According to the ministers and business leaders attending the meeting, this water and energy crisis threatening much of Africa will only be solved if there is greater investment in relevant infrastructure and services by the private sector.
From building boreholes for water to the development of solar power in remote villages, business must play a key role in working with local entrepreneurs, public authorities and financing institutions in Africa, concluded participants.
They also recognised the critical role business can play in technology development and implementation as well as in strengthening local management capacity to complement the still dominant role played by public sector funding in water and energy service provision in Africa.
Gerald Doucet, Secretary-General of WEC, who highlighted that WEC, ICC and WBCSD are about to launch the Business Action for Energy (BAE) initiative at the next session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in New York.
This will prepare the business contribution to UNCSD discussions on energy in 2006 and 2007.
Mr Doucet welcomed the opportunity to meet with environment ministers as well as ministers with other portfolios.
Representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Global Environment Facility (GEF), The Commonwealth Secretariat and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) also attended the event. Discussions were facilitated by Mohamed El-Ashry, Senior Fellow with the United Nations Foundation and former Chief Executive of the GEF.
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