No backing down on Stiegler’s, govt vows

What you need to know:

-The government has reiterated its stance to implement Rufiji hydroelectric power project, saying the proposed project will not affect the status of Selous Game Reserve as a natural World Heritage Site.

-This follows, the Parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany recently debated and passed a resolution regarding the SGR and the proposed hydropower plant project, a spokesperson of Germany Embassy to Tanzania confirmed.

Dar es Salaam. Implementation of the Stiegler’s Gorge power project will continue as planned despite renewed foreign pressure to convince the government to go back to the drawing board, a senior official has said.

A resolution passed last Thursday by the German Parliament, the Bundastad, is the latest in a string of fruitless efforts by activists and several other interested parties over the past few months to convince the Tanzanian government to stop or slow down on its flagship project.

In its resolution, the Bundastad acknowledged the demand for power in Tanzania, but advised the government to seek alternative sources arguing that the implementation of the $3 billion project will seriously affect ecosystem of the Selous Game Reserve (SGR) .

The German lawmakers want the John Magufuli administration -- which has already signed a deal with two Egyptian construction firms -- to reconsider its position.

However, speaking in an exclusive interview with The Citizen on Friday, Natural Resources and Tourism permanent secretary Adolf Mkenda said the government was yet to receive formal communication from the German parliament with regards to the resolution.

In any case, Prof Mkenda said, the government will continue with implementation of the project, which is envisaged to double the country’s total power supply.

In June 2017, Tanzania and German signed an agreement for the implementation of the 18 million Euro Selous Ecosystem Conservation and Development Programme (Secad), which is to be implemented over a five-year period.

The programme’s goal is to strengthen the management of the Selous Game Reserve and priority parts of the buffer zone around the reserve and the Selous-Niassa wildlife corridor. This is to ensure that the Selous ecosystem remains intact while conservation and sustainable use of natural resources contribute to rural development.

Conservationists warn that the construction of a dam on the Rufiji River in the Selous Game Reserve, a Unesco World Heritage site, will destroy wildlife habitat.

A 2017 report by the WWF, the global environmental body, notes that the project could also endanger the livelihoods of some 200,000 people - including farmers and fishermen - living downstream from the proposed dam.

According to WWF, the project will lead to greater erosion downstream, potentially drying out lakes that attract wildlife tourism, reducing the fertility of farmland and causing the retreat of the Rufiji Delta.

In an email response to The Citizen’s questions following the release of the resolution last week, an official at the German embassy in Dar es Salaam confirmed that a statement had indeed been issued urging the Tanzanian authorities to reconsider their plan.

The official, who preferred anonymity and instead opted to be only identified as the embassy spokesperson, said the Bundastad suggested the use of gas energy for power generation because Tanzania is rich in natural resources, including natural gas.

Tanzania has argued that the project will boost development and double its existing power capacity.

On Friday, Prof Mkenda also played down the resolution saying that it was not aimed at condemning the project but in a way sought to advise the government on alternative sources of energy.

He also reiterated that the government had conducted its own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the implementation of the project, which was sent to the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organisation (Unesco).

The Selous Game Reserve is a Unesco World Heritage site.

Reacting to the German resolution in a telephone interview with The Citizen on Friday, Dr Samuel Gwamaka, director general of the National Environmental Management Council (Nemc), suggested the Stiegler’s Gorge project had reached a point of no return.

He said the Tanzanian government had closed the door on both foreigners and locals with regards to dialogue about the implementation of the project.

“It is a fact that the implementation of the projects of this magnitude will have both positive and negative effects, but for this particular one there will be more of positive than negative,” said Mr Gwamaka.