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Namibia: green groups slate plans to build hydro power plant

Environmentalists have opposed attempts to revive plans to build a controversial hydro power project on the Kunene River in northwest Namibia.
Following an international outcry, the construction of the proposed Epupa Dam was halted eight years ago as the resultant flooding would have destroyed the livelihood of the semi-nomadic Ovahimba ethnic group. The Kunene River forms a natural border between Namibia and Angola. The Ovahimba live on both sides of the river and graze their livestock in the valley in the dry season.

"We totally oppose the project," said Bertchen Kohrs of the environmental group Earthlife Namibia. "There are other options for Namibia's power supply like the Kudu gas field off the Namibian coast and renewable energies like wind and solar power."

The Namibian and Angolan governments have now decided to go ahead with the project, announced Reiner Jagau, chief technical adviser at the Namibia Power Corporation (NamPower) at a recent conference. "A feasibility study will start before the end of this year ... the dam is to feed a 500 mega watt (MW) hydro electric plant and it is expected the construction will be completed by 2013".

The dam is to be contructed in a deep gorge in the Baynes Mountains, some 40km west of the Epupa Falls, a popular tourist destination.

According to the California-based International Rivers Network (IRN), an anti-dam lobby group, Epupa Dam's reservoir would evaporate twice as much water as the entire country uses each year - a major issue in a country that continually suffers from drought and water shortages.

"Climate change is likely to heighten the risks of hydroelectricity for the driest parts of Africa," according to IRN. If built, Epupa might flood 250 square kilometres of the Ovahimba's pastures, cultural sites and ancestoral graves.

Namibia's growing power needs, however, has driven the government to pursue the project. Namibia is dependant on South Africa for about half of its average daily power consumption of 200 MW out of its peak demand of almost 500 MW.

South Africa's power utility, Eskom, announced in 2004 that it would be unable to provide Namibia with a steady supply of electricity in the near future. Eskom's surplus capacity is expected to run out by 2007, as power demands in South Africa were expected to increase by 1,200 MW per annum.

Additional information: IRN on Epupa
News date: 25/09/2006

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