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Uganda: In the dark over power plant financing

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa  Dec 21, 2008

It has emerged last week, that “environmentalists” have again written to the World Bank Group over alleged breaches of rules and regulations to do with the Bujagali Hydro Electric Power Plant financing.

In early 2006, the country was plunged into a state of near darkness, when hydro generation had to be reduced over low water levels at the dam in Jinja, which had fallen substantially due to drought and excessive water discharge to generate power.

For months at end Uganda suffered rolling blackouts of up to 48 hours, crippling industry, downing offices and making domestic life a constant struggle for all but the few with generators and inverters. Generator sales boomed instantly, but the fuel cost were nearly prohibitive, and it took nearly a year before thermal power plants, initially propelled with expensive diesel, came on line reducing the power cuts to more manageable levels.

Blame for this must go to government, and, in particular, the then energy minister, who in hindsight had no clue what was coming her way and was after the 2006 elections shifted to another portfolio with less potential for damage to the economy.

The Bujagali promoters went out of their way to involve civil society, non-governmental organizations and the business sector in their consultations, not forgetting local communities living near the dam site, and it was with overwhelming relief that the country saw ground broken for the new power plant.

Environmentalists, in this case of the breed of uncompromising activists with no regard to the country as a whole, fought a valiant battle and in the end stood on lost ground, having seen support ebb away from them and a number of previous supporters standing up for the power plant.

Their latest attempt therefore to halt the advanced state of construction is again underscoring that they simply do not understand that the country needs power to survive, especially in these times of global financial and economic turmoil.

Attempting to drive the country back to the development stone age speaks volumes about their state of mind and their suspected intent, which can equally be compared with stone age attitudes ignoring the needs of the rest of the Ugandans.

The tourism sector in Uganda, depending on an intact environment, protection of forests and parks and best practice in managing these resources, will be the last to propagate any measures towards damaging these priceless resources, but a country without sufficient electricity from clean sources like hydro will only increase its carbon footprint through the use of thermal energy, counting the emissions produced by diesel and heavy fuel oil generators, and make the destination in a time of economic crisis even less attractive.

Time has tcome to tell the activists to shut up and end their futile attempts to stop the country from acquiring affordable energy sources along the River Nile, and they are advised to get on with life and dedicate their resources to better and more valuable efforts. After all, there are many other areas where both government as well as private developers are continuing to infringe on the environment for all the wrong reason and where the environmental lobby can make a real difference.

Uganda: In the dark over power plant financing
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