Construction of the biggest hydropower generation plant inside the Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania had raised an alarm to wildlife conservationists fearing to see negative impacts on tourism development inside this biggest wildlife conserved area in Africa.
Conservation experts fear seeing the mega-power generation plant at Stiegler’s Gorge in the Selous Game Reserve, as it may hamper conservation of wildlife and nature in this biggest African wildlife reserve that is highly affected by elephant poachers.
They fear that the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower generation plant would encourage industrial activities in northern parts of the Selous Game Reserve, famous for wildlife concentration in Africa.
The German government, through the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and the WWF Fund for Nature, are key donors to the conservation of the Selous Game Reserve through anti-poaching and community outreach programs.
The World Bank is the other international institution currently funding tourism development in Southern Tanzania, for which the Reserve falls among key tourist attractive site.
Construction of the controversial hydropower generation plant at Stiegler’s Gorge inside the Selous Game Reserve is expected to kick-off at the end of February 2018 when the Tanzanian government gets the right contractor for the mega-power project.
Permanent Secretaries from key government ministries held a joint ministerial meeting in Tanzania’s new capital of Dodoma to chart out implementation plans for construction of the 2,100-megawatt hydro-power plant inside the Selous Game Reserve.
Their ministerial meeting aimed at pushing ahead construction of the major hydropower project at Stiegler’s Gorge so as to implement President John Magufuli’s decision to boost power supply in Tanzania. Stiegler’s Gorge Hydropower project is expected to cost US$2.6 billion.
The senior official in charge of the Stiegler’s Gorge Power project, Engineer Leonard Masanja, said the tenders to secure a contractor for the implementation is scheduled to start in February.
President Magufuli had repeated his plan to build a mega-power generation project at Stiegler’s Gorge. Electrification and industrialization have been the key economic themes under President Magufuli’s government’s 2016/17 to 2020/21 Five Year Plan.
He said his government has been looking to construct the Stiegler’s Gorge Hydro-power plant as a plan to boost power supply and catalyze industrial development in Tanzania.
Construction of the hydropower project in the Selous Game Reserve received criticism and protest from wildlife and nature conservation groups, saying it would pose serious environmental and ecological damages to the Selous Game Reserve, Africa’s biggest remaining wilderness area.
The Stiegler’s Gorge Hydropower generation station and the US$215 million Kidunda Dam in Morogoro region, all within the Selous ecosystem have attracted protests across the world, calling the government of Tanzania to look for other alternatives to generate electricity, mostly from natural gas.
The WWF said in its 2017 report that the impact of the hydropower project inside the Selous Game Reserve would affect tourism and wildlife conservation in the reserve with negative effects to 200,000 people who will lose their livelihoods through farming and fishing as far away as the Rufiji delta on the Indian Ocean and the islands beyond.
WWF International said in its report that the Stiegler’s Gorge hydroelectric power project risks damaging wetlands of international importance in its neighborhood of Rufiji, Mafia, and Kilwa Marine Ramsar Site.
The Stiegler’s Gorge Hydropower Project will be constructed in an 8-km long gorge that is 100 meters deep. The gorge sits in the middle of the Selous Game Reserve, one of the world’s largest protected and most significant wildlife areas, being roughly the size of Switzerland, the WWF said in its report.
Environmentalists, too, have asked the government to shelve the project, whose construction will be done at the heart of Selous Game Reserve, which is on the list of a UNESCO World Heritage site. The reserve was made the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site for the outstanding universal value of its unique ecology in 1982.
However, President Magufuli said his government was determined to implement the project, which was initiated over 40 years ago. He said that the project’s construction will initially be financed locally by the government’s own domestic resource mobilization.
The Selous Game Reserve, with a rich and precious inheritance to mankind, teems with unrivaled wildlife, from the tiniest midge to the oldest elephant patriarch. Additionally, this reserve boasts of the largest concentration of elephants in the world – more than 110,000 herds, making it is a microcosm of history in this part of the world.
Covering over 50,000 square kilometers, the Selous Game Reserve is one of the largest protected wildlife reserves in the world and one of Africa’s last great wilderness areas. The reserve generates US$6 million from tourists every year.