Tanzanian President John Magufuli has downplayed fears that a hydro-electric dam planned for a fabled nature reserve would affect the environment, despite UNESCO expressing “grave concern” over the scheme.
The 2,100-megawatt scheme will straddle the Rufiji River in the Selous Game Reserve, a 50,000-square-kilometre protected area which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
Tanzania awarded a $3 billion (2.68-billion-euro) contract to two Egyptian firms in December for the construction of the dam, which Magufuli has made a centrepiece of his presidency since being elected in 2015.
He said by providing energy to Tanzanians living near the reserve ,a haven for elephants, black rhinoceroses, cheetahs and giraffes , the dam would deter local communities from felling trees for cheap fuel.
“I want to reassure everyone, this project in fact aims to promote the environment. Also, it is just a small part of the reserve, just three percent of the total area”,Magufuli said.
Tanzania’s environment minister, Hamisi Kigwangalla, went further, attacking conservationists who have criticised the project.
Magufuli has insisted the dam would not only meet national electricity needs, it would also provide surplus power to export to neighbouring countries.
But UNESCO has repeatedly called for the scheme to be scrapped, saying it is “incompatible” with the site’s World Heritage status, which it earned for being one of the largest remaining wildernesses in Africa.
In 2014, elephant poaching caused UNESCO to place the reserve on its list of World Heritage in Danger. Mining and lack of funding are other major problems.