Gabon's Dark Side of Dams and Mines

Terri Hathaway

An independent study released this month by Gabonese NGO, Brainforest, documents the devastation caused by uranium and manganese mines in southeast Gabon. The study, Impacts of mining on the local populations and the environment in Haut-Ogooué, also describes the government’s plan to build the Grand Poubara hydropower dam to help expand mining and mineral processing. Toxic pollution of the rivers and soil, disappearance of fish, and lack of public information are amongst Brainforest’s main concerns. The report hopes to bring attention to the government's role in enabling profits at the cost of local people.

Since 1961, French company Areva has operated four uranium mines at Mounana. Radioactive residues from the mines have contaminated the area’s waterways and soils. During the mine’s first 15 years, radioactive waste was poured directly into the river. The radioactive contamination is the source of the main environmental and medical problems for nearby villagers.  
In nearby Moanda, manganese mining is conducted by a subsidiary of French company, Eramet.  After the manganese is mined, it is processed at the Industrial Complex of Moanda (CIM) and taken by train to the port of Owendo. Eramet would like to expand production through development of the 200 million Euros Metallurgical Complex of Moanda (CM). The complex would depend on electric power from the Poubara dams.

Two hydrodams, Poubara I (commissioned in 1975) a

nd Poubara II (commissioned in 1983) produce a total of 38 MW. But the increasing demands of the mining sector are driving the construction of the 160 MW Grand Poubara Dam. Manganese mining operations at Moanda already require 110 MW, 10% of the country’s electricity. The $400 million contract for Grand Poubara has been awarded to China’s SinoHydro. The final contract was expected to be signed earlier this month.

Landry Lebas, the report's author said he was shocked to see that local people are never informed or consulted on projects as important as mining or large dams. "I hope that our work will engage public opinion and allow the Gabonese government to realize that it should compel companies to comply with national and international laws but also their social and environmental commitments," he said.

More information: 

Download the report (in French only)

Read Gabon Awards Contract from Hydroworld (August 2010) [thisarticle refers to Grand Poubara as "Poubara 2"]

Read Tunneling at Grand Poubara, a technical article from International Water Power & Dam Construction (May 2010)

Visit Brainforest, one of Gabon's leading NGO's following dams and natural resource issues