Livelihoods at Risk: The Case of The Mphanda Nkuwa Dam

James Morrissey
Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A risk assessment reveals that Mphanda Nkuwa Dam, proposed for the Zambezi River in Mozambique, could leave thousands worse off. The study, by a geographer with expertise in disaster mitigation, reveals how the risks of this large hydro dam would be borne disproportionately by those with the least power to influence how the project is developed.
Author James Morrissey states, "Given the current compensation plan, the apparent indicators of political risk and level of local participation, this project represents a developmental initiative which is neither just in terms of the level of risk it will generate nor equitable in terms of its likely distribution of potential gains and losses. As such, funding should be withheld from the project."

The risks could be worsened by the involvement of the China Export-Import Bank, which agreed to finance the dam in April 2006. The Chinese government does not appear to be troubled by the environmental and human rights impacts of the projects it finances, and is already involved in other African dam projects with serious human rights violations and major environmental impacts. "Business is business. We try to separate politics from business," China’s deputy foreign minister Zhou Wenzhong said in 2004.

There are indications that Chinese dam builders are even putting pressure on African governments to lower their own environmental standards. Chinese dam builders have reportedly told the Zambian government that in the case of the Lower Kafue Gorge Project (also in the Zambezi basin), the government should only assess the project’s economic return, and not bother with assessing its environmental impacts.

"The Mphanda Nkuwa project may be good for the relationship between China and the Mozambique government, but it’s not good for the relationship between our government and the rural poor," says Anabela Lemos of the Maputo-based group Justiça Ambiental (JA!). "If the government wants what is best for Mozambique, the dam should be stopped, and efforts to restore the Zambezi prioritized."