NGOs Call for a Moratorium on BHP Billiton’s Congo Smelter

Terri Hathaway
Thursday, December 16, 2010

International civil society groups have called on BHP Billiton to halt its plans for a US$5 billion aluminum smelter and the associated $3.5 billion Inga 3 hydropower scheme in Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the world’s most corrupt and under-developed countries. The proposed smelter would consume 2,500 MW of electricity, more than DR Congo’s entire current power supply.

In a letter to the chairman of BHP Billiton, 14 African and international organizations urged the corporation to impose a moratorium on the project until the Congolese government first fulfills its commitments to bring electricity to its citizens.

An estimated 62 million Congolese people – 94% of the population – do not have access to electricity. The Congolese government has set an aggressive goal to increase electrification rates ten-fold within 15 years (to 60% by 2025), but has yet to explain how it intends to achieve this target. By focusing the Congolese energy sector’s attention on developing Inga 3, BHP Billiton could derail the country’s efforts toward achieving its electrification goals – and thus damage its poverty eradication efforts.

Daily power outages plague those few who are connected to the state’s dilapidated power grid. Despite available funding, an urgent rehabilitation of the grid has languished since 2003 with little explanation.

The letter warns about the project’s misleading economic benefits. The proposed smelter would create very few jobs relative to the electricity it would consume. Undisclosed power and investment contracts are expected to cost the Congolese people by giving undue preference to BHP Billiton. Examples from elsewhere in Africa are revealing: terms of BHP Billiton’s long-standing smelter deals in southern Africa sent shockwaves through the region in April when they were publicly disclosed.

Says Terri Hathaway of International Rivers: “One of the world’s richest corporations is jumping the development queue ahead of some of the world’s poorest people. BHP Billiton’s flagrant disregard for the consequences of this venture is alarming.”

The NGOs’ proposed moratorium would halt BHP Billiton’s involvement in the Inga 3 hydropower scheme until the rehabilitation of the poorly performing Inga 1 and Inga 2 dams has been successfully completed and the government has prepared an action plan to achieve its electricity access target. It would also call on BHP Billiton to refrain from any financial agreements for Inga 3 or the proposed aluminum smelter until the Congolese power sector has demonstrated at least two years of successful, post-rehabilitation financial and technical operation.

Read the full letter in English or French .

Media contacts: 

 Terri Hathaway, in Cameroon +237 70 49 14 06