Belinga Dam, Gabon

Deforestation in Ivindo National Park
Deforestation in Ivindo National Park
The Belinga Dam is one of two proposed dams that would generate power for the Belinga Iron Ore Project , which is located 500 kilometers east of Libreville, Gabon's coastal capital. The mine project is expected to produce some 30 million tons of iron ore annually. It is the country's largest investment and includes the Belinga iron ore facility, two hydropower projects to power the facility, 560 kilometers of railroad track from Belinga to Santa Clara, and a deep-water port in Santa Clara that will allow the ore to be shipped to China.

China's involvement in the project has been all-encompassing: the China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation (CMEC) is building the mine, China Exim Bank is funding the entire project, and China's growing construction industry is the sole recipient of the ore extracts. At the time that CMEC and the Gabonese government reached the mineral rights agreement in May 2008, the construction of the mine was reported at a cost of US$790 million (the Belinga Dam itself would cost around US$754 million). CMEC is scheduled to begin construction of the project from 2008 to 2011, with the first iron ore shipments leaving for China in 2011. However, construction has commenced without the appropriate social and environmental procedures.

The proposed Belinga Dam would be located in Ivindo National Park. Conservation groups fear the construction of a dam could have a negative impact on the biodiversity and natural resources of this forest environment. A statement by a coalition of environmental groups, Environment Gabon, has been issued to the president of Gabon and calls on the Ministry of Mines to make public the feasibility study, which claim that 30,000 jobs would be created for the entire mine project. Of these jobs, the groups ask, "How many are reserved for the Gabonese, when we know the natural tendency for Chinese firms...[is] to bring in, extensively, workers from their country...?"

Civil society groups are also concerned about the imbalance of rewards from the dam, as the Gabonese oil industry has had a record of corruption, leaving few benefits for the Gabonese people. Groups claim that the government has cracked down on dissenting NGOs and individuals, including suspending the legal operations of NGOs and detaining individuals who raise concerns about government corruption in the project.

According to the environmental organization Brainforest, the official status of the Belinga Dam is currently uncertain, although an environmental impact assessment is likely being carried out. However, attention continues to focus on the entire Belinga project. In particular, environmental groups are demanding that the contract between CMEC and the government be made accessible for public input, that the government provide adequate accountability over issues related to transparency, anti-corruption, and environmental social protections, that the project comply with relevant national laws, and that the dam at Kongou Falls be re-sited to the Tsengué-Lélédi Falls, a site that was recommended by a feasibility study in the 1960s for its cost-effectiveness and greater potential benefits to local communities.

International Rivers continues to support local groups like Brainforest in their efforts to confront Chinese companies that are involved in dam projects in Gabon.