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Plan to Harness Congo River Could Double Electricity Production in Africa

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Seven African governments and some of the world's largest banks and construction firms are meeting in London to plan the biggest hydro-electric power project in the world. Tendai Maphosa reports from London that supporters say the $80 billion project on the Congo River could double the amount of electricity available on the African continent.

Half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity. Where it is available, most countries suffer from erratic supplies.

The World Energy Council says the power shortage has contributed to continued poverty and underdevelopment across the continent. The Council organized the two-day London meeting to discuss the problem.

World Energy Council Secretary General Gerald Doucet says one solution is the Inga hydropower project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"The Congo sits on the biggest energy project in the 21st century, so with our Congo committee and the utilities in the region we have been trying to facilitate the decision making that would allow this project to go forward on a sustainable and affordable basis," said Gerald Doucet.

The Inga hydropower project could generate twice as much electricity as the world's largest dam, the Three Gorges in China. It is hoped that millions of Africans would benefit by having access to electricity.

The World Energy Council says electricity is a bridge to sustainable development and a prerequisite and cornerstone for economic progress, social development, harnessing technological progress and environmental sustainability.

The London meeting is dicussing the refurbishment of Inga 1 and 2 built in the 1970s but said to be operating under capacity and the development of Inga 3 and Grand Inga hydropower projects.

While Inga 1, 2 and 3 would not require any damming, environmentalists have raised concerns over the Grand Inga which would lead to flooding of a valley. Doucet says no people live in the valley and whatever the environmental costs, these would be offset by the benefits of the project.

Concerns have also been expressed that local people would not benefit from the project. More than 90 percent of Congolese have no access to electricity at the moment.

Doucet allayed those fears by saying the total cost of the project includes transmission costs within the Congo and beyond.

"The Congo owes it to its people and will be required in my view by its people to improve the access to electricity in Kinshasa and in the neighboring areas of Inga," he said. "There definitely is a growing desire to use Inga 3 electricity in the Congo itself, not export it."

If and when completed, the Grand Inga hydropower project is expected to export power to countries in the region and others as far as Nigeria and Egypt.

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