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Malawian, Mozambican Officials Deny Rift over Zambezi Water Project

Mozambican President Armando Guebuza, voting elections 2009 (file photo)

Senior officials in Mozambique and Malawi have denied media reports that sharp disagreements over an environmental assessment impact study have derailed the “much-needed” joint Shire-Zambezi Waterway Project.

The reports say Malawi’s government has refused to undertake a required environmental assessment impact on the Shire-Zambezi Waterway project. A Malawian envoy in Maputo was quoted as saying Mozambique failed to honor an agreement signed between the two countries.

The report suggested that, in retaliation, Mozambique has barred all barges travelling from its territory into Malawi.

Analysts say the impasse has stalled the joint Shire-Zambezi River project, which is expected to be instrumental to future projects in the southern African sub-region.

But, Heatherwick Mtaba, spokesman for the Malawi government, dismissed the media reports as false and exaggerated insisting that there is no rift between Lilongwe and Maputo.

Malawi President Bingu Wa Mutharika
Malawi President Bingu Wa Mutharika

“I don’t think the report that you have heard is correct. The report is saying that Malawi is refusing an environmental impact assessment done. That is not quite correct. I think Malawi has never said anything like that,” said Mtaba.

“There was a barge that was carrying, I think, only 60 tons of fertilizer… that was going to come to Malawi at the time that the port at Nsanje was being opened. But, the Mozambicans, as I understand correctly, are still waiting for the environmental impact assessment done before they could allow this barge to come through.”

Meanwhile, Henrique Banze, Mozambique’s deputy foreign minister, said his government has begun negotiations with Malawi to resolve any outstanding issues about the Shire-Zambezi Waterway Project.

“What we are saying is that [we want them] to make available a feasibility study in terms of the impact on the environment. It is the only thing. [But,] the Malawians were saying they wanted to have a trial first to Nsanje. This is the only difference, but now we are in a dialogue and, I think, we are reaching there,” Banze said.

According to official records, the Shire-Zambezi Waterway project entails the construction of a world inland free port that will provide a direct waterway transport system between Nsanje in southern Malawi and the port of Chinde in Mozambique, a distance of about 238 kilometers.

The harbor will have a minimum lifespan of 50 years and has been designed to handle different types of vessels with a carrying capacity of up to 48 containers of six meters each.

On completion, experts say the port is expected to handle 10,000 containers (vessels) annually thereby reducing transport cost for Malawi's exports and imports.