Aerial view of the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania. (Wikimedia)
Aerial view of the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania. (Wikimedia)

DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA - Tanzania said Tuesday that it planned to build a long-delayed 2,100-megawatt hydroelectric plant in a World Heritage site renowned for its animal populations and variety of wildlife habitats despite opposition from environmentalists.

The East African nation considers the project at Stiegler's Gorge in the UNESCO-designated Selous Game Reserve as vital in its bid to diversify its energy mix as part of plans to end chronic energy shortages.

Map of Stiegler's Gorge, Tanzania

Covering 50,000 square kilometers (19,300 square miles), the reserve is one of the largest protected areas in Africa, according to UNESCO. It is known for its elephants, black rhinoceroses and giraffes, among many other species.

President John Magufuli "wants construction of this project to start as quickly as possible and produce an abundant supply of electricity to speed up the development of the country," his office said in a statement.

It did not give the cost of the project.

The statement said a team of experts from Ethiopia would arrive in the country this week to provide advice on its implementation.

Other projects

Ethiopia has an array of hydropower projects under construction, including the $4.1 billion Grand Renaissance Dam along the Nile River that will churn out 6,000 megawatts upon completion.

Authorities say hydropower projects will ease shortages in a country where demand for power currently outpaces supply.

Tanzania also aims to add about 2,000 megawatts in gas-fired generation by 2018.

Elephants, Selous Game Reserve. (Creative Commons)
FILE - Elephants are pictured in the Selous Game Reserve. (Creative Commons)

However, critics say construction of a hydropower dam in a major river that runs through the Selous Game Reserve could affect wildlife and their habitats downstream.

The government has previously come under criticism for granting Australia-based miner Mantra Resources permission to build a $400 million uranium mine in the same sanctuary. Environmental groups opposed the project.