Grand Inga Dam: Preventing Deforestation of the Congo Basin

The electrification of Africa through the Grand Inga Dam.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The electrification of Africa through the Grand Inga Dam. (photo: @east_facts)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The electrification of Africa through the Grand Inga Dam: An effective solution to sustainable development and to the deforestation of the Congo Basin

Description of the Grand Inga Dam

The electrification of Africa is a vital step towards sustainable development on the continent. It has the potential to promote economic growth, create jobs, and improve the quality of life for millions of people. Electrification can also serve as an alternative solution to deforestation by reducing the demand for firewood, charcoal, and other traditional sources of fuel for cooking and heating.

The Inga I and II Dams, with an Inga III suite, are the largest hydroelectric dams in the world. They are found on the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the countries most affected by armed conflicts, and corruption making it one of the most unstable countries in the world on all political and economic levels. This massive dam is part of the great effective solution to the development of Africa, which stimulates the continent’s industrial economic development and uses the rate of reforestation of the Congo Basin forest, which is the second largest in the world after the Amazon forest.

Grand Inga could produce up to 40,000 MW of electricity, more than twice the power output of China’s Three Gorges Dam and more than a third of the total electricity currently produced in Africa. The Grand Inga is a series of dams that are proposed on the lower Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Grand Inga will be built in seven phases, of which the Inga 3 BC dam is the first phase. The project is already being touted as a way to “light up Africa” by the companies that benefit from it and the governments that hope to receive power from it. Grand Inga is listed as a priority project of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and the World Energy Council.

In May 2013, a treaty was signed by the South African and DRC governments for cooperation in the development of the Inga 3 Dam (4,800MW) as well as to make South Africa the main buyer of the electricity that will be purchased. The treaty was handed over in 2014 by the DRC. The construction of this Inga Dam could benefit countries like South Africa and mining companies in the southeastern part of DR Congo.

Location of Inga Dam

The Inga dams are located in the western Democratic Republic of Congo, 150 km upstream from the mouth of the Congo River and 225 km southwest of Kinshasa on the Congo River. The Congo is the second largest river in the world in terms of flow (42,000m 3 /s), after the Amazon, and the second longest river in Africa (4700 km), after the Nile. It empties into the equatorial Atlantic Ocean, creating the Congo River Plume, an area of high productivity arising from the flow of the nutrient-rich river and which is detected up to 800 km offshore.

The river is unique for its large rapids and waterfalls very close to the mouth, whereas most rivers have these characteristics upstream. The dam site sits on the largest waterfall in the world by volume, Inga Falls. Inga Falls are a series of falls and rapids that fall in elevation through small rapids. The main falls are 4 km wide, dropping approximately 21.37 meters near a bend and forming hundreds of channels, streams and numerous small islands. At the Grand Inga site, the Congo River drops 96 meters over a distance of 14.5 km.

The country is crossed by the Congo Basin Forest. This peat swamp forest has the capacity to store approximately 29 billion tonnes of carbon, equivalent to around three years of global greenhouse gas emissions, while the entire Congo Basin absorbs nearly 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

A Solution to  Sustainable Development and Ecological Transition  

Africa faces a huge energy deficit that has contributed to poverty and slowed economic development. On the other hand, Africa has enormous potential for all forms of energy – hydroelectric, solar, wind and fossil fuels. Hydroelectricity is considered clean, renewable energy. The Grand Inga hydroelectric power plant would offer cheaper and quickly available energy that would allow Africa’s industrial and manufacturing industry to take off while reducing the rate of deforestation of the Congo Basin forest, which is the only source of energy for the vulnerable population. 

In most African countries, coal is the main source of energy; it is a driving force for their economies. Since 1990, the production of coal in the world has increased by 3.7% per year to reach 44 million tonnes produced in 2000 (See: FAO (2008), Forests and Energy). In the Democratic Republic of Congo, charcoal, named “Makala”, a vernacular term, is a precious fuel and represents the only source of energy for 80 to 90% of homes for lack of electricity. Its consumption, multiplied by 70 to 80 million inhabitants throughout the country, destroys the Congo Basin forest, which is vital in the fight against global warming currently being discussed in Madrid during COP25. 

Although charcoal is vital for homes by providing work to the population, it remains a mortal danger for the forest because the consumption of “Makala” increases exponentially, and this requires greater exploitation of the trees of the forest being the raw material for the production of Makala. This creates big deforestation problems because all the nature around (the cities) is quite devastated, and the cities are like energy pumps. This is all the more true in Kinshasa and its rapidly growing ten million inhabitants. Around the capital, there are not even any more trees to the east on the Bateke plateaus or by the river, nor to the west, on the hills along the RN1, which goes to Matadi.

unnamed 1 Grand Inga Dam: Preventing Deforestation of the Congo Basin
Cyclists carry bags of charcoal to sell them in Goma, September 28, 2019 in the DR Congo © AFP / ALEXIS HUGUET

The impact of electrification on Africa cannot be overstated – it is a vital aspect of sustainable development on the continent. Here are some of the significant impacts of the electrification of Africa:

  • Improved Quality of Life: Access to electricity improves people’s overall quality of life. It provides lighting for households, enhances access to clean water through boreholes and pumps, powers refrigerators, clinics and health facilities with vaccines and other medicine availability, and supports businesses. With improved access to electricity, there will be an uplift in the standard of living and household productivity.
  • Economic Development: The electrification of Africa is essential for economic development. It will enhance the productivity of businesses, provide industries with a reliable power supply, and support the development of and growth in the manufacturing sector. Other economic benefits include job creation, reduced operating costs for businesses, and increased income for households.
  • Improved Health: Electrification of Africa can reduce dependency on traditional sources of fuel like kerosene, charcoal, and firewood that require combustion and lead to air pollution. Clean energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro generate electricity without emitting pollutants; this can improve health outcomes associated with respiratory diseases. It can also support healthcare facilities in providing better medical services to the population.
  • Environmental Sustainability: The electrification of Africa powered by clean renewable energy sources can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote environmental sustainability. Clean energy can limit the use of firewood and charcoal, thereby reducing deforestation and land degradation on the continent. Renewable energy can also help in climate change mitigation by reducing carbon emissions.
  • Access to Information: Electrification of Africa will increase access to information and communication technologies. It enables people to connect to the internet, social media platforms, and digital services. Improved connectivity can enhance the delivery of emergency services, support the delivery of e-learning initiatives and foster remote work in rural areas.

In summary, the electrification of Africa can significantly impact sustainable development on the continent. It can enhance living standards, improve health, foster industrialization, support education, combat climate change and foster economic growth.

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