Tanzanian Dam is Huge Risk to Economy and Environment

A large-scale hydropower dam planned for Selous Game Reserve World Heritage site puts protected areas of global importance - as well as the livelihoods of over 200,000 people who depend upon the environment - at risk, reveals independent research commissioned by WWF.


Released today, the research says that the dam would have direct impacts on the UNESCO site’s core environmental value and tourism. It reveals that the knock-on effects of the dam in Steigler’s Gorge, in the heart of the Selous Game Reserve, also risk damaging a wetland of international importance: the Rufiji-Mafia-Kilwa Marine Ramsar Site. The potential impacts on this site would directly affect communities that depend on fishing, and other livelihoods connected to it.


Despite the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) saying in their 2017 Selous mission report that the project is ‘fatally flawed’ because of its ecological impact, and calling on the Government of Tanzania to ‘permanently abandon’ it, the government announced last week their preference to proceed with the dam.


WWF is now calling on the government to ensure existing legal processes are followed and alternative power generating schemes are examined thoroughly before a decision is made on the Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower dam. Currently, it is believed that negative impacts have not been properly assessed, and would be very difficult to address.


Dr Amani Ngusaru, WWF Tanzania Country Director, said: “200,000 people face a threat to their livelihoods downstream of the dam, in areas with high poverty where people rely on fish for their protein. Tanzania has to make wise and, informed choices about its development trajectory to ensure that these people will not suffer. There are alternatives available that should be considered.


“WWF is against any infrastructure project being built in World Heritage Sites that would damage their ecological value. This means WWF is opposed to a dam at Stiegler’s Gorge in Selous Game Reserve unless a Strategic Environmental Assessment is implemented, as stipulated by the existing Tanzanian environmental law, which shows no damage to the Reserve.”


The Tanzanian government informed the IUCN that there are other hydropower projects identified and therefore Stiegler’s Gorge is ‘not a priority for the country’.


Dr Amani Ngusaru continued: “The current discussion is only focusing on the direct footprint of the dam and reservoir that would cover three per cent of the Selous. This is a dangerously narrow viewpoint as the impact will be much greater and far-reaching. The research shows the dam would cut off wildlife migration routes, reduce fisheries, and shrink the Rufiji Delta, for example. WWF is calling on the Government to carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment on the Larger Selous Ecosystem to ensure all the impacts are identified before any decisions are made. Such an assessment should include evaluations of the alternatives.”


Selous would be directly impacted by the dam and the resulting reservoir, due to cover an estimated 1,200km2. Further risks to the game reserve include cutting off migratory routes of wildlife, and lack of control over illegal fishing of the reservoir. This would impact on the integrity of the World Heritage site.


Downstream changes to the river flow and loss of sediment it carries could see the Rufiji Delta along with East Africa’s largest mangrove forest shrink, and the offshore fishery, reputedly Tanzania’s richest fishery, contract. The reports suggest the downstream impacts would affect 200,000 people’s livelihoods as well as the Rufiji-Mafia-Kilwa Marine Ramsar Site.