Batoka Gorge enters the home stretch

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Harare – Consolidation of stakeholder concerns on the Batoka Hydro-Electric Scheme will conclude on January 25, 2021 with commencement of the long-awaited US$4,5 billion power project between Zambia and Zimbabwe slated for the fourth quarter of the year. 

The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), tasked with management of the shared water body, said this in its most recent update on the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) studies report on the 2,400MW project.

ZRA chief executive Mr Munyaradzi Munodawafa said the first phase of the disclosure exercise had been completed in early December 2020.

He said the disclosure team comprised officials from the Authority, ZESA Holdings Limited of Zimbabwe, ZESCO Limited of Zambia and consultants, Environmental Resources Management (ERM). 

"The officials presented the findings of the ESIA studies to among others, traditional leaders and project host communities.

"As detailed in the draft ESIA report, the presentations highlighted the identified potential impacts as well as the associated mitigation measures for negative impacts and enhancement measures for positive impacts," Mr Munodawafa said.

The ZRA held disclosure meetings with traditional leaders in communities that would be affected by the project in both countries.

Some of the concerns raised include limiting the height of the dam to 175m to prevent backflow that could damage existing infrastructure like the ZESCO Limited Power Station, and the Victoria Falls and Mosi-o-Tunya National Parks.

The other measures highlighted included the adopted reservoir operation rules that were developed with a view to ensure the balancing of power generation whilst allowing for the continuation of other river-based activities and environmental flows (e-flows).

This includes activities such as white water rafting and e-flows that would support continued existence of downstream ecosystems.

"The ESIA report disclosure and stakeholder engagement process will continue up to the closing date of 25th January 2021 for receiving of concerns and comments regarding the planned implementation of the project. 

"Through the ESIA studies and the concluded disclosure process, the Authority’s objective is to further refine the measures detailed in the ESMP’s aimed at mitigating the identified potential negative impacts as well as the enhancement measures for the identified positive impacts," Mr Munodawafa said.

The project is expected to create 4,000 direct jobs and another 6,000 indirectly during the construction phase.

"The … project has been welcomed by stakeholders who are eagerly awaiting its commencement during the fourth quarter of 2021. The host communities will be given priority for them to fully take advantage of the construction and tourism sector work and business opportunities the project will present including under the associated supply chains and service industries," the ZRA boss said.

Projections have shown that there would be major economic benefits which will positively impact the two countries and generate revenue of over USD$750 million annually and will enhance the GDP of the two countries.

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