Zambezi River Authority gears up for community consultations on proposed 2 400 MW Batoka Gorge hydro scheme

1st September 2020 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Zambezi River Authority gears up for community consultations on proposed 2 400 MW Batoka Gorge hydro scheme

Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Scheme site

The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) is preparing to conduct disclosure meetings with communities in Zambia and Zimbabwe whose land or livelihoods could be affected by the construction of the proposed 2 400 MW Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Scheme (BGHES), a transboundary project located 47 km downstream of the Victoria Falls.

Jointly owned by the governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe, the ZRA operates and maintains the Kariba Dam Complex and is responsible for investigating and developing new dam sites on the Zambezi river.

The bilateral organisation re-initiated a study of the BGHES project in 2014 and confirmed last year that potential developers had been shortlisted to build the project, which was first conceived in 1972.

Should it be developed, the $4-billionBGHES scheme would include the following major components: a dam wall and reservoir, including a spillway; surface power houses, one on each side of the river; transmission lines, access roads and project townships in both Zambia and Zimbabwe; and ancillary infrastructure, such as quarries, spoils and batching areas.

In 2014, the ZRA engaged Environmental Resources Management (ERM), of South Africa, to carry out environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) studies for the development in line with Zambian and Zimbabwean legislation, as well as the World Bank Environmental and Social Framework and the International Finance Corporation’s performance standards regarding the compensation of project-affected persons.

A draft ESIA report, which includes ‘livelihood restoration plans’, for communities that will be affected by the scheme, has been published and hard copies were delivered to traditional leaders of the host communities on March 3. Soft copy reports are also available on the ZRA’s website.

ERM tells Engineering News that no resettlement action plan has been developed, as only economic displacement will occur as a result of the project activities.

Based on the census and asset surveys conducted in 2019, the land acquisition required for construction of the Batoka South road and staff townships in Zambia and Zimbabwe will result in the “economic displacement” of some 467 households.

Access to communal grazing land, ecosystem services and access routes for 210 households on 489 ha of land will be affected by the Zambia staff township, while 35 households on 705 ha of land will be impacted by the development of the Zimbabwe staff township.

Construction of the Batoka South access road would result in the loss of a total of 160 ha of agricultural fields, fencing, bush fences and protective wild trees in the 40 m road servitude and affect 222 households.

“The traditional authorities responsible for those areas will allocate alternative land for those affected by the construction of the Zambian and Zimbabwean staff townships and Batoka South access road,” ERM reports.

Resettlement and/or livelihood restoration plans have not yet been developed for upstream water users, specifically tourism operators, as the filling of the BGHES reservoir is proposed for only 2027/28.

“These will only be undertaken at a later stage,” ERM explains, adding that similar plans will also be undertaken for downstream water users, as well as communities affected by transmission lines and other BGHES-associated infrastructure.

In Zimbabwe, the proposed scheme falls within the province of Matabeleland North and in the Hwange rural district, while in Zambia, the main area of direct impact falls under the Southern province in the Kazungula district.

On August 13, ZRA announced that it would be undertaking disclosure meetings with all stakeholders in the coming few months and explained that the initial schedule for conducting the meetings in March and April had been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“At this stage, the exact date of ESIA finalisation is still uncertain,” ERM says, adding that alternative engagement approaches are being considered.

Besides the resettlement plans, a separate ESIA has been prepared to assess the environmental impacts of the dam wall and impoundment, as well as the access roads and transmission lines.

These three ESIAs recommend mitigation measures associated with the impacts on the environment, EMR says.

The ZRA says its goal is to ensure that the livelihoods of project-affected households are better than they were before resettlement or the loss of other social facilities.

“The costs of these mitigatory measures, as determined by the consultants, will become part of the project costs with implementation of the measures being mandatory,” it adds.