Luangwa River

The Zambian government has halted controversial plans to build a hydropower mega dam on the Luangwa River.

According to the World Wide Fund, the government has cancelled a pre-feasibility study for the Ndevu Gorge Power Project, proposed by MDH South Africa (Pty) Limited, which would have cost $1.26 billion and generated between 235 and 240 megawatts of power if completed.

WWF says the government’s decision effectively puts an end to the project.

It described the outcome “a major boost for communities and wildlife.”

The 1,100-kilometer Luangwa lies at the bottom of a wide rift valley in Zambia’s Eastern Province, where it is surrounded by both natural landscapes and encroaching human development.

Two large, iconic national parks are located along the river: South Luangwa National Park and North Luangwa National Park.

The river supports an abundance of megafauna, including Zambia’s reintroduced black rhinos, elephants, hippos, leopards, lions, and the endemic Thornicroft’s giraffe, as well as more than 400 of Zambia’s 732 species of birds.

Some 25 chiefdoms also rely on the Luangwa River for water, food, and livelihoods.

The entire economy of the Luangwa Valley, based primarily on tourism and agriculture, is reliant on the river.

“I wish to thank [the] government for listening to our plea as Luembe has the potential to become another area of wildlife tourism in a few years,” Senior Chief Luembe of the Nsenga people said in a statement.

“The dam would have disturbed the free movement of wildlife in the Luangwa Valley. There are other means that can supply an equivalent amount of electricity like solar power and windmills that can be installed along the Muchinga escarpment, with less damage to the environment.”

More than 200,000 people had signed a petition calling for the legal protection of the river.

Critics of the dam project argued that fragmentation of the Luangwa would threaten wildlife and freshwater fish stocks, as well as the agriculture and tourism that local communities rely on.

According to a preliminary study of the environmental impacts of the proposed dam prepared in 2017 by scientists at California State University, Monterey Bay, if the Ndevu Gorge Power Project were to be completed, it would “irreversibly alter the free-flowing Luangwa River in Eastern Zambia.”

The study states that “The reservoir would inundate 29.5% of the length of the Luangwa River within South Luangwa National Park, at least six safari camps, and as much as 80% of adjacent hunting areas.

It would inundate portions of at least six chiefdoms adjacent to the river.

The reservoir would inundate much of the length of the Luangwa that these protected areas, hunting areas and chiefdoms currently have access to.

It would also reduce the area of valuable wildlife corridor between South Luangwa National Park and Lower Zambezi National Park — which is already bounded by human encroachment on either side of the river — by 50% of its length and 24% of its width.”

The dam would likely have caused a number of hydrological impacts upstream and downstream of the reservoir, as well, according to the study.

“Potential impacts include: backwater effects, delta formation above the reservoir, channel incision, floodplain isolation and disruption of sediment transport mechanisms.”

“Keeping the Luangwa river free flowing is the best decision for both people and nature, and WWF commends the government for halting the dam and instead seeking lower impact, renewable alternatives to power Zambia’s development, ” Nachilala Nkombo, WWF Zambia Country Director, said in a statement.

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30 COMMENTS

    • Sonda: It’s not about the needs of one tribe overriding the needs of the whole country. It’s about protecting a natural habitat of wild fauna as well. These are valuable perpetually if left undisturbed while the dam has a finite life. Let’s learn to respect the needs of local communities for all politics is local as Thomas Tip O’Neill once said.

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    • There always has to be a moron in every discussion. Tourism would bring more monetary gain than a hydro power station. Plus wind power can be harnessed in Eastern province. Zambia has other water bodies for hydro electricity generation.

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  1. Let them do it, their cousins are now living in a desert because if Chitemene and Lungu plundering mukula trees.

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    • Suspension of the project is good news for Zambia and true stewardship of what God has blessed us with. There is no equivalent to the Luangwa Valley anywhere in the world.

      How I wish we can also save the iconic trees around Lusaka following the Decongestion Project much as we need the Project.

      God Bless Zambia

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  2. In the meantime the water is freely flowing towards the Indian Ocean but before that it is dammed in Mozambique for power generation

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    • If you have nothing to post please ask questions not expose you ignorance like those corrupt PF ministers

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  3. Do we ever get studies done by our own universities or should we continue to rely on foreign ones. I am sure this California State University made a lot of money to do this study and ife tili dwii

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    • Zambian universities don’t do such studies. They just quote or cite them in their theoretical papers.

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    • SkyLab – And who is going to fund such studies even in the UK the universities need funding for such projects!!

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    • When you go overseas you will find that all such research is sponsored. Unza research rarely gets any money because Zambian society does not value research

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    • Skylab: I doubt it u know what it takes to run universities properly. How do local universities carry out such work if they are not equipped appropriately? Properly-funded universities hv research fellows in different departments and thrir job is just to research and publish. Occasionally they do teach but that’s not their main role. In Zambia even money to pay salaries is in short supply ;why should anyone wonder that there’s no money to conduct research?

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  4. I applaud the decision. Luangwa river is a very sensitive river and is already threatened by siltation due to merciless cutting of trees along its steep banks. There are several options for power generation with less impact. As for the CSU study, it could be that they won the tender that was internationally floated by the proponents. I commend their boldness to state the facts. Save Luangwa Project has worked.

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    • Has the government considered other rivers in the country which do not run dry all year round, for example those in the un named provinces.
      I just I wonder weather electrical power projects only belong to selected provinces alone.

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    • Nshilimubemba: This is gibberish; one more sign that nation-building has a long way to go. Do electric power installations on the Kafue and Zambezi rivers benefit only people from the areas of their siting? If anything, people from these areas have been retired “in national interest ” .

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  5. The Luangwa river is not only important to the easterners but to people in Muchinga, Northern, Central and Southern provinces. I visit the area every two years. It is an amazing gift to us as a country. Let’s protect our natural capital. We have many options for power generation. Investors in the sector must not be allowed to mess up our pristine and prestigious landscape. I applaud the govt for listening to science-backed advice.

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    • Central has a dam on the Kafue while southern has a dam on the Zambezi. Why should these two provinces want to prevent other provinces from conserving water for irrigation, aquaculture or domestic use? The white boy has no feelings for the environment and so has developed but uses pretext of environmental concerns to stop the black man from saving water for development. We even have black Zambians wit no understanding of the matter at hand agreeing with this nonsense report. Traditional leaders in Africa are only concerned about their pockets while keeping their people as cutters of firewood and drawers of water.
      People in the luangwa basin will not get rich by escorting tourists

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    • They have already destroyed Chongwe River because they have allowed Chinks to build and disrupt its source…they are subdividing plots anyhow and ZEMA is none existent as PF has now placed cadres in there…and a fooooolish minster donning PF regalia by the name of Bowman who is bankrolled by the Chinese will come to inspect and act surprised.

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  6. #1 Sonda, you must be a trib.al.
    Very expensive project too, the promoters must be trib.al, including someone who hates Nsengas with a passion and wants to wipe them off the surface of Zambia, you know who.
    And Trib.al must be one of directors, I will bet my last car.

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  7. LT this story is two weeks late even websites like National Geographic got on this 24 hours after it was released…this another one that should have not been tolerated at start BUT our arrogant govt of empty tins decided otherwise just like the Hippo culling exercise, what they morons do not get is that we leave in a small global village the PF govt can agree to go on and ignore the protests like they do regarding policy matters but when it comes to these issues your so called investors and backers will be pressured with negative publicity.

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  8. @6.1 you are missing the point. It is not about the water reservoir but the hydro power generation project. Do you know how much water would be diverted for this project? If it is for irrigation you wouldn’t be taking about it because the impact would be less.

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  9. the dam wouldn’t have survived from high siltation. as the dam wall would have blocked sedimentation flow. show them Lumangwe & Kabulwelubwe falls in Nchelenge. You can then tap power to the east.

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  10. Go and build power station in Luapula river and Kalungwishi.We have too much water there and waterfalls.Zambia can make millions if these politicians were serious.We have enough water northern region and water falls.

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  11. Have people ever head of an Environmental Impact Study. It is this study that should have brought out these impacts and suggesting mitigating measures. For example at Itezhitezhi Dam it was recommended that 300 m3/s of water should be released every March to simulate the natural flooding that used to occur before the dam was constructed. That this release of water in March was not religiously followed is not the problem of the EIS.

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  12. @Sonda is a great STUPI.D – I.D.I.O.T who has no clue on the dynamics of the Luangwa ecosystem. The geomorphology of the Luangwa R is similar to that of the Limpopo. At what point of the Limpopo R. did the technologically well placed South African Government construct a hydroelectric dam? A dam at any point of the Luangwa R would silt within a fews years, but the constructors of the dam would by then have disappeared with our money into thick fog of confusion. Congrats to the PF Govt’s bold decision to reject the planned loot.

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  13. I wonder if reason prevailed with our Govt. to abandon this project, or it was lack of money. Too much borrowing. All the same, it was abandoned which is good.

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  14. Reducing the size can help environmental conservation. But total abandonment is defeatism. There is need to create wealth. The jobs come good for revenue in the pocket and in the treasury. Please give Hydro Power a chance. It is not accurate to consider each Hydro Power project as destruction of the environment. The energy needs for industrial development dictate in favor of harness Hydro Power.

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