A large dam along the Luangwa River in Zambia would have represented a great risk to local people and wildlife, leading hundreds of thousands to oppose it. A call to which the government responded by halting plans to build it.

Only when you look close enough to see that ladder, you realize the scale of this enormous dam!
Photo by Mazhar Zandsalimi / Unsplash

The Zambian government has halted plans to assemble a proposed hydropower dam on the Luangwa river after progressively 200,000 individuals signed the petition to preserve one of Africa's longest un-dammed, free-flowing rivers. A South African firm, MDH Solutions had proposed to build the so-called Ndevu Gorge dam to produce electricity in the lower course of the Luangwa River in Zambia's Eastern Province, around 200 kilometers from the capital Lusaka. The project was estimated to produce 235 megawatts (MW) of hydroelectric power to fulfill the country's developing need for electricity, yet conservation groups cautioned that it would cause a disaster by displacing a great many people and causing far-reaching impacts on the region's wider ecosystem.

Plans for the Luangwa dam had been formalized

Discuss building a dam in the lower course of the Luangwa River goes back to the mid-1980s. Nevertheless, each time such plans were resurfaced by the authorities, they got such strong backlash that the thought would be quietly shelved. Be that as it may, in 2018, said plans had been formalized despite repeated calls to cancel them. Ironically, this pursued the announcement three years back of South Luangwa as the world's first national park explicitly committed to sustainable tourism by the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

Risks to the Luangwa Valley deflected

The Luangwa Valley is home to a few at-risk species also present on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN's) Red List. These incorporate African wild dogs, dark crowned-cranes, African elephants, lions, leopards, hippos, Maasai giraffes (previously known as Thornicroft's giraffes) and black rhinos.

Wildlife in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Photo by Henning Borgersen / Unsplash

A study by California State University Monterey Bay entitled the Potential Impacts of the Proposed Ndevu Gorge Dam assessed that the dam wall would have been 80 meters high, creating a gigantic lake, 165 kilometers in length and as much as 17 kilometers wide, hold backing 47 cubic kilometers of water. The expense of the development was projected at a staggering 1.26 billion dollars, which the Zambian government was required to borrow.

“The reservoir would inundate or alter parts of protected areas adjacent to the Luangwa River,” the report highlighted.
“The reservoir would inundate 29.5 percent of the length of the Luangwa River within South Luangwa National Park, at least six safari camps, and as much as 80 percent 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 the 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 percent of its length and 24 percent of its width”.

Communities would have been damaged

What's more, senior traditional leader chief Lumbe of the Nsenga individuals said the planned dam would have caused serious floods, disturbing communities, and wildlife in his chiefdom. Notwithstanding the developer's guarantees of economic opportunities and access to electricity, Lumbe stayed adamant in warning that even those nearby communities and chiefdoms not directly flooded and displaced may at present not have profited by the dam.