TANZANIA has officially notified the UN cultural agency that execution of Stiegler's Gorge hydroelectric project is inevitable.
The project at the Selous Game Reserve has triggered heated debate, with ecologists opposing it on grounds that its implementation could damage the World Heritage.
But, during the meeting of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Poland last week, the government delegation gave the country's firm position to execute the project.
The Permanent Secretary in the Natural Resources and Tourism Ministry, Major General Gaudence Milanzi, led the government team that also included Tanzania's Ambassador to France Samwel Shelukindo who doubles as the permanent delegate to UNESCO.
The delegation consulted with senior officers of the World Heritage Centre and its Advisory Bodies on the matter and officially submitted a letter to the centre, expressing the country's position. The ministry said in a statement in Dar es Salaam yesterday that Major General Milanzi argued before the committee that plans to build the dam have been on the government agenda since the 1960s.
The Selous Game Reserve covers 50,000 square kilometres, with the proposed project expected to use a mere three per cent of the area. The PS maintained that the Selous Game Reserve was inscribed in the World Heritage List with the project on the table.
"It should be noted that at the time of inscribing the reserve in 1982, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considered that the Stiegler's Gorge project was of no serious environmental concern, given the vast size of the property," he argued.
He further pointed out that Tanzania has recently made a firm decision to industrialise the economy, significantly increasing the energy demand. "Given the current power generation options, it has been imperative to reconsider Stigler's Gorge as the momentous power source," charged Major General Milanzi.
He said at full capacity, the project would boost the total power production for the country by about 145 per cent. The project will upon completion benefit majority Tanzanians currently living without electricity.
It will also meet the increased industrial power demand in the country. Underscoring the country's position, the PS said if well planned, executed and monitored, power projects like Stigler's Gorge need not necessarily adversely impair conservation efforts.
Instead, by use of the best available technological options, planning and monitoring tools, the hydropower project stands to generate national wealth and improve the livelihoods and social wellbeing of local communities.
He also pointed out that despite the 'no option' conception for hydropower projects within or adjacent World Heritage sites, in reality demand for such projects continue to exist worldwide since they address basic socio-economic needs not only in Tanzania but also in other countries.
In delivering the statement, the PS emphasized that the message was to confirm to the WHC about Tanzania's determination to proceed with the project, based on the principles of sustainable development.
But, he said the country was ready for further consultations to allow implementation of the project for the socio-economic and environmental well-being of the Game Reserve and all Tanzanians. Tanzania is a signatory to the World Heritage Convention of 1972.
Seven sites in Tanzania are inscribed in the list of the World Heritage List including the Selous Game Reserve and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The country is currently a member of the WHC for the period of four years to 2019.
Since admitted in 2015, Tanzania has been pushing WHC to uphold the concept of sustainable development in the committee's agenda and guidelines to allow physical development and optimal socio-economic developments with minimal possible adverse environmental impacts.