Contact: Michael Stulman Africa Action 202 546 7961 (More Contacts Below)
Project-affected communities take their case to the World Bank Inspection Panel
Tuesday, April 06, 2010 (Washington, DC) – Residents located near Lephalale in South Africa’s Limpopo Province today filed a complaint with the World Bank’s independent complaint body, the Inspection Panel, stating that a proposed $3.75 billion World Bank loan to help finance the Medupi coal-fired power plant will significantly damage their health, livelihoods and the environment. The complaint, submitted by Earthlife Africa and groundWork on behalf of affected community members, alleges that the project violates numerous World Bank policies and poses considerable threats to local communities and to the South African society at large. The clock is ticking, as the proposed Eskom loan is expected to go before the World Bank’s board of directors for approval on April 8th.
Impacts on communities Communities living near the Medupi plant contend that if the proposed loan is approved, they would be the ones to bear the burden of hidden costs in terms of health impacts from air pollution, elevated SO2 levels, and mercury residues in their water, air and land; constrained access to water; and the livelihood impacts from degradation of land and water in this largely agrarian area. Already illegal sand mining operations are taking place in the area for the building of Medupi.
The community members who filed the complaint argue that the problems will be compounded by plans for a number of new coal mines and plants in the area; cumulative impacts that the World Bank failed to consider in its assessment of the project.
Caroline Ntapoane, who hails from South Africa’s polluted industrial heartland near Sasolburg, insisted that her concern with the loan is personal. “I know first-hand what the communities have to look forward to, because we experience it every day. We live it in the polluted air we breathe, when our water taps run dry, and when our children get sick. We shouldn’t have to choose between electricity and our health.”
Access for the poor While the project’s proponents claim it will provide energy access for the poor, in reality, the project would largely benefit major industries that consume electricity below cost, and whose apartheid-era secret agreements prevent them from sharing the costs associated with construction of the project and repayment of the loan.
Tristen Taylor of Earthlife Africa emphasized that, "With massive disconnections looming due to a doubling of electricity tariffs, a million jobs lost last year, and an effective 40% unemployment rate, one would think that poverty eradication would be foremost in the World Bank and the South African Government's mind. None of Medupi's output will be for the poor, but will be used to service multinational firms.”
Conflict of interest Not only will industries benefit, but the ruling party, the African National Congress, is set to reap major profits from the loan through its investment in Hitachi Power Africa, which was awarded a dubious contract – an obvious conflict of interest. World Bank approval of the loan will help further entrench the ANC off the backs of the poor.
The project is expected to go before the World Bank’s board of directors for approval on April 8th amidst serious questions about the viability of the project. “We are shocked at the speed with which the World Bank is attempting to push the loan through while these and other outstanding issues remain unresolved,” adds Gerald LeMelle, Executive Director of Africa Action.
The fundamentals of the project are being questioned. “This project is to secure uninterrupted electricity for large corporations, such as smelters and mining houses under secretive special pricing agreements. It is not for the millions of poor people who cannot afford or do not have access to electricity. South Africa does not need this loan,” says Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa.
For additional information, please visit www.africaaction.org
To receive a copy of the Inspection Panel complaint, send a request to: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact: Michael Stulman Africa Action 202 546 7961
Sunita Dubey groundWork USA 703 732 2559
Bobby Peek groundWork South Africa +27 82 464 1383
Tristen Taylor Earthlife Africa Johannesburg +27 84 250 2434