Reuel Khoza, chairman of the South African based power company Eskom Holdings, announced the plans at the “Africa Business and Sustainable Development” meeting during UNEP’s 23rd Governing Council Ministerial Environment Forum.

“Africa urgently needs energy to lift its people out of poverty and deliver sustainable development. The Congo River offers enormous opportunities for doing this. We calculate that hydro electricity from the Congo could generate more than 40,000 megawatts, enough to power Africa’s industrialisation with the possibility of selling the surplus to Europe.”

He said the scheme had been suggested in the past but was now gaining momentum under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and added that the prospects for peace in the region were also concentrating minds.

The scheme would initially focus on the Inga Rapids. It envisages engineering works that would siphon off the river, divert it through electricity generating turbines and then funnel the water back into the Congo.

Mr Khoza said the scheme would qualify for funding under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Governing Council’s meeting examined how the provision of water and energy underpins the sustainable development needs of Africa. Only 64% of Africa’s population currently has access to a reliable clean water supply and an estimated 256 million people on the continent do not have access to electricity.

According to ministers and business leaders attending the event, the water and energy crisis will only be solved if there is greater investment in infrastructure and services by the private sector. This has often been controversial, however, as the private sector then has to charge for such essentials as water, and corporations have been accused of making exorbitant profits from the poorest people on Earth.

However, the meeting concluded that, from building boreholes for water to the development of solar power in remote villages, business must play a key role in working with local entrepreneurs, public authorities and financing institutions in Africa.

By David Hopkins

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