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Shire-Zambezi report bares it all

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The Shire Zambezi Waterway Project is technically feasible but not financially viable without a yearly investment from the member states or other institutions, a feasibility study report by Hydroplan indicates.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) signed an agreement with Hydroplan in September 2013, to provide consultancy services and preparation of a Multinational (Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia) Feasibility Study for the Navigability of the waterway.

The project, which should have entered implementation phase, and would economically benefit Malawi and Zambia has met stiff resistance by Mozambique.

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The study was funded by the African Development Bank to the tune of 3.1 million Euros, while Mota-Engil has already constructed an inland port in Nsanje capable of handling three cargo vessels at a time.

“Mozambique doesn’t wish to invest in IWW transport for a number of reasons because the transport policy in Mozambique is to develop transport by rail and road and Mozambique has no industry based along the river,” according to the report.

It says; “Technically the project is feasible but asks a high investment. Financially the project is not viable without a yearly investment from the member states or other institutions.”

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The success of the project requires that the member states be convinced, have common politics of Inland Waterway Way (IWW) development and devote an annual budget for dredging maintenance, “otherwise there is a very high risk in the development of this project.”

The consultant highlights that the main weakness of the project was that the three member’s states, do not have a common policy for transport by an IWW.

In accordance with documents reviewed during the study it is the considered opinion that the agreements and conventions to which Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia are party to serve as a sound legal basis for the implementation of the project, according to Hydroplan.

The Revised Protocol on Shared Watercourses in the Southern African Development Community was signed following the Zambezi River Action Plan (ZACPLAN) and was approved in Windhoek in 2000.

“This is an important protocol as many of the critical areas of concern that were considered and agreed upon have a direct bearing on and are important to this Project,” argues Hydroplan.

Despite the resistance, positive and negative environmental and social impacts are generally in Mozambique, because most of the waterway is located in that country. However, most of the positive impacts are long term and will have a positive bearing on the development of Mozambique and Malawi.

“Most stakeholders consulted know that the socio-economic situation of inhabitants based on statistical data collected in areas along the Shire Zambezi River and are optimistic that the project will be very beneficial to them in many ways,” says the report.

The report says, the positive impacts, which will result from the project implementation, include potential for the provision of mobile clinics to serve communities in the water way corridor, employment opportunities and skills transfer to local communities, creation of market for goods and services, source of Government revenue through taxes, alternative livelihoods for the local community, and creation of employment opportunities for experts in various disciplines, among others.

The negative impacts among others would be anxiety of loss of land and property, disruption of fisheries activities for fishermen, further spread of HIV-Aids, crime and prostitution, disruption of public fluvial transportation, increased noise levels and disruption of social cohesion.

The report has proposed several mitigation measures where the negative impacts are concerned including the promotion of awareness raising campaigns, training and observing safety navigation rules and procedures, employing highly responsible crew, HIV/Aids counselling, testing and referral services, compliance with the Decent Work Agenda, provision of mobile clinics and dredging and barging during the day and use of noise reduction technologies, among others.

Environmentally, shipping of goods over water ways is more attractive than transport by road or rail. In this particular case however, the environmental costs of shipping over the Shire- Zambezi are augmented with the environmental costs of both capital and maintenance dredging.

The combined traffic forecast for Malawi and Zambia for selected goods that are divertible to the Shire- Zambezi Waterway is climbing from 984,000 tons in 2015, to 1,519,632 in 2025 and finally to 1,900,413 tons in 2030.

From the new digital aerial and underwater survey of 2014, and ‘the calibrated hydrodynamic model of the river system’, a possible navigation route has been identified with least dredging required. The total navigation route length is 340 kilometres from Nsanje to Chinde.

The report says based on observed daily flow records from 1990 to 2010, the current rivers are navigable on average for 4.2 month per year, without dredging. Removal of the current hyacinth blockage on the Shire River is however required to open the route.

“Navigation for only part of the year is probably not feasible economically, and therefore dredging will be required to have continuous operation of the navigation route,” says Hydro Plan.

The envisaged Inland Waterway Transport Project, on the other hand, faces competition from road and rail modes of transporting goods.

Based on operational, investment and maintenance including dredgingcosts the costs by rail come out to be cheaper than those by road and the waterway.

According to the report the above costs by rail are cheaper because it can transport more cargo and other including coal.

But transportation of goods through the waterway still stands to be advantageous because “the construction of a new inland waterway port has the potential to expand economic activities, in particular the attraction of various third party logistics providers.”

The Minister of Transport and Public Works, Francis Kasaila, said in an interview the ministers from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia would probably meet again in February to further discuss the report after a September last year deadlock in Lilongwe.

“We are yet to adopt the report. We were supposed to have met in November last year in Zambia but some ministers were not available for the meeting. But the Sadc secretariat is organising another meeting possibly for February. The venue is not yet known,” he said.

He said the ministers would still have to come to a compromise if the project is to be implemented.

Meanwhile Zambia has said being landlocked countries; Zambia and Malawi have continued to engage its advantaged neighbour Mozambique in the utilisation of its coastal area for access to the world market for both imports and exports.

“Zambia is aware of the challenges that countries face in the pursuit of national economic prosperity because the strategies employed sometimes conflict with regional interests,” Chansa Kabwela, First Secretary Press at the Zambia High Commission in Lilongwe has said.

It is envisaged that the implementation of the project will increase job opportunities to various communities of the three countries through the development of industries, she added.

Mozambican Embassy in Lilongwe was not available for comment.

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