- The government of Cameroon has ordered an environmental impact study of the planned hydroelectric dam on the Lom and Pangar rivers, including the world environmental organisation IUCN in the expert panel. As electricity needs are booming in Cameroon, IUCN is not explicitly negative to the dam, even though the proposed Pangar-Djerem Wildlife Reserve will be affected.
Cameroonian authorities are poised to go ahead with a hydroelectric dam on River Lom, a few kilometres downstream of its confluence with River Pangar. The rivers are tributaries to Cameroon's mighty River Sanaga, a river basin contributing with over 90 percent of the country's hydroelectric energy.
Plans to dam the Lom and Pangar rivers were first introduced 13 years ago, but met with resistance from environmentalists. Parts of the proposed Pangar-Djerem Reserve would inevitably be flooded. The area, which still awaits formal protection by the Cameroonian parliament, would become Cameroon's largest reserve in the zone bordering area between rain forests in the south and savannah in the north. The project was put on ice in 1999.
Since 1999, however, the situation has changed. The Pangar-Djerem Reserve has already been affected by the Chad-Cameroon pipeline, which runs for 54 kilometres through the proposed reserve. Parts of the reserve have also been "impacted heavily by poaching and hunting, which have increased since the opening of a rail line running between Belabo and Ngaoundal in 1970," oil companies found, when preparing for the pipeline's route.
More important, Cameroon's electricity supply struggles to meet demands as the country is developing. During the last five years, the situation has changed dramatically, even IUCN admits. Cameroon is potentially rich on hydroelectric energy, but few new projects over the last years have created an energy deficit in the country.
In October last year, the Cameroonian government thus decided to go on with the plans of the Lom-Pangar hydroelectric project, which includes a 50 meter high barrage flooding an area of 610 km² and a hydroelectric plant of approximately 50 MW. Authorities however have decided to play by the rules and the first step in the process therefore is a new environmental impact study.
Environmental aspects are to follow the project throughout its lifeline. A so-called "panel of the independent experts" is charged with controlling and evaluating the environmental studies carried out, and to deliver its opinions on the measures suggested to "limit negative impacts of the project," according to IUCN. The international organisation is represented in the panel, together with the Cameroonian electricity sector regulation agency ARSEL.
The panel of experts recently had its first visit to the area to be affected by the dam. "The dam will imply environmental and social problems, which are necessary to map," IUCN noted after having visited the area. In addition to the physical damage on the landscape and its flora and fauna, the dam will affect the societies living in the sparsely populated area. The panel thus also is to see to the transparency and information flow to local in the project.
As Cameroonian authorities are keen to play by international standards, many nationals are frustrated about the slow past of the country's electrification. The Lom-Pangar project probably will not see construction workers starting their work before 2008.
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