In the December 2000 issue, IWP&DC spoke with the Tanzanian Electricity Supply Company (TANESCO), about the operation of its Kihansi hydro power plant and the implications for the survival of a rare toad endemic to wetlands formed by spray from the Kihansi Falls. In this issue, we talk with John Gerstle from Hydrosphere Resource Consultants of the US, who is acting as an advisor for the long term environmental monitoring of the project
The Kihansi hydro power project in Tanzania diverts water from the Kihansi river above Kihansi Falls, diminishing flow over the waterfall and reducing spray. According to John Gerstle from Hydro-sphere Resource Consultants in the US, such action has led to significant changes in the local microclimate, spray wetland vegetation and ecosystem. One of the main concerns has been the survival of the rare Kihansi spray toad (Nectophrynoides asper-ginis), which relies on the spray for survival in its unique habitat.
‘Several environmental studies were carried out prior to the initiation of construction activities. Pre-construction started in 1994, while the actual construction began in 1995,’ says Gerstle, adding that none of the studies were a fully fledged environmental impact assessment. Instead, these environmental reports were largely chapters in the project identification, pre-feasibility and feasibility studies. An independent assessment was carried out for the World Bank project appraisal (the Bank provided financial support for the scheme), but none of these studies identified any major environmental problems or issues.
‘Due to continuing concerns about the environmental impacts, it was determined by TANESCO, the Govern-ment of Tanzania and several of the financing institutions, that a more detailed environmental assessment (EA) was necessary. This study was carried out in 1995,’ Gerstle said, ‘and identified the biodiversity value of the project area. It clearly warned of the probable presence of unique and previously unidentified species — although it did not specifically mention the Kihansi spray toad, since it had not yet been found.’ Further studies The 1995 assessment recommended, among other things, that further biological studies of the area should be undertaken. ‘But due to the construction schedule, these studies were carried out after construction of the project was initiated, and it was during these studies that the Kihansi spray toad was found in 1996,’ says Gerstle. As the project was started before the EA had been completed, the 1995 study did not evaluate alternative designs or alternatives to the project. The objective was to identify impacts to the natural and human environment, and provide recommendations for mitigation.
When considering the earlier studies, Gerstle emphasised the fact that relevant guidelines at the time should be kept in mind. ‘It would be inappropriate to judge studies conducted many years ago by current standards and guidelines,’ he says. ‘The previous studies had significant time, personnel and financial resource constraints, limiting the amount of field study and investigation which could be done, with corresponding impacts on the findings.’ On 25 October 2000 a meeting was held between TANESCO, the World Bank, financiers and environmental groups to discuss solutions to protect the toad. According to Gerstle, no final decision has been made by the Government of Tanzania about the operations of the project or future of the toad, except for an agreement to begin captive breeding. Approximately 500 spray toads have been taken to the US as part of a species survival programme. This will initially be performed by the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo in New York and at the National Amphibian Pavilion of the Detroit Zoological Gardens. The toads will subsequently be distributed to several other institutions but their ownership remains with the Government of Tanzania. Other decisions from the October meeting focused on finding suitable locations and habitat for the toads and implementing irrigation spray systems in the Kihansi spray wetlands.
Good communication Gerstle said that there has been good communication between all parties but the Kihansi toad situation arose because the environmental issues were not previously studied or addressed adequately. Furthermore, a technical, legal, regulatory and institutional framework was not in place to deal with these matters in a decisive and authoritative manner.
However, Gerstle does believe that TANESCO, the owner of the project, has taken these issues very seriously. ‘They have been very supportive of the environmental studies programme and have allocated some of their own limited resources to deal with this issue,’ said Gerstle.
If there is one thing to be learnt from the situation at Kihansi, Gerstle says it is the need to ensure that adequate studies are completed in advance of decisions on project selection, formulation and construction. He also stressed the need for an adequate institutional and technical capacity, or relevant government agencies, to ensure that alternatives are properly identified. Consultation with all affected parties must take place, before decisions are made, to make sure all issues are appropriately considered and dealt with.