World Bank: 50-MW Bumbuna to boost Sierra Leone economy

A World Bank official says Sierra Leone will complete the 50-MW Bumbuna hydroelectric project by mid-2008, giving a major economic boost to the energy-starved West African state, which is struggling to attract investment.

Lack of reliable power has been a major obstacle to growth in one of the world’s poorest countries. Bumbuna, 200 kilometers northeast of Freetown, originally was to be completed in 1998 but work was abandoned in 1997, when four-fifths finished, due to civil war.

World Bank representative Engilbert Gudmundsson said it is expected that Bumbuna will begin delivering power by July 2008. The government already has achieved a number of milestones in electricity sector reform funded by the World Bank’s International Development Association. (HNN 4/4/07)

“This will have an enormous effect,� Gudmundsson said of the expected Bumbuna start up. �This is certainly the single biggest project for boosting the economy. Without reasonably secure electricity at a reasonable price, you are not going to get foreign investment.”

Telecommunications companies and mining firms, some of the country’s few major foreign investors, complain they have to ship large volumes of fuel to remote rural areas to sustain their businesses, thereby eroding profits.

Although Sierra Leone’s US$1.5 billion economy grew by 7 percent last year, it still has a long way to go to reach its peak level before the war, which wiped two-thirds off its value. The annual average wage for the former British colony’s 5.5 million people remains just US$220, the World Bank estimates.

Gudmundsson said construction of the 88-meter-tall dam on the upper Seli River is largely complete. The government is repairing the transmission line connecting it to the grid of the hilly coastal capital.

Most of the previous power line and transmission towers were dismantled during and after the war and sold for scrap by profiteers.

“The construction is almost finished,� he said. �We have had technical people looking at it recently and they say it is a very well done and well constructed power project.”

Construction has been carried out by Salini Costruttori of Italy, which has worked on the dam since its inception.

Although a financing shortfall of US$35 million remains to complete the project, Gudmundsson said the World Bank and African Development Bank were collaborating with the Finance Ministry to bridge the gap.

The dam was a political issue in an August 12 presidential election seen as a test of its recovery from a 1991-2002 civil war. However, both the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party and opposition All People’s Congress said in their manifestos that they would ensure the completion of Bumbuna.

“Whoever is in office when electricity is restored to Freetown will almost certainly win the next election as well,” said one foreign aid worker.

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