Maputo, 9 Jul (AIM) – Six companies have submitted bids to draw up a viability study of the Malawian proposal to open the Zambezi and Shire rivers to international shipping, according to a report on Radio Mozambique.
The bids are now under consideration by the Malawian government, the secretariat of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Development Bank (ADB).
According to an announcement from Malawian Transport Minister Sidik Mia, the purpose is to assess the environmental impact of navigation along the rivers from the Mozambican district of Chinde, at the mouth of the Zambezi, to the Malawian river port of Nsanje, on the Shire.
Mia hoped that an assessment of the six bids will be completed by the end of this month, and it will then be know which company will carry out the study. Malawi received a loan of $3 million from the ADB for the study.
The Shire-Zambezi Waterway project was conceived by the late Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, who envisaged it as a way of cutting the transport costs of landlocked Malawi’s trade.
But this project depends entirely on Mozambican agreement, since most of the proposed waterway flows through Mozambican territory. Despite this, Mutharika pushed ahead with the inauguration of Nsanje port in October 2010, as if a deal with Mozambique was already signed and sealed.
But the Mozambican authorities impounded the Malawian barges that were to have travelled from Chinde to Nsanje for the inauguration, and made it very clear that opening the rivers to international shipping depended on a thorough environmental study.
The Mozambican government is worried about the impact of possible spills or collisions on the Zambezi eco-system. Earlier this year the government even turned down the proposal from the mining company Rio Tinto-Mozambique to move Mozambican coal down the Zambezi in barges.
Furthermore, Mutharika’s successor, Joyce Banda, is distinctly unenthusiastic about the Shire-Zambezi waterway, and has made it clear that she regards the Mozambican rail system as the most viable option for moving Malawian imports and exports.
The viability study has thus lost all its initial urgency. It will go ahead, not because there is any immediate likelihood of using Nsanje for anything larger than fishing vessels, but because Malawi still thinks it useful to investigate all options for access to the sea.
Construction of Nsanje port cost around $20 million– but this sum is dwarfed by the other requirements to make use of the port by commercial traffic viable. This includes tarring the road from Nsanje to the Malawian commercial capital of Blantyre and dredging the Shire and Zambezi rivers. This brings the cost of the entire project to about $6 billion. (AIM)
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