Demand for cement is increasing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as construction and infrastructure projects roll out in line with growing confidence and trust in the country and its economy, says SRK Consulting (SA), a firm of consulting engineers and scientists.
“Increased economic growth is driving infrastructure development and the associated demand for cement, necessitating the need for local cement production,” say SRK Consulting partner and principal environmental scientist Darryll Kilian and SRK Consulting senior environmental scientist Natasha Anamuthoo.
The DRC’s yearly cement consumption is 16 kg per capita, the lowest in Africa, compared with the South African average of 240 kg per capita and the global average of 400 kg per capita, says cement producer PPC.
Kilian and Anamuthoo note that the DRC’s low cement consumption can be attributed to a number of factors, including high levels of poverty, limited cement production capability, high product costs and poor infrastructure.
However, it is expected that the DRC’s per capita cement consumption will improve as new cement plants come into operation and infrastructure development projects expand, say Kilian and Anamuthoo.
PPC International, in conjunction with Congo-based local company Barnet Group SA, is in the process of developing a new $280-million cement plant near Songololo, in the Cataractes district of Bas-Congo province, in the DRC.
SRK Consulting (SA), in association with SRK Congo (DRC), has been appointed by PPC to undertake the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) for the proposed cement plant.
The company developing the cement plant is a combined entity called PPC Barnet DRC Holdings. Simona International Engineering of China has been appointed by the combined entity to undertake the engineering and construction of the new cement plant.
Meanwhile, the $255-million Nyumba Ya Akiba (NYA) cement project, also in the Bas Congo province, is expected to be operational late next year.
SRK Consulting participated in the environmental feasibility study for this greenfield project.
It is envisaged that the cement produced by the two plants will predominately be used locally. However, there are also plans in place to export the product to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and globally.
“Our on-the-ground presence in the country and extensive experience in conducting ESIAs to international standards – as well as our ability to interpret client needs – gave SRK an advantage in conducting the ESIA processes,” state Kilian and Anamuthoo.
SRK Consulting had to deal with several challenges during the environmental and social feasibility work for both the cement plant near Songololo and the NYA cement project. These included obtaining technical feasibility information timeously, communication difficulties due to different cultural or language backgrounds within the engineering teams, building capacity and awareness regarding the need for ESIAs, securing reliable local service providers to conduct baseline work, and defining the scope and nature of social development.
The company provided support for each project according to its specific needs and capabilities. This necessitated the ESIA team drawing on the local expertise and knowledge of staff at SRK Consulting’s DRC office to conduct context-specific social assessments, facilitate stakeholder engagement and apply in-depth knowledge of international funding requirements and processes.
These tasks were completed through close collaboration between the ESIA team and the project management and engineering teams to facilitate sharing of technical information pertaining to the projects to enable SRK Consulting to appropriately scope and assess environmental and social impacts.
Any lack of understanding regarding information and process requirements could be speedily resolved by SRK Consulting’s local professional engineers and environmental scientists, who could communicate with client representatives in the local languages – French, Swahili and Kikongo.
The close cooperation meant that project teams clearly understood the practical importance of impact assessments in identifying and avoiding areas of high sensitivity; this, in turn, reduced the potential for costly mitigation strategies and future liabilities.
To avoid costly delays in securing baseline data on groundwater quantity and quality, SRK Consulting also prepared specifications and drilling protocols to help adjudicate the tenders of local drilling companies.
Stakeholder engagement and household surveys assisted the project team in determining community needs and aligning the planned social development initiatives with the principles of sustainable development in mind.
Kilian and Anamuthoo explain that SRK’s involvement in assessing the PPC Barnet and NYA cement projects added valuable data and knowledge of environmental and socioeconomic conditions in specific project areas and more generally in Bas Congo province.
“More specifically, specialists were able to collect baseline data pertaining to air quality, traffic, water quality and quantity, biodiversity and social characteristics including demographics and settlement patterns,” they add.
They further add that “by consolidating existing and new spatial data, SRK determined the regional extent of the mineral resources in the Bas Congo province, which enabled the company to gain insight into the future development potential of the region”.
The company also mapped areas that might be impacted by the inward migration of people looking for opportunities created by the new cement plants.
The PPC and NYA projects provide a benchmark aligned to the Equator Principles, which form a demanding framework that global financial institutions adopt when considering the social and environmental impact of projects they might fund. As such, these two pivotal projects have set a standard for best practice against which others will be measured in the future.