This past Monday I was present as the 250 megawatt Bujagali hydropower plant on Uganda’s River Nile – supported by MIGA, as well as our sister institutions the World Bank and IFC – was commissioned into active service.
After many years of preparation and planning, this was an auspicious moment indeed for Uganda, with the plant’s opening coinciding with the Jubilee celebrations marking the country’s 50 years of national independence. The new Bujagali power plant comes close to doubling the country’s electricity capacity and in a single step has elevated Uganda to having the second largest kilowatt consumption per capita in East Africa, following Kenya.
This weekend marked the beginning of an important new chapter of nation-building, with the celebration and formal launch of the world’s newest nation, South Sudan. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a host of dignitaries were on hand. The civil war with the north ended in 2005, and the World Bank has had an office there since just after that.
I spent several days there two weeks ago, pre-independence, but very much in a moment of great excitement about what the nation the size of the Iberian peninsula with a population of 8 to 9 million could accomplish.
South Sudan will begin life as both a tremendously poor and under-served nation in terms of the services for its people, and a fantastically rich one in terms of resources and potential. The country has less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) of paved road. At present, conflict with the north’s Khartoum-based government continues over the key oil, gas, and mining provinces of the border region, where much of the international press is focused, as well as great deal of investment interest.
My focus was in the other direction, south of the sprawling capital of Juba, along the dramatic White Nile. With fantastic logistical support from the World Bank Juba office, from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s South Sudan conservation team, and from the director of the Nimule National Park.
Brazil relies heavily on its abundant hydropower resources to meet electricity demand, which is rising by about 5% a year. These resources have helped Brazil hook up more than 2.4 million rural homes since 2003, in addition to delivering electricity to its big cities. But hydropower is vulnerable to drought too, and the Brazilian Amazon—home to most of the country’s hydropower potential—has had two devastating droughts since 2005.
That’s just one example of the exposure of the energy sector to climate impacts. Up to now, most of the focus for the discussion of the energy-climate nexus has been on the impact of fossil-fuel energy use on climate change, the need to mitigate it, and the shift to renewable energy sources. This week, two World Bank colleagues of mine have just launched a new study that looks at the issue from the opposite side of the equation: climate impact on energy systems.
The study is entitled Climate Impacts on Energy Systems, Key Issues for Energy Sector Adaptation, by Jane Ebinger and Walter Vergara. It provides a framework for further analysis of vulnerability indicators for climate impacts on hydropower, wind, solar, wave and tidal energy. It also offers analytical tools that experts and policymakers can use to construct vulnerability and impact metrics for their energy sectors, along with a review of emerging adaptation practices.
Last week, I discussed the two very different South Asias and the need for regional cooperation to bring the lagging regions up to the standards of thriving regions. However, increased market integration by itself will not be sufficient to accelerate growth and benefit the lagging regions. South Asia suffers from a massive infrastructure deficit. Infrastructure is like second-nature geography, which can reduce the time and monetary costs to reach markets and thus overcome the limitations of physical geography.
Improved infrastructure that enhances connectivity and contributes to market integration is the best solution to promoting growth as well addressing rising inequality between regions. The Ganga Bridge in Bihar in India is a good example of second-nature geography. The bridge has reduced the time and monetary costs of farmers in the rural areas in north Bihar to reach markets in Patna, the largest city in Bihar. The Jamuna Bridge in Bangladesh is another good example of spatially connective infrastructure. The bridge has opened market access for producers in the lagging Northwest areas around the Rajshahi division. Better market access has helped farmers diversify into high value crops and reduced input prices.
South Asia suffers from three infrastructure deficits. First, there is a service deficit, as the region’s infrastructure has not been able to keep pace with a growing economy and population.
Residents of Honiara eating dinner during a blackout. Energy in the Solomon Islands can be unreliable and expensive.
A few nights ago, when I returned to my house on the ridges above Solomon Islands capital Honiara, my alarm clock was flashing 2 p.m. It was obviously wrong, and I have stopped relying on it for the time. Instead it is simply a very noisy gauge of how long it has been since the last power outage.
Unreliable energy supply is perhaps one of the harder things to get used to when living in Honiara. Long overdue maintenance being carried out on the city’s diesel chugging generators causes power outages for 72 hours per month on average. What is worse is that this actually seems efficient compared to rural areas which, due to a lack of spare parts and diesel, can lose power for up to a week.
The Xe Bang Fai river in Laos started to break its banks over the last two weeks in some areas, causing testing to stop for the Nam Theun 2 project.
The rainy season in Laos is well advanced now, and the Province of Khammouane, where most of the Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric Project (NT2) is located, has been hard hit over the last two weeks. Just over a week ago there was 225mm of rain over central Khammouane in one night, leading to floods in several places around the province – including the provincial capital of Thakek. Apparently there were places in Thakek up to a meter deep in water for a while: a combination of heavy rain and blocked drains, according to a local official. Those of us who were in Lao’s capital Vientiane during last year’s floods will vividly remember this.
As a result of this heavy rain, the Xe Bang Fai River, which drains a significant part of Khammouane, started to break its banks over the last week in some areas. The Xe Bang Fai is very significant to the NT2 as it is the river that will receive the water discharged from the hydropower facility when it is operating. The incremental impacts of NT2 water on the regular flood cycle of the Xe Bang Fai river has always been a concern for the project, and was studied extensively.
It’s now that time for me when you have to sit down and write goodbye and thank you emails, throw away all those trees you’ve cut over the years (that would be paper), wrap up work, pack up your stuff and say goodbye.
A few weeks ago I wrote that “many perceive NT2 to be a World Bank hydropower project. From my perspective, that’s inaccurate in every respect. More on that in a future posting.” Following intense pressure from my reading public (thanks, Nanda), it’s time to explain what I meant.
There are two types of people in the world. Those with whom mosquitoes fall passionately in love, and those to whom mosquitoes turn only as a last resort. I unfortunately am one of the former, and I was awoken a little before sunrise by a swarm of well-informed mosquitoes in Lak Sao, behaving a little like my 3-year old when he thinks he can persuade me to give him chocolate milk for breakfast.
(But first, take a look at the new villages for the local residents. My colleague Nanda does the talking):