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Done Right, Hydropower Can Help Fight Energy and Water Poverty

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Water and energy are inseparable. An increase or decrease in one immediately affects the other. The interdependence of water and energy is the topic of the moment in Stockholm right now at World Water Week. Forums large and small are focusing on the energy we need to pump, store, transport and treat water and the water we need to produce almost all sorts of energy.
For the countries we work with, energy security and water security are central elements of strategies to lift millions of people out of poverty. And for the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia – home to the 1.2 billion still living without electricity - hydropower represents the least tapped energy source with the greatest potential to supply cheap, abundant and clean electricity on a large-scale.
Every day in my job, I am challenged by the knowledge that if we settle for business-as-usual, the number of Africans without access to electricity – currently around 600 million people – will grow along with the population. And despite the fact that it has some of the world’s largest potential for hydropower and other renewable resources, its total power generation capacity is just 80,000 megawatts – and that includes South Africa. That’s roughly the same amount of power that Spain or South Korea generates.

As Africa steadily grows its economies, the continent needs to add 7,000 MW of generation capacity each year to meet the projected growth in demand - yet it has achieved only 1,000 MW of additional power generation annually.

Recently, I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo and the site of the Inga hydropower project. DRC’s overall hydropower potential is estimated at 100,000 MW – that’s the third largest in the world behind China and Russia, yet only 2.5 percent of this has been developed. In Asia too, only 20 percent of hydro potential is developed, compared to over 70 percent in North America and Europe. Brazil relies on hydro for close to 80 percent of its electricity.
Multipurpose dams, often financed through hydropower but contributing also to water storage and irrigation, can also make significant contributions to increased water security. Done right, hydropower can sustainably generate affordable, reliable and renewable electricity to power homes, clinics, schools and jobs, curb greenhouse gas emissions and prepare people for increasingly extreme weather.
Of course, large hydropower development poses risks that need to be assessed and managed carefully.  But managing risk does not mean avoiding it and doing nothing. With the scale of unmet need for electricity in the world, the declining water security in so many countries, and the climate threats that we face, the World Bank Group is committed to supporting countries to develop and finance the right hydropower projects for local conditions.
That means we work with developing countries to ensure that the benefits of hydropower flow to poor people; that planning processes are inclusive and transparent; that the risks and benefits of hydropower are fully understood; and that people and the environment are safeguarded. It’s hard and challenging work but in our experience it is vital to economic and social development in many countries.
Wherever we work in energy and water – be it in Lao PDR, DRC, Myanmar, Uganda or elsewhere – supporting countries to overcome their social development, environmental protection, and economic management challenges related to projects is at the core of our work. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why many of our clients – both public and private – engage with the World Bank Group.
As an energy professional, I have found World Water Week an enriching experience. We have been talking about the energy-water nexus for years, but what I see around me in Stockholm is an infectious desire and drive for practical ways of addressing it. While 1.2 billion people across the world remain underserved in energy and water services, our work as a global community continues. It’s the responsibility of all of us working together to make the change that’s needed.


Anita Marangoly George

Former Senior Director, Energy & Extractives

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