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Done Right, Hydropower Can Help Fight Energy and Water Poverty

Anita Marangoly George's picture
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.


Submitted by Teklu on

Done and managed right..... This condition is a milestone to be met but usually ignored in many hydropower projects. The worst tragedy is the lack of socio-environmental safeguards which turn the project affected population victims of loss of livelihood and lead to absolute poverty in many developing countries, which have to be stopped soon if hydropower is wanted to be sustainable and bring change the lives of the poor. The WB and other lenders need to review their safeguard procedures by including auditing of the mitigation measures for the life cycle of the project, not only during construction. Also, the affected population need to get connection to the generated electricity and obtain continuing share of revenues. Only the so called lump sum compensation and resettlement program never bring a sustainable development. The lenders and donors should propose mechanisms how to monitor and coordinate all the stakeholders: owners, decision maker politicians, consultants, contractors, etc. There should be some hydropower feasibilty and sustainability guidelines to be agreed on and followed especially to avoid some unfeasible locally financed projects.
Such high initial investment projects are prone to high level sophisticated corruptions, how to make all the stakeholders immune of it is also a major concern to be addressed. CAPACITY BUILDING, FIGHTING CORRUPTION, TRANSPARENT PARTCIPATORY APPROACHES AND GUDELINES AND ENFORCEMENTS TO MAKE THE HYDROPOWER AND ALL THE STAKEHOLDERS SUSTSINSBLE.

Thank you for this very important and insightful comment. Any hydropower project that involves World Bank Group financing and expertise must observe the Bank Group’s stringent environmental and social safeguard procedures. These require that environmental assessments, and plans such as those related to resettlement, dam safety, and indigenous peoples, be prepared by independent experts. The results of this transparent process are submitted to the Bank’s Board and disclosed along with project proposals.  For large, complex hydropower investments, the Bank Group requires independent panels of experts for both environmental and social issues, as well as dam safety.  As a party to the multi-stakeholder framework known as The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol – we are working with partners in industry and civil society to strengthen sustainability and measure and guide performance in the hydropower sector. 


World Bank has changed a lot in the last 10 years, about large hydro schemes. Compares this articles with policies in the beginnings of 21th century. This is a very good new.

Submitted by Derek on

The blog does seem to focus on hydropower. What about other renewable energy sources? Indeed, hydroelectricity is very efficient. What about developing solar power in DRC instead?

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