Friday, June 10, 2011

Why Africa should shun hydropower megaprojects

Lori Pottinger in via Pambazuka News: Africa is the least electrified place in the world. An estimated 550 million Africans have no access to electricity. Nearly half of African countries have a power crisis. Solving this huge problem is made more difficult by widespread poverty, and because most Africans live far from the grid, greatly adding to the cost of bringing electricity to them.

Under these challenging conditions, there are no second chances for electrifying Africa: It must be done right the first time. Yet many of the continent's energy planners are pinning their hopes for African electrification on something as ephemeral as the rain, by pushing for a grid of large hydro dams across the continent. The World Bank has joined the fray, with its latest World Development Report calling for a major hydropower rollout for the continent. This model is well-suited for facilitating industrialisation and exploitation of natural resources, but not for reducing Africa's energy poverty.

Putting aside the appropriateness of this plan for meeting basic needs, this vision fails to take into account the unpredictable nature of Africa's rivers, a situation that will be made worse by a changing climate. New African dams are being built with no examination of how climate change will impact them. Many existing dams are already suffering from drought-caused power shortages. Climate change is expected to dramatically alter the hydrology of African rivers, creating both worse droughts and more dangerous floods (the latter causing safety concerns for poorly maintained or operated dams). At the same time, many African nations face huge water-security problems. In this climate, the proposed frenzy of African dam building could be literally disastrous….

The Aswan Dam in 2008, shot by Ijanderson977, Wikimedia Commons

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