Wednesday, November 19, 2014

NYT: Private Funding Brings a Boom in Hydropower, With High Costs

A Dam Revival, Despite Risks
Private Funding Brings a Boom in Hydropower, With High Costs
By ERICA GIES, New York Times, NOV. 19, 2014

While some dams in the United States and Europe are being
decommissioned, a dam-building boom is underway in developing countries.
It is a shift from the 1990s, when amid concerns about environmental
impacts and displaced people, multilateral lenders like the World Bank
backed away from large hydroelectric power projects.

World hydropower production will grow from 4,000 terawatt hours now -
about the annual power output of the United States - to 4,670 terawatt
hours in 2020, according to Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of
the International Energy Agency, in Paris. The Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change predicts that hydropower generation will double in
China between 2008 and 2035, and triple in India and Africa.

The World Bank and other international lenders were the most important
financiers of large dams before the '90s lull. But although the World
Bank has in recent years increased its investment in hydropower from a
low of just a few million dollars in 1999 to about $1.8 billion in 2014,
it still funds only 2 percent of hydropower project investment today.

Picking up the slack are national development banks from emerging
countries such as China, Brazil, Thailand, and India, and private
investors. Public-private partnerships are on the rise, generally with
the support of regional development banks.

"Who benefits from these infrastructure projects?" asked Jason Rainey,
executive director of the anti-dam group International Rivers, in
Berkeley, Calif.

Some well-documented answers: The Xayaburi Dam in Laos will sell power
to Thailand, while threatening the subsistence livelihoods of people who
have long lived along the Mekong River; the Inga 3 dam in the Democratic
Republic of Congo will sell power to mining companies and to South
Africa, rather than to the 96 percent of Congolese who lack access to

A 2012 report from International Rivers found that Chinese companies or
financiers were involved in 308 dam projects in 70 different countries,
many in Southeast Asia, but also some in Africa, Latin America and
Pakistan. Aside from supplying electricity to investing countries,
projects can also offer a type of vertical integration to power funders'
industrial projects, such as mining or smelting. "China isn't the only
one working this model," Mr. Rainey said: "The Brazilian Development
Bank has financed more dam projects in Latin America than the
Inter-American Development Bank. India is investing in hydropower in
Nepal and Bhutan."

Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program for the
Heinrich Boell Foundation, a public policy institute in Berlin, said she
attributed this trend partly to a Group of 20 initiative that
prioritized infrastructure investment as a path to economic stability.

The initiative encourages joint financing by multilateral development
banks and other sources. A World Bank report on hydropower this year
said that the bank now "typically acts as a 'convener,' bringing other
financiers to the table." It said that over the past five years, the
World Bank Group had funded about half of the costs of projects that it
financed, with the balance coming from host country governments, the
private sector and other development banks.

Ms. Alexander said the problem with this model is that it "derisks"
mega-projects for the private sector and draws in institutional
investors like pension funds and mutual funds. "Very often this means
privatizing profits and outsourcing risks to the public," she said.

Those risks can be both significant and hidden, she added. Project
backers may cite national security or business confidentiality to avoid
sharing information with the public.

National development banks such as the Brazilian Development Bank, China
Development Bank and the Development Bank of Southern Africa "have
abysmal records in terms of transparency and in terms of social and
environmental safeguards," Ms. Alexander said.

The reduced involvement of global institutions allows countries to
ignore international concerns. Although international backers have
pulled out, for example, public-private funding has permitted Turkey to
go ahead with its Ilisu Dam on the Tigris, defying Unesco's objections
that it would flood Hasankeyf, a town with 10,000 years of history.
Turkish dam projects have also played a role in drying out Iraqi
wetlands downstream and exacerbating tensions in Syria.

Yet, although dam investment is coming from diversified sources,
activist organizations still look to the World Bank to set the standard
for environmental and social protections. At the World Bank's annual
meetings this autumn, 318 civil society organizations from 98 countries
criticized its proposal for a new environmental and social framework,
saying it would weaken existing safeguards. Among other things, they
said, it would undermine the rights of indigenous people and of those
displaced by projects, fail to protect workers or guarantee human rights
and not meaningfully address climate change.

"They have a lot of weasel language that softens and dampens
safeguards," Mr. Rainey said.

Amy Stilwell, a spokeswoman for the World Bank, said the proposal was
just a starting point. A second phase of consultations, including those
with the petitioning groups, will begin soon, with a second draft
expected in 2015, she said.

Part of the reason dams are back in favor, despite ongoing concerns, is
the increasing awareness of climate change and the need for cleaner
energy sources, said Ken Adams, president of the International
Hydropower Association, an industry group based in London. Hydropower
can also balance the electricity load and store energy to support
intermittent renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, he said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change supports hydropower to
slow climate change, calling it a "proven, mature, predictable
technology," in a 2011 report.

Hydropower's reputation for low emissions, however, has come under
scientific scrutiny in recent years. Reservoirs behind dams flood
vegetation, which decays, releasing methane and soil carbon. A 2012
study, in the journal Nature Climate Change, concluded that "emissions
from tropical hydropower are often underestimated and can exceed those
of fossil fuel for decades."

The study emphasized that the effect is more pronounced in tropical
ecosystems. Yet hydropower is typically presumed to be emission-free,
Mr. Rainey said. "There is no mechanism within dam sanctioning
processes, or any of the funding models, that methane emissions be
monitored in dam projects," he said, adding that even carbon market
instruments such as the Clean Development Mechanism help to fund large
dams without considering their carbon footprints.

Mr. Adams said his association's voluntary standards could offer a
solution. Its Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, drafted
with input from various stakeholders, including the World Bank, provides
a framework for hydropower developers to monitor and benchmark their
projects. William Rex, a hydropower specialist at the World Bank said:
"We see it as a really useful tool."

Mr. Adams said his association would like to see financial institutions
encourage borrowers to use it. "Any energy source is going to have its
good side and downside," said Mr. Adams. "But I believe that if done
intelligently and appropriately, the downsides to hydro projects can be

You received this message as a subscriber on the list:

To be removed from the list, please visit:

Friday, November 7, 2014

Hydropower May Be Huge Source of Methane Emissions

Hydropower May Be Huge Source of Methane Emissions
Oct 29, 2014 02:30 PM ET // by Bobby Magill, Climate Central

Imagine nearly 6,000 dairy cows doing what cows do, belching and being
flatulent for a full year. That's how much methane was emitted from one
Ohio reservoir in 2012.

Reservoirs and hydropower are often thought of as climate friendly
because they don't burn fossil fuels to produce electricity. But what if
reservoirs that store water and produce electricity were among some of
the world's largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions?

Scientists are searching for answers to that question, as they study how
much methane is emitted into the atmosphere from man-made reservoirs
built for hydropower and other purposes. Until recently, it was believed
that about 20 percent of all man-made methane emissions come from the
surface of reservoirs.

New research suggests that figure may be much higher than 20 percent,
but it's unclear how much higher because too little data is available to
estimate. Methane is about 35 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon
dioxide over the span of a century.

Think about man-made lakes in terms of cows passing gas: Harsha Lake, a
large reservoir near Cincinnati, Ohio, emitted as much methane in 2012
as roughly 5,800 dairy cows would have emitted over an entire year,
University of Cincinnati biogeochemist Amy Townsend-Small told Climate

Methane emissions from livestock are the second-largest source of
methane emissions in the U.S., behind crude oil and natural gas,
according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But the EPA's
greenhouse gas emissions estimates do not yet account for methane
emissions coming from man-made reservoirs.

Part of the reason is that, generally, very little is known about
reservoirs and their emissions, especially in temperate regions, such as
in the U.S., where few studies have been conducted.
Hot News: 2014 On Track To Become Warmest Year

In 2012 study, researchers in Singapore found that greenhouse gas
emissions from hydropower reservoirs globally are likely greater than
previously estimated, warning that "rapid hydropower development and
increasing carbon emissions from hydroelectric reservoirs to the
atmosphere should not be downplayed."

Those researchers suggest all large reservoirs globally could emit up to
104 teragrams of methane annually. By comparison, NASA estimates that
global methane emissions associated with burning fossil fuels totals
between 80 and 120 teragrams annually.

But how much reservoirs contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions is
"still a big question mark," because the issue remains relatively
unstudied and emission rates are highly uncertain, said John Harrison,
an associate professor in the School of the Environment at the
Washington State University-Vancouver whose research focuses on how
reservoirs can be managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"So I don't think we really know what the relative greenhouse gas effect
of reservoirs is compared to other sources of energy in the U.S.," he said.

Research at Harsha Lake may help scientists better understand how
reservoirs contribute to climate change.

In a study published in August, Townsend-Small and researchers from the
EPA found that Harsha Lake emitted more methane into the atmosphere in
2012 than had ever been recorded at any other reservoir in the U.S.

"When you compare the annual scale of the methane emission rate of this
reservoir (Harsha Lake) to other studies, it's really much higher than
people would predict," EPA research associate and Harsha Lake study lead
author Jake Beaulieu told Climate Central.

Scientists have long thought reservoirs in warmer climates in the
tropics emitted more methane than reservoirs in cooler climates, but the
research at Harsha Lake shows that may not be the case, Townsend-Small said.

"We think this is because our reservoir is located in an agricultural
area," she said.

Methane is generated in reservoirs from bacteria living in
oxygen-starved environments.

"These microbes eat organic carbon from plants for energy, just like
people and other animals, but instead of breathing out carbon dioxide,
they breathe out methane," Townsend-Small said. "These same types of
microbes live in the stomachs of cows and in landfills, which are other
sources of methane to the atmosphere."

Runoff from farmland around Harsha Lake provides more nutrients in the
water, allowing algae to grow, just like numerous other reservoirs
surrounded by agricultural land across the country.

Methane-generating microbes feed on decaying algae, which means that
lakes catching a lot of nutrient-rich agricultural runoff generate a lot
of methane.

"There are a very large number of these reservoirs in highly
agricultural areas around the U.S.," Townsend-Small said. "It could be
that these agricultural reservoirs are a larger source of atmospheric
methane than we had thought in the past."

Emissions from reservoirs in all climates could be underestimated
because of a discovery Beaulieu's team found at Harsha Lake: The area
where a river enters a man-made lake emits more methane than the rest of
the lake overall.

Nobody has measured that before, Beaulieu said.

Most other research studying reservoir methane emissions doesn't account
for how emissions may vary across the surface of a lake, he said.

The EPA is about to begin a more comprehensive study measuring methane
emissions from 25 reservoirs in a region stretching from northern
Indiana to northern Georgia, with sampling beginning next year, Beaulieu

That study will help the EPA eventually include reservoir methane
emissions in its total estimates of human-caused methane emissions.

Until that and other studies are complete, scientists can only speculate
on the impact hydropower is having on the climate.

"We're still in the very early days here of understanding how these
systems work with respect to greenhouse gas production," Harrison said.

This article originally appeared on Climate Central, all rights reserved.

You received this message as a subscriber on the list:

To be removed from the list, please visit:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Curb vast water use in central Asia/Nature magazine

Resources: Curb vast water use in central Asia
by Olli Varis
01 October 2014

Irrigation-intensive industries in former Soviet republics have sucked water bodies dry. Olli Varis calls for economic reform to ease environmental and social tensions.

A boat rusts on the bed of the dried Aral Sea, more than 90% of which has vanished in the past 50 years.
Shipwrecks rusting in the desert have come to symbolize the environmental havoc that has befallen the Aral Sea, which straddles Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. More than 90% of what was once the fourth-largest lake in the world has vanished in half a century1, 2, 3. The cracked shores are symptoms of the dramatic overuse of water in central Asia. Since the 1960s, 70% of Turkmenistan has become desert, and half of Uzbekistan's soil has become salty owing to dust blown from the dry bed of the Aral Sea1.

The republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan were developed as farming states to supply produce to the former Soviet Union1. Today, they are among the highest per capita users of water in the world — on average, each Turkmen consumes 4 times more water than a US citizen, and 13 times more than a Chinese one4 (see 'Top 20 consumers'). More than 90% of the region's water use is irrigating thirsty crops including cotton and wheat1, 2.

Decades of over-extraction have nearly sucked dry the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers that feed the Aral Sea. Local livelihoods that rely on livestock grazing, hunting and fishing have disappeared; ecosystems in the Aral's brackish waters, deltas, coasts, steppes and fertile river valleys have collapsed1. As water bodies have vanished, the local climate has become harsher: summers bring extreme heat and violent, salty dust storms; winters are more severely cold. The wind spreads salt and agrochemicals to farmlands hundreds of kilometres away, causing respiratory and gastroenterological diseases as well as anaemia, cancer and tuberculosis3, 5.

Struggling to shake off the Soviet legacy of environmental and political crises and oligarchies, these republics are more rivals than neighbours. Because most of the region's water bodies — mainly the Syr Darya, Amu Darya and Zarafshon rivers — are shared, political tensions have grown around water access, drawing worrying parallels with similar crises in the Arab world.

The first step is to recognize that the origin of central Asia's water problems is in excessive water demand. Fixing the problem will mean developing regional industries that are less water intensive and more profitable than agriculture, by tapping human potential rather than natural resources. Unless the region's economy can be put on a more sustainable footing, the stability and security of central Asia is in danger.

Shortage myth
Two fallacies stymie debate about water in central Asia. The first is that the region is short of water. The landscape looks dry and rivers run empty. Many analyses in the past few years3, 5 have thus recommended water-conservation measures, assuming that incremental policy changes are all that can be delivered. In fact, these countries have plenty of water relative to their populations. The annual availabilities of fresh water per capita for the Amu Darya (2,087 cubic metres) and the Syr Darya (1,744 m3) river basins6 are well above the United Nations definitions of water shortages7: 1,000 m3 per capita constitutes a chronic shortage, and 1,700 m3 a moderate shortage. By comparison, Denmark has 1,128 m3 of water per capita, Germany 1,878 m3 and the United Kingdom 2,465 m3(ref. 4).

The second fallacy is that the solution is agricultural. Most analysts propose that water should be used more efficiently on farms because it is wasted in growing low-return crops on dry lands unsuitable for agricultural use. Turkmenistan's dry climate and poor soils mean that producing a tonne of wheat takes 2,000–4,000 m3 of irrigation water, whereas in nearby northern Kazakhstan adequate rainfall and conditions mean that no irrigation is needed. Even as its land became parched, Turkmenistan's wheat yield increased ninefold between 1992 and 2007.

But the big fish swims elsewhere: the agricultural share of gross domestic product (GDP) in central Asia has almost halved since the disintegration of the Soviet Union4. Instead, economic growth is dominated by the oil and gas industry and by urban expansion. Already, more than half of the region's population is urban and that proportion is rising.

Despite this, central Asian economies continue to focus on primary industries such as agriculture and the extraction of fossil fuels. The economic return on water is lower in central Asia than anywhere else on the planet. Turkmenistan uses nearly 3 times more water than India to produce one GDP dollar, 4 times more than Egypt, 14 times more than China and 43 times more than Spain4.

Rising tension
The resulting problems are greater than just stagnant economies. Disputes (see 'Troubled waters') between nations have arisen around access to shared water bodies in the Fergana Valley in the Syr Darya river basin, in the Zarafshon river basin, and in Amu Darya — most notably concerning the Nurek dam and Turkmen–Uzbek rivalries on water appropriation.

These tensions are stoked by absurd projects such as the Golden Age Lake (Altyn Asyr) in the Karakum Desert8, 9. Projected to cover almost half the area of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, the synthetic lake will be about six times its volume. Since 2000, Turkmenistan has been constructing it, claiming it will increase agricultural production and offer a "symbol of revival of the Turkmen land", as former president Saparmurat Niyazov (known as Turkmenbashi) put it9.

Water for the lake will be drawn from the Amu Darya river through two canals, which are being cut across about 3,200 km of desert8, 9. Although it is unclear whether that much water can ever be sourced from the river, it is obvious that downstream, Uzbekistan will not accept those diversions and is ready to defend its water share with arms if necessary. The already serious soil-salinization problems of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will be greatly worsened if the project is completed.

Related stories
Public health: A sustainable plan for China's drinking water
Agriculture: Steps to sustainable livestock
Conservation: Nicaragua Canal could wreak environmental ruin
More related stories
Like most other parts of the former Soviet Union, central Asian states suffer authoritarian rule and political fragility. Soaring unemployment is leading to a mass emigration of educated people. Current figures estimate that up to one-third of working-age Tajiks are employed abroad. Ethnic, political and religious diversity and difficulties with boundary demarcation fuel nationalism. Internal hostilities, as in the Caucasus, Moldova and eastern Ukraine, are a threat. A full-scale regional conflict, regardless of the rise of radical religious groups, is not out of the question.

Central Asia's water crisis echoes that in the Middle East and North Africa, where political, economic and environmental issues are also intertwined. In Arab countries such as Syria, Yemen and Tunisia, water is scarce and used for low-value purposes, generating little income or investment10. Urban populations are fast-growing but ill-served by development policies focused on traditional rural and primary industries. Political and professional inertia makes change difficult.

Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times/Redux/eyevine
Kazakhstan's capital Astana: rapid urban expansion will influence the region's water use.
Three main differences may make the situation in the former Soviet republics worse than in the Middle East. First, investments in the central Asian water sector are even less productive and more conflict-prone than in Arab countries. Second, water is more abundant in central Asia but environmental disasters have been more severe there than in Arab countries. Third, Arab cities absorb immigrants more successfully and grow faster than those in central Asia, where skilled workers tend to emigrate to countries outside the region, notably Russia.

The central Asian countries must find joint interests and competitive advantages to build a new regional economy, with wise water use at its heart. These countries could have a much more conscious role in world politics and in the global economy by looking at their complementary strengths and merging their markets.

Human potential
The human resources of central Asia are relatively untapped. The republics have essentially full adult literacy and well over 90% of adults have secondary education8. The nations are in a favourable geographical position between diverse markets, including China, Russia, the Middle East and Europe.

Different national strengths should be exploited: Turkmenistan is rich in oil, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in hydropower, for instance. Urban economies, services, manufacturing and knowledge-intensive industries should be boosted by governance reforms.

Realizing human potential would require policies to attract investments, maintain and enhance high standards of education, help industries to grow, and empower a bigger share of the population to contribute to political decision-making. Inertia may be the real bottleneck.

Experience from elsewhere abounds. Information and communication technology brings in more than one-quarter of India's export earnings; China, South Korea, Vietnam and some other ex-Soviet states — notably Estonia — have also created knowledge-based industries almost from scratch. Such industries provide intellectually attractive, high-income jobs for the younger generation and put little strain on water resources and the environment.

International policy-makers and the water sector must refocus and look much more broadly at water's role in the region's political and economic development. That wider perspective should guide the next round of water-resources assessments, as well as top-level international policy meetings such as the 7th World Water Forum in Daegu, South Korea, in April 2015.

The alternative could be much worse: more iron wreckage on the drylands — this time of military origin.

Nature 514, 27–29 (02 October 2014) doi:10.1038/514027a

References available online

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Is Hydropower Really Green?

Is Renewable Energy Really Green?
Guest post written by Kamala Vainy Pillai PhD
Forbes Opinion,
September 24, 2014

The global green rush to move away from fossil fuel dependence has
incontestably led to a plethora of renewable energy initiatives – some
sounding sexier and more appealing than others. From the traditional
renewable energy like hydropower, wind, solar and biofuel, today's
alternative renewable energies using disruptive technologies promises
innumerable avenues for a host of communities and nations. Anaerobic
digestion energy, biomass, geothermal, ocean energy such as ocean
thermal, tidal or wave energy, solar thermal and tower power
technologies are already joining the bandwagon of emerging stars. Yet,
are Renewables really green?

The concept of renewable energy generally denotes clean energy systems
that do not contribute to greenhouse gas emission (GHE) and climate
change. As renewables get into top gear, growing evidence of
non-inclusion of social conscience in the name of renewable energy
development as well as severe environmental damage is unmasking the dark
side of renewables.

In this article, we will look at hydropower. The global hydropower
market according to investment analysts is predicted to expand over the
next few years as a less risky and more popular clean energy. While the
predictions sound promising, controversies over mega hydropower dam
projects and its socio-environmental sustainability issues present
confounding facts. Mega hydro dams have been successful in Canada, the
United States and other industrialized nations; however, the same cannot
be said for the tropical regions. Deforestation and the flooding
(inundation) of thousands of hectares of rainforest for mega hydro dam
projects in the Amazon and Borneo, which represents the planet's largest
and oldest rainforests have received intense criticisms. According to
World Wildlife Fund (WWF), tropical rainforests which serve as our
planet's carbon sink, holds more than 210 gigatonnes of carbon.
Deforestation is responsible for more than 15% of greenhouse gas
emissions (GHG) – more than any other human activity put together, has a
potent impact on accelerating global warming. In the case of mega hydro
dams, the inundation (flooding) of tropical rainforest has triggered a
cataclysm. The slow decay of rich organic rainforest matter flooded in
the mega dam is expected to take centuries – consuming more oxygen at
any given time, inconvertibly leading to oxygen-deprivation and high
acidity of waters. This state has resulted in poor quality of drinking
water as well as for household use to communities downstream. Further,
due to the alterations of the composition and density of vectors,
incidences of public health problems are on the rise and even death or
extinction of animal and plant life as far as 100 km from the mega dam
site have been reported. In 2013, National Geographic expounded on the
extinction of endangered migratory fish in the upstream of mega dams in
most South American countries like Colombia, Brazil and Paraguay.
Similarly, in Asia, the rare Asian river dolphins like the Indus
dolphins and Irrawaddy dolphins have become endangered by the
alterations of rivers for mega dams. Late August this year,
International Rivers launched "The State of the World's Rivers" the
first-of-its-kind interactive online database to illustrate the impacts
on the health of the world's river basins as a result of the mega dams.

Continued displacement of the planet's oldest and largest indigenous
communities in the rainforest region of the Amazon and Borneo has drawn
global attention and civil society accessions. With growing legal
disputes over indigenous land encroachments, mega dam hydro projects in
these regions have become controversial as well as complicated for clean
energy investors. The Belo Monte Dam, for instance, expected to be one
of the largest after the Three Gorges Dam in China and the
Brazilian-Paraguayan Itaipu Dam, continues to be legally disputed by the
Kayapos and indigenous communities who have been living there for
centuries. Displaced indigenous communities like the Penans, as a
result of the mega Bakun Hydro Dam in Borneo, are reported to be
experiencing emotional traumas as a result of the dispossession of their
lands and displacement from their centuries-old nomadic way of life.
Remote communities around these sites are reported to be still without
electricity, as the grids built mainly serve smelters and industrial
operations in the area.

One of the factors cited for this state of affair is the inefficient and
inequitable social and environmental impact assessment (SEIA) conducted
prior to these projects. It appears that the SEIA reports have endorsed
massive relocation of indigenous communities and offered limited or no
consideration of the irreversible impact on wildlife and ecosystems
downstream from the mega renewable energy sites. In 2012, in its
sourcebook for "Getting to Green" guideline, the World Bank reiterated
that too many environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are being
conducted by poorly trained EIA practitioners with limited capacity and
environmental information, leading to poor-quality reports.

Although international development funding agencies, energy companies
and governments have hit a hard wall due to stalled or underperforming
mega renewable projects, they assert that the above competing
perspectives would change over time with increased social and economic
benefits. An Oxford study published this year, present a confounding
verdict. The study which scientifically analyzed the economics of mega
dams from 1934 to 2007, included 245 projects in 65 countries, confirmed
that mega dams suffered cost overruns of 96 per cent. The Oxford
researches affirmed that even without social and environmental cost
consideration, the mega dams did not make economic sense. The
staggering findings are expected to have a significant implication on
the future of energy sector planning.

The deliberation propounds three pertinent points for renewable energy
proponents – firstly, large scale renewable energy projects may not be
as 'green and clean' as prophesied; secondly, with rising pluralism and
conscious green consumers, renewable energy projects would be subject to
greater scrutiny for societal and environmental impacts and hence,
should demonstrate greater social-environmental accountability; and
finally, the compelling findings on the mega hydro dams being uneconomic
with cost overruns which are too high to yield a positive return,
presents a new debate for the renewable energy outlook.

You received this message as a subscriber on the list:

To be removed from the list, please visit:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dams will not solve all Africa’s energy problems

Dams will not solve all Africa's energy problems
Opinion piece by Rudo Sanyanga
Business Day (South Africa), September 4, 2014

[This commentary also appeared in Swedish by Svenska Dagbladet on
September 3, 2014, at]

THE world's water experts convene in Stockholm on Thursday where King
Carl Gustav will present the city's Water Prize to John Briscoe, a
Harvard professor and former water manager at the World Bank. After many
years spent in the international water bureaucracy, Briscoe says he is
"controversial and proud of it". Indeed, the jury's choice raises
contentious questions about how best to manage water resources for the
shared benefit of all.

Since the turn of the century, John Briscoe has been the world's
pre-eminent crusader for large dams in Africa and other continents. In
the 20th century, Europe developed approximately 80 percent of its
hydropower potential, while Africa has still only exploited 8 percent of
its own. It would be hypocritical, Briscoe contends, to withhold funds
for more dam building in Africa now.

Africa has tried to follow Europe's path to industrial development
before. With funding and advice from the World Bank and other
institutions, newly independent governments built large dams that were
supposed to industrialise and modernise their countries in the 1960s and
1970s. The Kariba Dam on the Zambezi, the Akosombo Dam on the Volta and
the Inga 1 and 2 dams on the Congo River are the most prominent examples
of this approach.

Mega-dams have not turned out to be a silver bullet, but a big albatross
on Africa's development. Their costs spiraled out of control creating
massive debt burdens, while their performance did not live up to the
expectations. Their benefits were concentrated on mining companies and
urban middle classes, while the rural population has been left high and
dry. Africa has become the world region that is most dependent on
hydropower. As rainfalls are becoming ever less reliable, this has made
the continent highly vulnerable to climate change.

In 2008, mining companies consumed more electricity than the whole
population in Sub-Saharan Africa. After tens of billions of dollars in
foreign aid have been spent on energy projects, 69 percent of the
continent's population continues to live in the dark. Prioritising the
needs of mining companies and big cities over the rural populations, the
World Bank's latest dam projects in Africa will further entrench this
energy apartheid.

Meanwhile, the communities which were displaced by the Kariba and Inga
dams continue to struggle for just compensation decades after the
projects were built. Because poor people pay the price but don't reap
the benefits of these investments, the independent World Commission on
Dams has found that dams "can effectively take a resource from one group
and allocate it to another". The Tonga people, who were displaced by the
Kariba Dam and suffered starvation as a consequence, have to this date
remained without clean water or electricity despite the huge reservoir
at their doorsteps.

Luckily solutions that don't sacrifice one group of people for the
benefits of another are available today. Wind, solar and geothermal
energy have become competitive with hydropower. Unlike large dams, these
energy sources don't depend on centralised electric grids, but can serve
the needs of the rural populations wherever they live. This is why the
International Energy Agency recommends that the bulk of foreign energy
aid be devoted to decentralised renewable energy sources if the goal of
sustainable energy for all by 2030 is to be met. A diverse,
decentralised portfolio of renewable energy projects will also make
African countries more resilient to climate change than putting all eggs
into the basket of a few mega-dams.

Just because Europe developed with large dams in the 20th century
doesn't mean Africa has to do the same today. In the telecom sector,
Africa has successfully leapfrogged Europe's landline model and relied
on cell phone companies to provide access to the majority of the
population. Like cell phone towers, wind, solar and micro-hydropower
projects can be built quickly, close to where people need them, and
without major environmental impacts.

Large dams may still make sense in specific situations, but Africa's
future is lit by the sun. We appreciate that John Briscoe has
reinvigorated an important debate about large dams. But we hope that in
the coming years, the Stockholm Water Prize will celebrate the solutions
of the future rather than the past.

A native of Zimbabwe, Rudo Sanyanga holds a Ph.D. in Aquatic Systems
Ecology from Stockholm University. She is the Africa Program Director of
International Rivers and is based in Pretoria.

You received this message as a subscriber on the list:

To be removed from the list, please visit:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Large Dams Just Aren't Worth the Cost

Large Dams Just Aren't Worth the Cost
Opinion - Jacques Leslie
The New York Times, August 22, 2014

THAYER SCUDDER, the world's leading authority on the impact of dams on
poor people, has changed his mind about dams.

A frequent consultant on large dam projects, Mr. Scudder held out hope
through most of his 58-year career that the poverty relief delivered by
a properly constructed and managed dam would outweigh the social and
environmental damage it caused. Now, at age 84, he has concluded that
large dams not only aren't worth their cost, but that many currently
under construction "will have disastrous environmental and
socio-economic consequences," as he wrote in a recent email.

Mr. Scudder, an emeritus anthropology professor at the California
Institute of Technology, describes his disillusionment with dams as
gradual. He was a dam proponent when he began his first research project
in 1956, documenting the impact of forced resettlement on 57,000 Tonga
people in the Gwembe Valley of present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Construction of the Kariba Dam, which relied on what was then the
largest loan in the World Bank's history, required the Tonga to move
from their ancestral homes along the Zambezi River to infertile land
downstream. Mr. Scudder has been tracking their disintegration ever since.

Once cohesive and self-sufficient, the Tonga are troubled by
intermittent hunger, rampant alcoholism and astronomical unemployment.
Desperate for income, some have resorted to illegal drug cultivation and
smuggling, elephant poaching, pimping and prostitution. Villagers still
lack electricity.

Mr. Scudder's most recent stint as a consultant, on the Nam Theun 2 Dam
in Laos, delivered his final disappointment. He and two fellow advisers
supported the project because it required the dam's funders to carry out
programs that would leave people displaced by the dam in better shape
than before the project started. But the dam was finished in 2010, and
the programs' goals remain unmet. Meanwhile, the dam's three owners are
considering turning over all responsibilities to the Laotian government
- "too soon," Mr. Scudder said in an interview. "The government wants to
build 60 dams over the next 20 or 30 years, and at the moment it doesn't
have the capacity to deal with environmental and social impacts for any
single one of them."

"Nam Theun 2 confirmed my longstanding suspicion that the task of
building a large dam is just too complex and too damaging to priceless
natural resources," he said. He now thinks his most significant
accomplishment was not improving a dam, but stopping one: He led a 1992
study that helped prevent construction of a dam that would have harmed
Botswana's Okavango Delta, one of the world's last great wetlands.

Part of what moved Mr. Scudder to go public with his revised assessment
was the corroboration he found in a stunning Oxford University study
published in March in Energy Policy. The study, by Atif Ansar, Bent
Flyvbjerg, Alexander Budzier and Daniel Lunn, draws upon cost statistics
for 245 large dams built between 1934 and 2007. Without even taking into
account social and environmental impacts, which are almost invariably
negative and frequently vast, the study finds that "the actual
construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return."

The study's authors - three management scholars and a statistician - say
planners are systematically biased toward excessive optimism, which dam
promoters exploit with deception or blatant corruption. The study finds
that actual dam expenses on average were nearly double pre-building
estimates, and several times greater than overruns of other kinds of
infrastructure construction, including roads, railroads, bridges and
tunnels. On average, dam construction took 8.6 years, 44 percent longer
than predicted - so much time, the authors say, that large dams are
"ineffective in resolving urgent energy crises."

DAMS typically consume large chunks of developing countries' financial
resources, as dam planners underestimate the impact of inflation and
currency depreciation. Many of the funds that support large dams arrive
as loans to the host countries, and must eventually be paid off in hard
currency. But most dam revenue comes from electricity sales in local
currencies. When local currencies fall against the dollar, as often
happens, the burden of those loans grows.

One reason this dynamic has been overlooked is that earlier studies
evaluated dams' economic performance by considering whether
international lenders like the World Bank recovered their loans - and in
most cases, they did. But the economic impact on host countries was
often debilitating. Dam projects are so huge that beginning in the
1980s, dam overruns became major components of debt crises in Turkey,
Brazil, Mexico and the former Yugoslavia. "For many countries, the
national economy is so fragile that the debt from just one mega-dam can
completely negatively affect the national economy," Mr. Flyvbjerg, the
study's lead investigator, told me.

To underline its point, the study singles out the massive Diamer-Bhasha
Dam, now under construction in Pakistan across the Indus River. It is
projected to cost $12.7 billion (in 2008 dollars) and finish
construction by 2021. But the study suggests that it won't be completed
until 2027, by which time it could cost $35 billion (again, in 2008
dollars) - a quarter of Pakistan's gross domestic product that year.

Using the study's criteria, most of the world's planned mega-dams would
be deemed cost-ineffective. That's unquestionably true of the gargantuan
Inga complex of eight dams intended to span the Congo River - its first
two projects have produced huge cost overruns - and Brazil's purported
$14 billion Belo Monte Dam, which will replace a swath of Amazonian rain
forest with the world's third-largest hydroelectric dam.

Instead of building enormous, one-of-a-kind edifices like large dams,
the study's authors recommend "agile energy alternatives" like wind,
solar and mini-hydropower facilities. "We're stuck in a 1950s mode where
everything was done in a very bespoke, manual way," Mr. Ansar said over
the phone. "We need things that are more easily standardized, things
that fit inside a container and can be easily transported."

All this runs directly contrary to the current international
dam-building boom. Chinese, Brazilian and Indian construction companies
are building hundreds of dams around the world, and the World Bank
announced a year ago that it was reviving a moribund strategy to fund
mega-dams. The biggest ones look so seductive, so dazzling, that it has
taken us generations to notice: They're brute-force, Industrial Age
artifacts that rarely deliver what they promise.

Jacques Leslie is the author, most recently, of "Deep Water: The Epic
Struggle Over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment."

You received this message as a subscriber on the list:

To be removed from the list, please visit:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Why Control of a Terrifying Dam in Iraq Is Life or Death for Half Million People

Why Control of a Terrifying Dam in Iraq Is Life or Death for Half
Million People
ABC News, Aug 7, 2014
By LEE FERRAN and MAZIN FAIQ, Investigative Reporter

There are conflicting reports out today about whether the extremist
group ISIS has taken control over Iraq's largest and most dangerous dam,
which Iraqi officials had previously said was safe under the protection
of Kurdish forces.

ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, wrote on their website today
that they are in control of the two-mile-wide Mosul Dam, echoing claims
the group made over the weekend. Iraqi media reports and a Kurdish
official have supported the claim. But late Wednesday and early today,
two Iraqi government officials, one from the Ministry of Water Resources
and the other familiar with the dam's operations, told ABC News ISIS had
not taken the dam and said that it is functioning as usual.

The question of control is a critical one for the millions of Iraqis who
live downstream of the Mosul Dam all the way down the Tigris to Baghdad,
because if the dam was taken over, ISIS would be in control of what
could effectively be a major weapon of mass destruction – one that the
U.S. military said in 2006 was, without the help of brutal jihadists,
already "the most dangerous dam in the world."

It wouldn't even have to be sabotaged to fail – if an extremist group
took control and wanted the dam to break, they may be able to simply do

The gargantuan dam, built in the mid-1980s, was constructed on "a
foundation of soluble soils that are continuously dissolving, resulting
in the formation of cavities and voids underground that place the dam at
risk for failure," said an urgent letter sent from David Petraeus, then
commanding general of the U.S. Army, and Ryan Crocker, then U.S.
Ambassador to Iraq, to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2007.
[The Mosul Dam was built by the German-Italian Hochtief consortium -
International Rivers]

The dam requires "extraordinary engineering measures" – namely constant
grouting operations -- to fill in the holes and "maintain the structural
integrity and operating capability of the dam," according to a U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers (USACE) report from the same year.

For 30 years –- and through several periods of violent conflict -- the
Iraqi government has managed to keep the dam upright by continuously
pumping in literally tons of grout like an industrial version of the
little Dutch boy, as a geotechnical expert who worked on the dam put it.

But the U.S. says any failure of the dam could be "catastrophic."

"[T]he most severe impact of a dam failure would be [for] the City of
Mosul, located 50 kilometers [31 miles] downstream of the dam,"
Petraeus' and Crocker's 2007 letter says. "Assuming a worse [sic] case
scenario, an instantaneous failure of Mosul Dam filled to its maximum
operating level could result in a flood wave over 20 meters [65 feet]
deep at the City of Mosul, which would result in a significant loss of
life and property." Mosul alone is estimated to be home to more than 1.5
million people. Flood waters, albeit at a lower level, could reach all
the way to Baghdad, more than 200 miles further down the Tigris,
depending on the performance of another smaller dam further downriver.

A 2011 report written by a USACE official and published in Water Power
magazine estimated failure "could lead to as many as 500,000 civilian

The Water Power article states that Iraq is "fully aware of the
challenges facing the ageing structure," but as USACE civil engineer
David Paul told the magazine at the time, "there is no precedence for
what they are trying to achieve" in finding a more permanent solution to
the dam's problems than never-ending grouting – including the proposed
use of an incredibly large "cutoff wall" to help mitigate the seepage.
There are other measures that can be taken, such as keeping the
reservoir levels lower than the maximum to reduce pressure on the dam;
that was one of several recommendations the U.S. government made in 2007.

But none totally fix the problem and the geotechnical expert who spoke
to ABC News said that he didn't have reason to believe the dam is any
better off today than it was when the USACE report was published in 2007.

That was also before a powerful jihadist group borne of the Syrian civil
war began its deadly march across Iraq and reportedly up to Mosul Dam's
doorstep. Like today, earlier this week there were conflicting reports
about whether ISIS had taken control of the dam during a previous
24-hour offensive in the area.

Tuesday the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources circulated a statement
saying the dam was not under ISIS control but has been protected by
Kurdish peshmerga troops. The government department reiterated the claim
earlier today.

A second Iraqi official involved with the dam's operations said
Wednesday that grouting supplies were safe and there was plenty in store.

"Grouting is still ongoing and never stopped," said the official, who
asked his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak to the

But what if ISIS does eventually overtake the dam? Or what if it already

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that Mosul
Dam "has been in the sights of [ISIS] since its offensive began in June
to further threaten and terrorize the Iraqi people."

In addition to flooding concerns, the dam is also a "key source" of
power and water for the surrounding area – making it a vital piece of
infrastructure either way, another State Department spokesperson told
ABC News Wednesday. An American intelligence source agreed and said that
ISIS's potential control over and exploitation of power and water is a
focus of U.S. intelligence community.

The Iraqi official involved in the dam's operations refused to respond
to the dire hypothetical of ISIS control Wednesday, but a U.S.
government official long-familiar with the dam said it's an unsettling
idea made more so by a litany of unanswered questions. ISIS may not want
the dam to fail, considering it controls territory that would be flooded
and could leverage their control over the water and power source, but
the U.S. official said it would still be up to the jihadist group to
keep the grouting going.

"If ISIS does indeed have or gain control of the dam, will they listen
to the dam engineers who have been working there for decades and who
understand the need for constant grouting? … And then this is the
biggie: If they can't or don't want to grout, how long will the dam
last?... And if it fails, will it be a catastrophic all-at-once failure
or more of a slowly building uncontrolled release?" the official told
ABC News. "The short answer is no one knows. This is all guesswork anyway."

The official said that he is not aware of official U.S. calculations
about how long the dam would last without grouting but says he
understands it to be "on the order of weeks, not months." The
geotechnical expert agreed that "weeks" was a skeptical, but entirely
possible estimation.

"The potential for a disaster can't be ruled by and should be of great
concern to all parties involved," the U.S. official said.

The U.S. State Department told ABC News late Wednesday the department is
"monitoring the situation closely." Officials at the Pentagon did not
immediately respond to questions about whether any contingency plans are
in place in case ISIS does take over the dam.

You received this message as a subscriber on the list:

To be removed from the list, please visit: