21 July 2013

Oil & Gas Companies May Help Boost Water Technologies

An article recently published online states that oil and gas companies are investing more in water technologies because of the new techniques involved in oil and gas exploration. This could bode well for water and waste water treatment in general - as more investment means further advances in the technology, as well as theoretical cost reduction. In the recent water security course I attended at University of East Anglia the idea of water and environmental groups partnering with corporate interests came up strong. This idea is becoming more popular - as it should. The corporate interests are usually the ones pushing politicians to relax regulations on water resources. If there are stricter regulations, instead of corporations pushing to change this, they could partner with special interest groups to capitalize on responsible water resources use...

Too optimistic?

Please consider the article below.

“Hundreds of millions” set to be invested in water tech by oil & gas companies

Investment in water technology companies is set to soar as major oil and gas companies look to meet the growing challenges of water scarcity and regulations, according to new research.

A report produced by the London Environmental Investment Forum (LEIF), in association with Global Corporate Venturing, shows a growing interest in water technology from the oil and gas majors as they move into more scarce regions, expand into unconventional resources such as shale gas, and deal with new regulations regarding treatment of wastewater.
Leading corporations are establishing venture units, charged with finding new technologies to solve the company’s problems.
LEIF Chairman Tom Whitehouse, author of the report, said the motivation was simple.
“The oil and gas industry needs to reduce its water costs, get water to work more efficiently in extracting hydrocarbons and stay on the right side of the politics of water,” he said.
“For big energy, water venturing is not driven by the desire to diversify. It is directly related to the future success of their core business, the extraction of hydrocarbons.”
The report profiles many venture investors backed by, or linked to, large oil and gas corporations and their investment strategies in the coming years.
BP established its venture unit in 2006, but changed its name from BP Alternative Energy Ventures to BP Ventures in 2011 to reflect an evolution in strategy – BP is now making investments on behalf of its oil and gas operations as well as its alternative energy interests.
“While financial returns are important, our venturing business is driven by the need for technology access. So, that is what drives our investment strategy and style,” said Sandra Eager, BP Ventures Technology Manager.
She added: “Seven key areas have been identified. Recycling and reuse is top in terms of importance because regulation is only going to increase and become ever tighter … EOR [enhanced oil recovery] is equal top in importance, explaining our interest in desalination technologies.”
BP’s strategic interest in water typifies a wider trend. New venturing units set up over the last two years by ConocoPhillips, Statoil, Saudi Aramco and Shell also have an express interest in water. The venture teams at Total, Cenovus and Chevron have been around a little longer and have all already made water technology investments.
“[Water] is a part of our energy-tech focus. We want to use and extract energy more efficiently,” said George Coyle, of ConocoPhillips Technology Ventures, which has made several watertech investments.
“The common theme across all [water-tech investments] is that they have the potential to significantly reduce our water costs and improve our stewardship of the environment,” he added.
The willingness of corporate venturing firms to invest in early-stage technology is significant, the report says. A lot of the water technologies required by the oil and gas industry are in their infancy, making some financial venture capitalists wary of early-stage investing unless corporates are also involved. New technology companies’ best hope of raising capital may be to start with the corporates, the report suggests.
Tom Whitehouse said:
“Oil and gas corporate venturing units are typically not afraid of early stage technologies, are prepared to invest globally and are aware of the need to provide hands-on support to their investments to help them penetrate their conservative industry.
“For some, acquisition is the end game, but for most technology development is the priority.”
There is a significant array of water technologies in play. Some technologies address the need to reduce or eliminate water used during extraction, while others address technologies which will be deployed at the end of the pipe – they will treat waste water produced after extraction.
Despite ever increasing interest and investment in water technologies from the oil & gas sector, start-ups have a long road ahead. The report concludes that:
“The conservatism of the oil and gas industry is just one of the challenges faced by water-tech companies. A lot of patient and determined capital is required to commercialise. But for the oil and gas industry, water-tech is not merely a nice-to-have, a municipal recycling facility that could be built next year or next decade. It is a strategic necessity.”

17 July 2013

Lao Editorial Sends Message About Importance of Development

I was quite interested to read this recent post in an online forum for Laos. While it is not a polished missive, it sends a message and gives a voice to something important. The writing comes from a local Lao person speaking out about the involvement of international organization interference in Lao development projects, specifically Lao hydropower. The author is pointing out an important aspect of the dam debate - there are two sides.

Some people see dams as absolutely devastating for environmental and social reasons, such as International Rivers Network; some people see dams as the answer to alleviate poverty (electricity = development and revenue) while also meeting international carbon reduction goals, like the Lao government.

Is anyone "right" or "wrong" in this case? Please feel free to comment.

Why does International Rivers oppose hydropower development in the Lao PDR
1 post by 1 author


Jul 17 (14 hours ago)

VT, 16.7.2013, p. 11
Chareun Sayakoummane

By opposing plans for sustainable hydropower development, the nongovernmental organisation International Rivers is working against the Lao people. As someone born and raised in Laos, I feel there is a need to refute this anti-development NGO’s claim that they are helping our cause.
International Rivers is a California-based organisation whose declared mission is to “protect rivers and defend the rights of communities.”
According to its web site, “International Rivers works to stop destructive hydropower projects in Laos and advocates for the rights of communities affected by dams, such as Nam
Theun 2, Theun-Hinboun, and the Theun-Hinboun Expansion Project.”
I have been involved in social and environmental impact and resettlement programmes for power projects including Nam Theun 2, and I know for a fact that many more people
have been helped than harmed by the resettlement process.
Now International Rivers is stepping up opposition to the Xayaboury Hydropower Project and the proposed Don Sahong project in the south.
Many Lao people question why International Rivers is trying to derail hydropower development that will bring huge foreign capital vital for the country’s poverty eradication programme.
Everybody knows that hydropower is a clean, green form of energy that brings direct and indirect benefits to our people. By stopping development, International Rivers would be
robbing us of the opportunity to give our people better health, better education and better living conditions.
Dams are not going to kill us. In many ways, dams will protect us from socio-economic insecurity and give us the resources to look after ourselves.
Without foreign cash from the sale of hydropower, how could the Lao government afford foreign expertise to train our people to farm better, to fish better, to look after our natural
resources better, and secure economic opportunities for a better future? After all our government intends to meet its MDGs and get out of Least Developed Nation status by
Ever since Laos announced plans to tap the powerproducing potential of the Mekong, International Rivers has maintained the Xayaboury dam would block fish migration as well as the flow of sediments and nutrients, affecting agriculture and threatening the lives of 60 million people downstream as far as the Mekong Delta.
This kind of exaggerated claim shows they are willing to ay anything and blame dams for everything.
In my village, in Nongbok district, Khammuan province, we have lost over 200 metres of land through riverbank erosion over the past 60 years. I hope with the earnings from hydro
development the bank erosion in my village and others can be stopped.
While International Rivers claims to help dam-affected people, it is clear that they only focus on those who mourn what they left behind. They never show the positive benefits such
as new homes, better land for farming and livelihood training provided as part of resettlement requirements. If International Rivers succeeds in its irresponsible campaign to stop all hydropower projects, poor Lao people will be deprived of these benefits.
It would be very sad if our people did not get new schools and clinics; if they did not get new roads and bridges and new opportunities. It would be very sad if they do not get a chance
to improve their lives and the lives of their children.
Chareun Sayakoummane is a resident of Ban Sokpaluang who works for a local registered company called Chareun & Associates, of which he is a founder. The core business of the company is social and environmental impact assessments for hydro projects throughout Laos.

09 July 2013

Researcher Interview About Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam FieldWork

I recently gave an interview to blogger Catherine Pfeifer for her blog Development in Rural Areas Across the World. Catherine is a spatial-economist and GIS whiz. She keeps a blog that documents different tools and opinions about varies development projects, focusing on mainly agriculture. I intend to interview her in the near future to capture her ideas and experience related to water issues in rural parts of Ethiopia, where she worked for 2 years and where we met.

You can view the interview here. Catherine was curious to capture my personal experience with researching the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) as a follow up to a critique she gave on the recent Al Jazeera coverage - an interview I also shared, but didn't dissect as thoroughly - of the issues raised between Egypt and Ethiopia about the project. The questions Catherine posed are interesting as they relate to the practical side of data collection and research in the field as well as the data and analysis itself.

Thanks for your interest Catherine! And thanks for the repost Michael! (sorry for the formatting)

another view on the Nile : an interview with Jennifer Veilleux

The Ethiopian governement is known as very protective of the information it shares about the dam. However, as part of her PhD Jennifer Veilleux, is one of the few people who could visit the dam region and interview freely local people about the dam. You can find many discussions about the Ethiopian and other dams on her own blog.

Jennifer Veilleux

In order to get some first hand information about the Renaissance Dam she has accepted to answer some of my questions. 

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam site, November 2012 © J.C. Veilleux 2012

Compared to other countries you have been doing research in, how difficult was it to get the authorisation to visit the grand renaissance dam area in Ethiopia? 

This is an important question because this detail is the single hinge upon which rests the entirety of successful data collection. The simple answer is that it was not at all difficult, but took some homework and footwork to determine where I needed to go and who to ask for authorization. I have worked with governments in several countries to include Albania, Republic of Macedonia, and Laos, PDR regarding national level projects and have never experienced absolute blocks to my requests for access. In most places the process is just a matter of patience. The response of the Ethiopian government to my research inquiries and intentions was open and accepting, and they took things a step further to assist me with logistics. The officials I spoke with are clearly proud and excited about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project and other project-related development. They did not appear to me at all hesitant to have the project covered by a foreign researcher. In fact, one of the Ministers stated that he looks forward to learn something new from the interviews I collect and my analysis. When they said a car would pick me up, a car picked me up. When they said I would have a room at the site, I had a room at the dam site. There were no empty promises or misleading arrangements.

The reason that it is important that the Ethiopian government was not only agreeable to grant permission through various Ministries and the Ethiopian Electric Power Company (EEPCO), but the support and assistance that the government provided at the dam site is the reason that I was able to collect data successfully. The dam site is located in a remote region, Benishagul-Gumuz state, near to the Sudan border. The road there is not paved and there are only two ways in. Both require a commitment of about 17 hours from Addis Ababa. You can fly to Assosa and drive from there, but there is still about 5 hours of driving to the site from the city. And you would have to arrange to rent a car with a driver out there who could handle the roads (and change a tire if one pops). There are no guest houses or facilities anywhere near to the site, aside from the site itself, and that is where I stayed when I conducted field work with the local communities. There are three federal police check-points along the roads to the dam. I arrived in Ethiopia without an established network. I had support of an international non-governmental organization to apply through them for a business visa; the group also provided an office space, but could not support my efforts to make inroads with government officials or experts to interview. With the help of the local Catholic Church I was able to make contacts in the Ethiopian government and at Addis Ababa University. Without the help of Ethiopian people in many sectors, this project would have been impossible. And national level assets, like dams, must be approached through official channels.
Blue Nile River Valley to be flooded by GERD © J.C. Veilleux 2012

You have been interviewing locals about the dam freely (without the presence of a governmental representative), can you tell us what the locals in general think about the dam?This is an interesting question. In general, I can say that I think the locals I spoke with, mainly from the Gumuz people ethnic group, expressed hope and curiosity about the dam project. I also spoke with some other ethnic groups who had moved to the region to get employment in the project who were also quite positive about the changes. The hope that was expressed is about a new way of living, changes to their society to include the possibility for education and health services. In almost every interview, locals expressed hope that the project brings something of benefit to them. The curiosity is that they are not completely sure what a dam actually is, though there is an understanding that it will cause the river to flood the valley. The locals had not seen electricity before the project came, and now they can see the place lit up at night (operations are 24/7). In general, people want to keep their lifestyle of fishing and farming, but know this will look different when the water changes from a river to a reservoir. 
There was also pretty high confidence expressed about the government’s involvement. Local structure of communicating news is quite effective – local meetings as held in each village often as are necessary to include all people in the community. I witnessed this quite a bit while I was there. Although there is no television, few radios, and no newspaper for the Gumuz people, they are well informed about what to expect as each project phase plays out. The location is in a remote valley of the Blue Nile river, as it makes a final decent out of the Ethiopian highlands. The people living there subsist on the river and surrounding land. They have no electricity. They have never seen so much traffic as there is now with heavy machinery and vehicles going to and from the site. New people are coming through and buying from their markets, some of the local people have taken jobs at the site.  
Gumuz women on their way to village council © J.C. Veilleux 2012

Can you tell us about one person who did not share the average opinion of the area? What where his/her arguments
If we are speaking about the local level, I spoke to some very old people who were not comfortable with moving. About three elders expressed that this way of life is all they have ever known. They expressed uncertainty and caution about change. They were not entirely sure that they would have a place in the future. Two farmers who were relocated downstream were happy with their compensated houses, but had not yet worked out land-rights for growing crops. There are no formal land-ownership agreements in a western sense, but land is claimed by someone, so relocation requires negotiation and cooperation between the new settlers and existing people.
New bridge across the Blue Nile downstream of GERD Project © J.C. Veilleux 2012

What are in your opinion the biggest impacts of the dam?The biggest impacts of the dam are according to scale and sector – in my work this is highlighted. I can consider three scales here – international, national, and local and give you a general sense of what I mean, and these are only in my opinion.
In general at the national level, the dam is a symbol of modernity, hope, ending poverty, development, autonomy, a new era – Ethiopians are self-funding the dam and there is a great sense of pride that this is a home-grown project, that Ethiopians are doing this development for themselves. In the psychology of the Ethiopian people’s minds, this dam is very empowering and positive, regardless of political affiliation or ethnicity. The dam transcends existing divisive mentality – this has historic roots, but too complicated to get into. Ethiopia is a poor country; droughts cause food security issues and food aid is needed annually, malnutrition is high, there is high infant mortality, in some places 1 in 16 women die in childbirth, debilitating diseases is visible anywhere you travel. The infrastructure is building up fast – we saw this while we were there – new roads, buildings, hospitals, schools, telecommunication infrastructure, electricity grid – you can see these things going up all over the country. But, there is still little industry and without outside investment, these things would not be possible. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, as it’s name implies, gives hope to change that. And gives the first possibility for Ethiopia to use the Blue Nile River as a natural resource.
On an international level, if you go by the press, the dam is again a symbol. And currently it is causing tension for the region, mainly with Egypt and Ethiopia. For Egypt it is a symbol of water insecurity – and loss of control. If Ethiopia has the power upstream to turn off the tap, this would cripple Egypt. The Egyptian authorities, whoever emerges as consistent leadership after this most recent reorganization, are going to remain very keen about this. The people on the street are as well, seeing the Nile waters as crucial for their livelihoods and existence. In other riparian countries, such as Uganda, governments are calling for a new water sharing agreement to replace the outdated existing Treaty that ensures Egypt gets the majority of Nile River water use as tied with this dam project. The dam is an undeniable fixture that changes power dynamics in the Nile basin, but also offers the chance for these riparian countries to give an exemplary new integrated water resources management approach – to extend out to several other much needed regional sectors. What happens next remains to be seen.
At the local level the impacts are enormous. This dam is completely altering the landscape, both human and natural. And also we should take into consideration what local means.There are the immediate people, near to 20,000 people, who are being relocated internally in Ethiopia. These people have been systematically catalogued as to compensation packages. The Gumuz people strike me as highly adaptive and efficient at surviving in the face of change, especially if government support provides what is in the plans at present (regarding infrastructure and job training). But the 20,000 relocated people on the Ethiopian side of the border are not the only local level people to have impact. I have no idea about the people living just over the border in Sudan – especially the people living between the Renaissance project site and the Rosaries dam. An engineer told me that the hydrologic impact would probably extend all the way to the Morawi dam. Who are the people living on the river in Sudan that will indeed feel an impact on their way of life? How many people are we talking? The river will ebb and flow in an artificial manner in the future, this will surely disrupt normal planting and harvesting practices, change the fish patterns, and with the retained sediment, eliminate gold panning activities. These are questions that need answers – the responsibility here falls to the Sudanese government cooperating with Ethiopian government to figure out how to prepare for changes to the people living downstream. This is a clear reason for intergovernmental cooperation – the unexpected impacts that extend well beyond the reaches of the area where Ethiopian government has governing rights, but does have responsibility. 
Fisherman with catfish harvested in Blue Nile River © J.C. Veilleux 2012
Who are the winners and who are the losers of the dam construction? and why?I think some of the other questions point to this, and again, would venture to insist that this all depends on the scale and sectors considered, as well as the temporal nature of the project. There is the project now and the project 5 years from now and the project 10 years or more from now. I can attempt a simple listed answer, but really it depends on how things go.
If the dam is completed and operates in the way it is designed, the winners are the people who feel ownership of such a mega project, the recipients of 6,000 MW of additional energy into the grid, the Ethiopian government receiving revenue from the sale of energy across the borders (they have signed agreements with Kenya, Sudan, Djibouti, and South Sudan is in the works as far as I know), the government sponsored development projects slated for funding through said revenue, the people who receive these services, the local people’s quality of life improvements with access to health care, markets, education, people employed at the site, the local town of Bamza has economic gain, the entire basin’s stability improves with infrastructural improvements…these are some of the winning parties or entities that I can think of and I think that they are self-explanatory.The losers are some of the same identified parties above. If the dam continues to cause tension which results in conflict in the basin, Ethiopia will lose face and lives and stability. So will the hope of a new water sharing agreement. So will general security in the region. Everyone looses in that case. Sudan will be caught in the middle of Egypt and Ethiopia. Who knows how this will manifest on the ground. The Gumuz people are losing a known way of life, which could have some serious psychological implications and cripple the communities, unless they are just that adaptive to change. The river itself looses, though no one really discusses this. The river is dynamic and I would venture to state a system that is very much alive. The dam may cause large parts of this system to die or disappear. This is typically the concern of environmentalists, that change can just be too great to overcome for some species or aspects of the physical dimensions of a natural system. Certainly the river will no longer be a river in this section, it will be an artificial lake. Much of the area where I walked and explored while staying at the dam will be underwater. The trees and birds and other biotic species just won’t exist in that space. The Ethiopian people are very aware of this and say it is a trade off. I agree it is a trade-off and it has been done all over the world with water for at least the last century. What the changes means to dependent species is unknown. I don’t believe anyone can measure that with transects in an EIA. I cannot say with certainty that I know there will be huge system alteration resulting in even immeasurable loss, but I can tell you what my gut says. There will be. But, realistically, what are the alternatives?
Blue Nile River after rainy season, upstream of GERD site © J.C. Veilleux 2012
What is the Ethiopian government doing for reducing the impact or compensate the losers?I think the first thing is that the Ethiopian government has identified the people they consider losers in this process. As I stated before there is a solid plan in place for the relocated people. I saw the mapped out plans and was given the documents to read and review. The Ethiopian Electric Power Company got out and did a house to house survey. The people already relocated were happy about what transpired. They were given more than they expected in compensation, their things were moved for them, they were proud to show me the new houses that were constructed for them. The houses in this area are made of temporary material to begin with, so they must be reconstructed every few seasons. There are plans to build more infrastructure to improve quality of life as previously stated. Already the local people have access to the clinic at the dam site for free. This would all be in the realm of reducing impacts and compensation. I heard no talk of benefit sharing or other ideas that are popping up around the world in water resources management and dam dilemmas. Again, as far as over the border, I know nothing and think that this has not been yet considered.
As far as other identified potential losers from the answer above? There is a plan to maintain a 5 kilometres buffer zone around the reservoir – this is mainly for malaria control, but this could serve to compensate for some of the environmental loss. If the area could be maintained as an eco-zone for birds or wild animals. There are already zones in that area where hunting is not allowed, though there is little ability for enforcement. Upstream areas are slated for continual and increased erosion management, though when I left Ethiopia the new management plan for the entire basin was still in the works. I am not sure what holistic steps are going to be taken to ensure a healthy system upstream or downstream of the dam. I know environmental flows are part of the dam plan – flow is crucial for hydropowI would like to thank Jennifer for her amazingly detailed first hand information form the dam. Both of us are today living outside of Ethiopia, and therefore feel free to express our opinions. I  hope that both of us can spread some more differentiated views on the grand renaissance dam than the classical Ethiopia vs. Egypt debate. er generation, but what these are based upon, I am not sure.
Gumuz woman with harvested millet and grains from riverbed © J.C. Veilleux 2012

What is in your opinion the biggest challenge about this dam? 

In my opinion there are several challenges about the dam, so it is hard to isolate one as the biggest. Most of the challenges about Renaissance have to do with technical issues and perception that comes from communication and trust. In my opinion, these issues are definitely workable issues given the right attention and flexibility. The Ethiopian government said to me and continues to say in the media that they are flexible to changing the design of the dam, just not flexible about building the dam – it will go forward. 
Technical: Sediment is a huge issue – if left unaddressed it will render the dam useless in too short amount of time compared with the effort and money spent. Sediment traps – doors that allow sediment to move through the bottom of a dam – could be one answer. These were engineered into the new design of the Xayaburi dam in Laos when issues of sediment came up. Sediment is necessary for the river system and you need only look downstream to Sudan – they had to raise the height of Rosaries dam because of sediment fill, and spend money each year to clear out irrigation canals. Egypt’s Aswan dam prevents sediment transport and this has caused major issues in the delta – no deposition of sediment has resulted in salt water intrusion. Also sediment is a natural fertilizer and revitalizer of the riparian soils – without this farmers have to apply artificial chemicals to mimic. 
Hydrologic flow is a question. How much is needed to support downstream communities? How much is needed to maintain current water use in Sudan? Does the impact of flow regime change manifest adversely as far downstream as in Egypt? If there is flood control from the dam, what does this mean in Ethiopia? Are all of the existing major dams going to be run together through an international system of planning, such as in other basins, like the Columbia River basin? 
Malaria increase from stagnant water is an issue. The climate of the Blue Nile Valley is already quite full of tropical disease, but this tends to be seasonal dependent on the water. With water reliably present all year, this increases the ability for mosquito breeding. I am not a health expert, but I am sure malaria isn’t the only life threatening result of such water change.
When it comes to perception and communication – the Ethiopian government has good intentions with this project, but it seems that inside and outside of Ethiopia this is not well understood. The Ethiopian government could do a better job of communicating their intentions and actions to the greater international community in a way that reflects what they are actually doing. I know because I saw with my own eyes – and it is something I said more than once to Engineer Semegnew – you guys are doing great things out here for the local people, for the onsite workers, why not publicize it so people know? There is a sense – is this cultural or just typical governmental? I don’t know – but the sense is that of course we are doing good things and that should be assumed. There are of course going to be down-sides to a dam. They are monster structures that change natural systems to serve human needs. But knowing what the benefits are clearly may improve the current misunderstandings between basin countries and on the global stage. 

The responsibility is not just a formality or but it is a need because the Blue Nile River is an internationally shared resource. And unfortunately, although Western powers are no longer the colonial masters of the region, they are still quite immersed in the politics and hold great influence. Western diplomats like information that they can then repeat and trust – so more clear communication would benefit Ethiopia greatly in this project. Accusations fly in the absence of clear, concise, transparent communication. 

I watched the Al Jazeera interview you critiqued. Minister Barakat was not permitted to follow his thoughts through to their logical end. The mediator kept interrupting. To me this was apparent having spoken to the man himself and communicated in Ethiopia, where language and conversations are detailed, extensive, nuanced and artful. Words and ideas take time to build up to actually representing reality. The Ethiopian government may want to hire a public relations team to handle such communication. Again, citing the Xayaburi dam project as another such controversial dam project, they have hired a PR team to help organize media trips, are building an informational website, and have a team dedicated to describing the project plans. Although currently EEPCO does this, but maybe having a separate body handling this that allows not only for output of information, but ingestion of dialogue, could help. This isn’t a perfect solution, but it may help. All of this really points back to that big issue of trust in the region, and arguably in the world. For that, I have no answer. 

I would like to thank Jennifer for her amazingly detailed first hand information from the dam. Both of us are today living outside of Ethiopia, and therefore feel free to express our opinions. I  hope that both of us can spread some more differentiated views on the Grand Renaissance Dam than the classical Ethiopia vs. Egypt debate as well as the most common prejudices about Ethiopia and it's government.
"A fool and water will go the way they are diverted." -Ethiopian proverb

08 July 2013

Yale's Discussion on African Hydropower Planning Uses Static and Unfair Future Projections

I read the below article and was at first excited to see that this whole issue of electricity projects in African countries is getting more traction and could actually be a reality. People who have studied many African countries, especially Sub-Sahara African countries, know that there have been plenty of false starts with development projects over the years. This can be disappointing or encouraging, depending on the project. However, as I continued to read I found myself faced with familiar concepts of generalization, branding, and something just "off".

African foreign direct investment, read: colonial (European) to a bad colonial hangover - this whole current international development comes through the same players, but has been rebranded, as it were, as capitalist - everyone is thought to benefit...but by whose assessment?

In the last 15 years though, with emerging markets countries like China, India, and Brazil (a.k.a. BRIC - though I didn't include Russia here), foreign direct investment does not just come from the typical players. Many of these projects actually have tangible results, a road, hospital, or school is built, unlike much of the intangible efforts by US Government in what is known as capacity building. This is a change that keeps on surprising.

I have read and observed projects done by China from the 1960s as well as from the Soviets and compared with today it appears we are dealing with a different standard. In the previous iteration of development the quality of construction wasn't very good - block-style housing, not so great hydropower infrastructure, roads that fell apart - look at Albania's hydropower infrastructure on the Drin River, which provides close to 90% of all domestic electricity. It needs help. But the more recent round of investment in development, not connected with the Cold War stuff, is of better quality and the political deals are more clever. The rest of the world is taking notice. What we are seeing is just the beginning. The West has cute names for the phenomena - like South-South investment...Let's just call it investment or foreign direct investment - why is this term reserved for deals with the West? This shift reflects the concept of free markets (show me evidence of a free market that really exists anywhere?) and the global economic shift at the turn of the millennia.

Right now across the Africa continent, people who study this stuff are making noise. There is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, now talk again of the Inga Dams on the Congo (not new mind you, a project on the books since the 1970s), and in this assessment from Yale Uni's school of Forestry & Environmental Studies, another dam planned on the Zambezi. 

About the article:
This article raises the issue of big versus small, of the temporal problem - development to delivery, of the environment or change in general. Actually, it contends a false projected future, stating with assurance that electricity generated by the planned dams in Africa is automatically going to be funneled through corrupt systems to the elite and not the 'poor'. I find this quite insulting. There are enough problems with infrastructure and development already, challenges to overcome in an underdeveloped place, that corruption is not the paramount issue, nor should it be the one that analysts project is most relevant. The author is missing the point.

And why are we grouping all trends in separate countries to one continent? I could argue that the situation in Ethiopia is entirely different than the one in Congo, but aren't I stating the obvious? I think that the Western investors on the continent of Africa have had long enough to give advice and support into the sovereign issues that go on in countries hoping toward better standards of living and higher life expectancies. There is just too much misunderstanding and an impatience in Western discourse about issues in places they have not spent time to get to know. Even if a Westerner goes to live in a developing country to work on a project, their reality is still vastly different from the ones of people they are assisting to develop. They live in houses with western standards (even if things don't always work up to par), like running water and electricity. They drive in cars to offices...it is quite a different reality than, say, farming. I am not saying that the development community is not able to know the communities it intends to develop, but that the approach of the "us" vs. "them" in body, mind, and spirit create deep rifts of experience that result in failed development projects.

The other false projected future is one that is static. The assertion that Gibe III is going to disrupt life in Lake Turkana is true. But for how long? The people living on Lake Turkana are pastoralists. How long do we think that Kenya would leave this group of people out of modernizing efforts? Less so about the people, let's be realistic. How long would Kenya not notice the water resource of Lake Turkana for some sort of development? In fact, when I was in Ethiopia I remember hearing something about a rather large-scale project idea to use Lake Turkana for irrigating cash crops - creating plantations...what about those poor people living on Lake Turkana? If there are going to be critics making noise to make a difference for helping people, they need to stop looking at such narrow scenarios and stretch their minds to include ideas beyond the static. The world is changing everywhere, all the time. A better question may be why is the world changing at such a rapid rate and why human communities everywhere are leaning more heavily on environmental resources for cash? Could it be our economic policies of this so-called free market should be called into question? Tell the WTO it is time to change the way we do business globally and in fact we should be a bit more prudent. Do a screening of Dr. Seuss' Lorax story and maybe concede that the protestors in Seattle were right? We - scientists and environmentalists and humanists and researchers and critics and decision-makers in every country - are barking up the wrong tree and wasting energy projecting future scenarios based on a reality that does not really reflect a dynamic and intelligent system.

Big vs. small: I have read about and heard this argument and probably don't know enough about mechanics of electricity to make a sound judgment, but I will say that big dams have certainly been useful in the Empire-Building West. Columbia River dams have allowed cheap electricity to form Seattle & Portland, for better or worse, and all that is connected: Boeing, Microsoft, servers for Google, farming, and back when they constructed them, aluminum processing to 'win the war'. We cannot forget history and how we got to where we are, even if there are several versions of the truth. Why would we expect that big dams would not also change African countries for better? I acknowledge this issue of distribution, but that is just a matter of time and investment - it is not an impossibility. Perhaps smaller is better - localized - but I imagine that this takes much more money and planning (time) - and time and money are two things that poor countries are in severe lack of.


Will Huge New Hydro Projects
Bring Power to Africa’s People?

A giant new hydro project on the Congo River is only the latest in a rush of massive dams being built across Africa. Critics contend small-scale renewable energy projects would be a far more effective way of bringing power to the hundreds of millions of Africans still without electricity.

by fred pearce

Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than three-quarters of the population is without electricity, will soon be lit up — or that’s the promise of governments building a host of new hydroelectric schemes across the continent. These projects are an attempt to keep up with the rising power demand from Africa’s economic boom. But the trouble is that, like the boom, the power seems destined to benefit only small industrial and urban elites. For the rest of Africa’s billion inhabitants, this investment looks unlikely to further UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s goal of “sustainable energy for all.”

The Congo River in central Africa — the world’s second-largest river after the Amazon — is the latest focus of the rush to harness the continent’s rivers for generating electricity. On May 18, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced in Paris that it wasinitiating the first phase of the world’s largest hydro scheme on the river’s majestic Inga Falls. At these falls, downstream from the capital Kinshasa, the massive Congo’s entire flow of 42,000 cubic meters a second cascades down a series of rapids, falling 100 meters within a 15-kilometer stretch.

South African hydro-engineer Henry Oliver has called Inga Falls “one of the greatest single natural sources of hydroelectric power in the world,” and his fellow engineers have long dreamed of tapping these waters to power an Africa-wide electricity grid. Two small schemes built in the 1970s 
The completed project on the Congo would be twice the size of China’s Three Gorges dam.
and 1980s, known as Inga I and Inga II, are largely moribund, victims of the DRC’s wrecked economy and long-running civil war.

But the idea was revived a decade ago, when world leaders pledged a New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Now it is Chinese construction companies — including Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam builder — who are in line for the contracts.

The first phase, dubbed Inga III, will on its own generate more power than Africa’s current largest hydroelectric-dam, the High Aswan on the Nile in Egypt. Construction should begin in 2015 and will cost at least $8.5 billion. The energy is mostly destined for South Africa, 3,000 kilometers away, where energy utility Eskom has promised to take more than half the capacity of 4,800 megawatts (MW).

But the project’s eventual aim, the DRC’s water and electricity minister Bruno Kapandji Kalala told the Paris meeting, is even grander. The completed project would be almost ten times larger than the initial phase, making it twice the size of China’s Three Gorges hydro-scheme, currently the world’s biggest. It will tap the Congo with 50 separate riverside electricity generating units, each the size of a large conventional power station.

The treaty signed between DRC and South Africa pledges both countries to the $50-billion development, along with extensive transmission lines to a planned southern African supergrid. The project’s promoters say it could one day supply power to half a billion people across the whole of Africa. But the logistics of constructing a distribution to more than a handful of urban centers would take many decades and dwarf the cost of building the hydroelectric works, and nobody has suggested where that money would come from.

There is, it has to be said, an environmental case for the Inga Falls scheme. The Congo River’s flow is so strong and so constant that its enormous power can be extracted without a large dam to store water. With no large reservoir, the “run-of-river” scheme will flood little land, thus saving rainforests, reducing the need to move people, and limiting greenhouse gas emissions from rotting vegetation. Unlike many dam projects in rainforests, it will be a genuinely low-carbon source of energy.

The Inga Falls project is only the latest of a rush of giant hydroelectric dams across Africa. They include the recent completion of the 250-MW 
Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile will shortly supplant the High Aswan as Africa’s biggest.
Bujagali dam on the Nile in Uganda, which has flooded a much-loved local falls; a 300-MW Chinese dam completed in 2009 in Tekeze canyon at the headwaters of the Nile in Ethiopia, which at 185 meters is one of Africa’s highest; and the 120-MW Djibloho dam completed last year on the Wele River, which now supplies 90 percent of the electricity in tiny Equatorial Guinea.

But these are small fry. This week, Ethiopia diverted the flow of the Blue Nile while it constructs the 6,000-MW Grand Renaissance dam on the river near the border with Sudan, which will shortly supplant the High Aswan as Africa’s biggest. And Ethiopia is just completing the 1,800-MW Gibe III dam on the River Omo. The latter was a favorite of the former prime minister, Meles Zenawi, who defended the project against Western criticism in 2011 by saying: “We want our people to have a modern life and won’t allow [them] to be a case study of ancient living for scientists and researchers.”

That may be. But critics both inside and outside the country say the scheme, which will also provide irrigation water, will wreck the lives of a quarter-million pastoralists and divert so much flow that it will halve the size of Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, in neighboring Kenya. Some call the project a repeat of the Aral Sea disaster in central Asia half a century ago.

Yet Ethiopia is undeterred. It is East Africa’s water tower and the source of 80 percent of the Nile’s flow. With an economy growing by more than 8 percent a year, analysts say mountainous Ethiopia seems bent on tapping all its rivers before they reach other countries. Besides powering its own industrial drive, it plans on exporting power to its neighbors. To that end, it has set up the Eastern African Power Pool, an intergovernmental authority promoting the transmission of power across the region, linking Ethiopia to Kenya, Tanzania, Eritrea, Uganda and Sudan. The first phase, a high-voltage link between Ethiopia and Kenya, which has World Bank funding, is set for completion by 2019.

In West Africa, Guinea has plans to dam the River Niger upstream of the river’s inner delta, a wetland jewel in neighboring Mali that is the size of Belgium. That, say hydrologists at the NGO Wetlands International, threatens the livelihoods of some 1.5 million people on the delta. 

In southern Africa, work started earlier this year on damming the Batoka Gorge for a 1,600-MW scheme downstream of Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. And 
The World Bank, after years of avoiding big dam schemes because of environmental concerns, is back on the case.
China’s Export-Import Bank has agreed to help fund the 1,500-MW Mphanda Nkuwa projectfurther downstream on the same river in Mozambique. The Mphanda Nkuwa scheme is also a run-of-river project that will not flood much land. But critics say it will nonetheless be very damaging because it requires a new management regime at the upstream Portuguese-built Cahora Bassa dam that will scupper efforts to restore the ecology of the lower Zambezi delta.

One reason for the rush to build is that the World Bank, after years of avoiding big dam schemes because of environmental concerns, is back on the case. For instance, it is expected to join the African Development Bank, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, and others in funding Inga Falls.

Meanwhile, Chinese banks and construction companies are keen to get involved, because China wants power to run its growing portfolio of African mines. And the Chinese are less squeamish about environmental downsides than Western aid agencies. Chinese companies recently finished a 1,250-MW scheme in Sudan on the Nile at Merowe, which displaced 15,000 families and flooded a 174-kilometer section of the fertile Nile valley. And they are busy in Ghana damming the Bui Gorge to create a reservoir that will flood a quarter of the Bui National Park.

With financing unlocked, dam builders at the International Hydropower Association this month met in Kuching, in the Malaysian province of Sarawak, to herald an “upsurge in hydropower development” in Africa and elsewhere. But they could not drown out protests from local indigenous communities against dam building in the rainforest-rich Malaysian province.

And the dam industry’s cheerleading was in contrast to a meeting in Bonn, Germany, attended by 500 water scientists from around the world, which agreed that “tens of thousands of large dams” were damaging the flows and ecosystems of most of the world’s great rivers, flooding large areas of fertile river valleys, and displacing millions of people. The scientists’ meeting ended with a declaration that mismanagement of the world’s water resources could “trigger irreversible change with potentially catastrophic consequences.”

All countries face choices about balancing short-term economic growth and protecting their natural resources. But the difficulties for promoters of hydroelectric dams are complicated by the joker in the pack — climate change. Parts of Africa almost certainly face major change to rainfall and river flows in the coming decades, with important threats to the sustainability of hydro schemes.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported the Zambezi as being at special risk, with an anticipated decline in rainfall across its catchment of 10 to 15 percent. Richard Beilfuss, a hydrologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Engineering and the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique, says none of the studies
Critics say giant hydro schemes are the wrong kind of development for a largely rural continent.
for the 13,000 MW of dam projects currently proposed on the Zambezi analyze the risks of changing river flow.

But critics say that giant hydro schemes — whatever their environmental credentials, and whatever the risks from climate change — are the wrong kind of development for a still largely rural continent that lacks power grids to distribute large amounts of centrally generated energy to its inhabitants.

While the DRC talks of sending the power from Inga Falls across Africa, it remains likely that the mass of the Congolese probably won’t see any of it, since their country has no national power grid to deliver it to them and no plans to develop one. The main beneficiaries within its borders are likely to be the copper mines in the southern province of Katanga.

Critics contend the Inga Falls plan, like many other big hydro schemes on the continent, runs counter to the aims of the UN’s Sustainable Energy For All initiative, which is being promoted by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. It aims to unlock investment for connecting 1.3 billion people to electricity by 2030, while doubling the contribution of sustainable sources of energy to world supplies.

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But, says Rudo Sanyanga, the Africa director of the California-based environmental group International Rivers, there is little likelihood that mega-schemes like Inga Falls will democratize access to power. In the Congo, where only 9 percent of the population has access to the electricity grid, he says, “Grid-based electrification is not a realistic option... Billions of dollars in aid for the energy sector will once again bypass Africa’s rural poor.”

The money should be spent on decentralized power systems using solar and wind energy along with small-scale hydro schemes, says Sanyanga. “Like cell phones in the telecom sector, they can revolutionize the lives of the poor that have been bypassed by the centralized landlines and the electric grid systems.”

Building grid systems is essential to getting the power to people who need it. Most countries have created national grids for their people, before devising international links to export power. In Africa, it seems to be the other way round. For most of its citizens, Africa looks likely to remain a dark continent.