1 300 GW of untapped hydropower in developing countries, World Bank asserts

31st August 2010 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

The World Bank has reaffirmed its commitment to "scaling up" its support for hydropower infrastructure in developing countries, which it describes as the largest source of renewable and low-carbon energy.

This policy aspiration, which is contained in a newly published report entitled ‘Sustaining Water for All in a Changing Climate', points out that only 23% of the hydropower potential in developing countries is currently being exploited.

Countries in the Africa region were storing only about 4% of annual renewable flows, compared with 70% to 90% in many developed countries.

"The big untapped potential in developing countries amounts to more than 1 300 GW of unutilised hydropower," the report avers, noting that hydropower currently accounts for 20% of the world's electricity supply and 88% of the supply from renew¬able resources.

Author Nancy Vandycke argues that leveraging the power of water to support the transformation of the energy sector will also help to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. "Taking the links between water and energy into account will be essential for dealing with both mitigation and water scarcity."

Sustainable development vice-president Inger Andersen also reaffirmed the bank's commitment to upgrading, or building, hydraulic infrastructure, which would have "enormous" benefits for poor citizens in developing countries.

"To achieve those gains successfully we must engage with communities proactively to identify local benefits and manage and mitigate any risks associated with hydropower projects," Andersen said.

Since 2003, the World Bank Group (WBG) organisations have approved $3,7-billion for hydropower projects, with a total investment value of $8,5-billion and a capacity of 9 700 MW.

A framework for scaling up hydropower investments has also been strengthened with the 2009 publication of the WBG's ‘Hydropower Business Plan'.

In the broader water milieu, the bank expects to invest from $21-billion to $25-billion between 2010 and 2013. However, the report stresses that the projects will need to adopt a more integrated approach to link water services with water resources.

"We can't properly tackle global priorities of food security, renewable energy, adaptation to climate change, public health, and urbanisation unless we manage water better," water sector manager Julia Bucknall adds.

Therefore, besides increased support for hydropower, the bank will also pursue the following policies:
• An enhanced integrated approach to water resource management to meet growing demand for water in a climate-resilient way.
• Focus more on water for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
• Increased assistance to agricultural water management.
• And providing, with partners, improved sanitation to the 2,6-billion people who still live without it.

Water will also be increasingly mainstreamed in projects of other sectors, including environment and energy, the report reveals.