March 6, 2006

Africa Needs Balanced Energy Portfolio: WWF

JOHANNESBURG -- Africa's hydropower projects have not helped the continent's poor, with the number of people without electricity seen rising to 586 million in 2030 from 535 million, the WWF environmental body said on Monday.

WWF Global Freshwater Program's Ute Collier told a hydropower and sustainable development conference that while Africa needed reliable power supplies to stimulate economic growth, many people could miss out if no sustained effort was made to reach them.

Africa is home to a third of the world's people living without electricity, despite its vast hydropower resources.

"Hydropower has not left a legacy in can be done better," Collier said.

According to a report by the WWF, British charity Oxfam and, Africa has an estimated 290 GW economically feasible hydropower potential, but only 7 percent of that has been developed.

Countries with the largest hydropower potential included the Democractic Republic of Congo (RDC), Cameroon and Ethiopia. About 73 large hydropower projects with 20 GW capacity were in operation, with 4020 MW new hydropower plants under construction.

The proposed Grand Inga project in the DRC, which is estimated to cost about $50 billion, will be the world's largest hydropower project.

"Hydropower in Africa has not necessarily met economic expectations, either in terms of viability or in terms of meeting energy needs," said the report.

It cited the Cahora Bassa in Mozambique as one of the hydropower projects that had done little to improve access to electricity to most of the country's population.

"While notionally, this hydropower project produces more than enough electricity to power the whole of Mozambique, in reality a major part of the electricity is exported to South Africa and Zimbabwe and less than 10 percent of Mozambicans have access to electricity," the report said.

The construction of hydropower plants was also destroying ecosystems and fisheries, a major source of income for most people in the continent, it said.

The report proposed that poverty reduction should become a major focus of energy strategies and a balanced energy portfolio, given the continent's large untapped potential of both renewable and nonrenewable sources.