Thursday, April 17, 2014

The twisted tale of Inga 3

(Sorry for x-postings)


The twisted tale of Inga 3
By Michael Igoe, Paul Stephens17 April 2014
 

An aerial view of the existing semi-functional Inga dam on the Congo River. A new dam, the Grand Inga Dam, is being proposed and is currently the world's largest hydropower scheme. Photo by: International Rivers. Photo by: International Rivers / CC BY-NC-SA
In the lush southwest corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a massive dam project on one of Africa's largest rivers has created a twisted tale of political maneuvering and heated debates on the tradeoffs of economic development that has tripped up foreign aid leaders in Washington as they decide whether to support a project that is hailed as a solution to Africa's "energy poverty."

World Bank President Jim Kim says the project, known as the Inga 3 base chute, the next step in what would become the largest hydropower complex in history, is exactly the type of "bold" initiative a revamped and reenergized World Bank ought to support, and he is vying for U.S. support.

The debate about whether the U.S. government — the world's largest bilateral aid donor — should support the project has mostly been waged behind closed doors. But as Kim, who was nominated for his current job by President Barack Obama, tries to negotiate U.S. support for the controversial project, he has set off fierce debates and met strong resistance from the halls of Congress.

The lack of a clear U.S. policy on the dam and other energy projects raises tough questions about how thoroughly the Obama administration has thought through its Power Africa strategy, which aims to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite the concerns, the World Bank's board of directors approved last month a $73 million loan for a project to provide the initial technical assistance to plan the construction of Inga 3.

That project would eventually cost between $9 billion and $12 billion to build and would be an important step toward construction of the Grand Inga Dam, a massive hydropower project that would cost roughly $80 billion. Its potential 40,000 megawatts of output would dwarf that of China's Three Gorges Dam and double the African continent's energy output.

"We need this power desperately in Africa," Kim said at the Council on Foreign Relations earlier this month. "Today, the combined energy usage of the billion people who live in the entire continent of Africa equals what Belgium offers to its 11 million residents. This is a form of energy apartheid that we must tackle if we are serious about helping African countries grow and create opportunities for all Africans."

"No choice" to support Inga?

The idea for a giant dam across the section of the lower Congo River known as Inga Falls — a section of rapids spanning 9 miles — is hardly new. It was first dreamt up in the early 20th century and has captured the imaginations of engineers, government officials and foreign power companies for decades.

More recently, the plan has become the focus of attention for development officials like Kim who see the possibility, with a single project, of making a huge leap toward alleviating Africa's energy poverty, a cause célèbre for development agencies and advocates — including Bono, the U2 frontman and humanitarian — which has managed to attract bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress, partially due to an emphasis on including U.S. businesses in African energy solutions.

Kim told reporters that, given the reality of climate change and the energy needs in Africa, the World Bank has "no choice" but to seriously consider supporting a plan for Inga.

Not everyone sees the Inga scheme as such a no-brainer. Many of the hurdles to such a large construction project, and concerns about whether it would actually benefit locals, remain. And if the political wrangling over the project in the United States is any indication, mega-dams like Inga are going to be at the center of the debate about the role international development institutions should play to deliver electricity to poor people around the world.

In late December, Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, tweeted a photo of himself with a smiling crowd of World Bank, U.S. and Congolese officials in front of the Inga 3 site at the end of a "great day" touring the area. Other top USAID officials — including Power Africa Coordinator Andy Herscowitz — followed suit with their own Twitter enthusiasm.


Rajiv Shah tweets about the Inga 3 site.
During the visit, Shah told a Bloomberg reporter USAID would consider contributing to the construction of the dam. The announcement raised eyebrows given USAID's avoidance of large hydropower projects elsewhere on the continent, and the fact that the DRC is not one of the countries included in the Obama administration's legacy-building Power Africa initiative.

But the massive potential of the Grand Inga scheme had obviously captured the administrator's imagination at a time when alleviating energy poverty in Africa has risen to the fore of U.S. development policy.

If the U.S. government plays a role in facilitating the successful construction of the Grand Inga dam complex, it would mean helping to generate enough megawattage in a single project for President Obama's Power Africa initiative to reach its goal.

With official development assistance representing a smaller and smaller piece of total overseas capital flows, Inga 3 — and eventually Grand Inga — is the kind of "transformational project" that opens up opportunities for aid agencies to leverage limited funds to achieve outsized gains on poverty reduction and economic growth. Not engaging on Inga 3 could appear to aid leaders like a lost opportunity to stay relevant in a rapidly changing development landscape.

U.S. officials on the defense

Since the visit, the Power Africa team has grown much quieter about Inga, and about any projects outside of the original six Power Africa countries. That's likely because Shah's comments on the Inga initiative, as vague as they may have been, quickly spurred a backlash from Capitol Hill that surprised even close observers.

That backlash came in the form of a directive, embedded deep in the omnibus spending bill for 2014, that instructed the Treasury to advise the U.S. representatives to the World Bank and other international financial institutions that "it is the policy of the United States to oppose any loan, grant, strategy or policy of such institution to support the construction of any large hydroelectric dam."

These directives, known as mandates, have become a fairly common way for members of Congress to assert their will over multilateral investment banks using the power of the purse. This one came from veteran Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who sees potential U.S. involvement in Inga 3 as a huge mistake.

U.S. foreign assistance agencies, including USAID, rely on Leahy to bankroll their programs. He is one of a few members of Congress who have been vocal in their support of a robust foreign aid budget, and he pulls funding strings as the chair of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations.

But the senator also uses his leverage as a vital foreign aid advocate to speak out against U.S. development initiatives and programs he feels do not make the grade. When USAID's "Cuban Twitter" program came to light two weeks ago, Leahy was one of its highest-profile critics, calling the idea "dumb, dumb, dumb."

Leahy holds similar views about U.S. government support for Inga 3, according to an aide who spoke with Devex about the senator's concerns.

"The Inga dam … is a classic example in a country where everything that can go wrong often does, and particularly because it could be the first of many similar projects on that river which sustains the livelihoods of millions of people," the aide told Devex, citing the potential environmental and social costs of the project.

"If you add all those factors together," the aide suggested, "it is unwise to use public funds for projects of this scale, particularly in countries where corruption is rampant and where often the electricity is either exported or sold to industry and doesn't benefit the people who need it most."

Leahy is particularly concerned, the aide noted, that the power the Inga dam will produce won't be accessible to rural residents who currently live off the energy grid. Much of the power from Inga 3 is expected to be sold to South African power offtakers or directed to DRC's industrial mining interests, which currently face a power shortage.

The project would also flood Bundi Valley in southern DRC, displacing an estimated 8,000 people, according to a U.S. government cable obtained by Wikileaks.

The mandate tucked into the 2014 omnibus spending bill was "intended to signal that the Congress wants assurance that mega-projects like this make sense in terms of the long-term economic, environmental and social costs before public funds are used."

Despite uncertainty, bank officials charge ahead

After postponing a vote for more than a month, the World Bank's board of directors approved funding on March 20, with the U.S. executive director abstaining. In the official position paper on the U.S. vote, released by the Treasury Department, the U.S. executive director's office explained that "the United States believes that given the enormous challenges associated with Inga 3, the governance and environmental risks required further mitigation as part of this TA (technical assistance) proposal."

While the paper did not cite Leahy's mandate as a reason for the abstention, it seemed to have its intended effect.

But the rest of Congress is hardly lined up behind Leahy, and the mandate the senator inserted in the omnibus bill will expire at the end of the fiscal year. Efforts to shore up future U.S. support for Inga 3 seems to be underway already. Last month, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Electrify Africa Act after inserting language that counters the Senate mandate.

While the bill doesn't mention any other form of energy specifically, it goes out of its way to say that "it is the policy of the United States ... to encourage private sector and international support for construction of hydroelectric dams in sub-Saharan Africa," albeit only ones that are in the "national security interests of the United States" and built following "international best practices" for environmental and social safeguards — another mixed message from the legislative branch.

Scott Morris, a former treasury official who oversaw U.S. relations with the World Bank and other  international financial institutions for the Obama administration, sees the lack of a clear policy on these issues as hugely detrimental to U.S. development interests.

"These are highly complex projects, and that's the very reason you need the multilateral development banks involved," Morris said, adding that backroom maneuvering like Leahy's had become increasingly frustrating.

"There's no reason that the mandate in the omnibus couldn't have been more carefully crafted instead of creating a political straight-jacket for the U.S.," he said. "And where are the hearings on these issues where we have a real airing of both sides?"

Who's going to build it?

Many feel that Inga 3 is going to happen one way or another, and that Grand Inga is too valuable a prize to go ignored indefinitely — particularly at a time when the narrative around development in Africa is shifting from one of foreign aid to one characterized by partnership and economic growth potential.

If the U.S. government and U.S. businesses remain on the sidelines of Inga development, Chinese state-supported companies, whose presence in Africa is already widely felt, could take a leading role in financing and constructing the massive dam complex. In fact, a Chinese consortium led by Sinohydro and China Three Gorges Corp. is said to be bidding for the Inga project. Much of the support for the Power Africa initiative in Congress is fueled by a desire to help U.S. companies compete against Chinese interests in Africa.

Additionally, many supporters of the project like Morris — and even some skeptics — feel the United States could play an important watchdog role through its own involvement in Inga's development. U.S. government agencies, their argumentation goes, are more likely to account for and guard against the massive potential social and economic consequences the Inga dam could entail, the types of consequences that are no stranger to those in the path of Chinese hydropower projects.

Even without official U.S. support, the World Bank's technical assistance project will go forward, but the U.S. government's lack of a clear policy on hydropower projects of this kind raises questions that extend beyond Inga's risks and into the overall strategy undergirding President Obama's Power Africa initiative.

A number of observers have raised the concern that Power Africa's leaders may be more interested in attaching the initiative's name to major power generation deals than they are in providing a realistic, operational plan for linking more African people, particularly those living in rural areas, to some kind of reliable power supply. The Inga dam project, and the USAID chief's enthusiasm for it, could reinforce some of that skepticism.

The debate continues

The battle over data on the project is sure to continue.

At a World Bank spring meeting panel last week, Vijay Iyer, a director of the bank's sustainable energy department who previously worked as the bank's task manager for Inga, reminded civil society representatives that energy poverty is hardly just a rural issue, as power generation in cities has merely kept pace with urban population growth. African cities routinely experience rolling blackouts due to energy shortages, and that inconsistent availability is a particular drain on industrial economic output and investment.

"Hydropower is perhaps the one largest source of clean affordable power than can be developed," Iyer said. "We have to see that sometimes, by not putting all the facts on the table, we do a disservice actually to the proliferation of good, cleaner solutions."

At the same event, Peter Bosshard, the president of International Rivers, an NGO, was particularly vocal in his criticism of Inga's development, referring to an Oxford University study that suggests cost valuations of the power generated by mega dams consistently fail to account for the cost and time overruns those dam projects tend to experience.

According to the Oxford study, 96 percent of mega-dam projects have costs overruns and 54 percent are not completed on time. And the potential for the Inga project to be derailed by corruption is a very legitimate concern given the DRC's weak institutions. The fact that a year ago SNC-Lavalin, a partner in one of three pre-qualified consortia that expressed interest in the project, was barred from winning World Bank contracts for 10 years due to alleged corruption in previous projects, has comforted no one.

"If Inga 3 is completed on cost and on time, it is very competitive. If it has average cost and time overruns … it ends up being very expensive," Bosshard said.

Of course giant dam projects aren't new to the World Bank, which financed dozens of large hydropower projects around the world throughout the second half of the 20th century. Those projects often became rallying points against the bank for environmental and human rights activists. Kim, in fact, got his start in international development providing health services to a community of Haitians living in extreme poverty after being displaced by a large dam that was partially financed by the World Bank.

This project would be different, Kim said in response to a question from Devex, because of the social and environmental safeguards the bank has introduced over the past 20 years and the involvement of "many stakeholders," public and private, working together.

"In other words, this will be a very different project than dam projects that have taken place before — one that I lived and worked near in Haiti for many, many years," he said.

Kim will have to hope that as the debate surrounding Inga 3 heats up, his prior experience on the front lines of dam displacement will be seen by policymakers — and residents of the Bundi Valley — as a mark of credibility, not irony.

Want to learn more about Inga or share your thoughts on it? Please leave a comment or question below or tweet @PaulDStephens and @twIgoe.
________________________________________________ You received this message as a subscriber on the list: dams@list.internationalrivers.org To be removed from the list, please visit: http://org.salsalabs.com/o/2486/unsubscribe.jsp

The twisted tale of Inga 3


The twisted tale of Inga 3
By Michael Igoe, Paul Stephens17 April 2014
 

An aerial view of the existing semi-functional Inga dam on the Congo River. A new dam, the Grand Inga Dam, is being proposed and is currently the world's largest hydropower scheme. Photo by: International Rivers. Photo by: International Rivers / CC BY-NC-SA
In the lush southwest corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a massive dam project on one of Africa's largest rivers has created a twisted tale of political maneuvering and heated debates on the tradeoffs of economic development that has tripped up foreign aid leaders in Washington as they decide whether to support a project that is hailed as a solution to Africa's "energy poverty."

World Bank President Jim Kim says the project, known as the Inga 3 base chute, the next step in what would become the largest hydropower complex in history, is exactly the type of "bold" initiative a revamped and reenergized World Bank ought to support, and he is vying for U.S. support.

The debate about whether the U.S. government — the world's largest bilateral aid donor — should support the project has mostly been waged behind closed doors. But as Kim, who was nominated for his current job by President Barack Obama, tries to negotiate U.S. support for the controversial project, he has set off fierce debates and met strong resistance from the halls of Congress.

The lack of a clear U.S. policy on the dam and other energy projects raises tough questions about how thoroughly the Obama administration has thought through its Power Africa strategy, which aims to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite the concerns, the World Bank's board of directors approved last month a $73 million loan for a project to provide the initial technical assistance to plan the construction of Inga 3.

That project would eventually cost between $9 billion and $12 billion to build and would be an important step toward construction of the Grand Inga Dam, a massive hydropower project that would cost roughly $80 billion. Its potential 40,000 megawatts of output would dwarf that of China's Three Gorges Dam and double the African continent's energy output.

"We need this power desperately in Africa," Kim said at the Council on Foreign Relations earlier this month. "Today, the combined energy usage of the billion people who live in the entire continent of Africa equals what Belgium offers to its 11 million residents. This is a form of energy apartheid that we must tackle if we are serious about helping African countries grow and create opportunities for all Africans."

"No choice" to support Inga?

The idea for a giant dam across the section of the lower Congo River known as Inga Falls — a section of rapids spanning 9 miles — is hardly new. It was first dreamt up in the early 20th century and has captured the imaginations of engineers, government officials and foreign power companies for decades.

More recently, the plan has become the focus of attention for development officials like Kim who see the possibility, with a single project, of making a huge leap toward alleviating Africa's energy poverty, a cause célèbre for development agencies and advocates — including Bono, the U2 frontman and humanitarian — which has managed to attract bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress, partially due to an emphasis on including U.S. businesses in African energy solutions.

Kim told reporters that, given the reality of climate change and the energy needs in Africa, the World Bank has "no choice" but to seriously consider supporting a plan for Inga.

Not everyone sees the Inga scheme as such a no-brainer. Many of the hurdles to such a large construction project, and concerns about whether it would actually benefit locals, remain. And if the political wrangling over the project in the United States is any indication, mega-dams like Inga are going to be at the center of the debate about the role international development institutions should play to deliver electricity to poor people around the world.

In late December, Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, tweeted a photo of himself with a smiling crowd of World Bank, U.S. and Congolese officials in front of the Inga 3 site at the end of a "great day" touring the area. Other top USAID officials — including Power Africa Coordinator Andy Herscowitz — followed suit with their own Twitter enthusiasm.


Rajiv Shah tweets about the Inga 3 site.
During the visit, Shah told a Bloomberg reporter USAID would consider contributing to the construction of the dam. The announcement raised eyebrows given USAID's avoidance of large hydropower projects elsewhere on the continent, and the fact that the DRC is not one of the countries included in the Obama administration's legacy-building Power Africa initiative.

But the massive potential of the Grand Inga scheme had obviously captured the administrator's imagination at a time when alleviating energy poverty in Africa has risen to the fore of U.S. development policy.

If the U.S. government plays a role in facilitating the successful construction of the Grand Inga dam complex, it would mean helping to generate enough megawattage in a single project for President Obama's Power Africa initiative to reach its goal.

With official development assistance representing a smaller and smaller piece of total overseas capital flows, Inga 3 — and eventually Grand Inga — is the kind of "transformational project" that opens up opportunities for aid agencies to leverage limited funds to achieve outsized gains on poverty reduction and economic growth. Not engaging on Inga 3 could appear to aid leaders like a lost opportunity to stay relevant in a rapidly changing development landscape.

U.S. officials on the defense

Since the visit, the Power Africa team has grown much quieter about Inga, and about any projects outside of the original six Power Africa countries. That's likely because Shah's comments on the Inga initiative, as vague as they may have been, quickly spurred a backlash from Capitol Hill that surprised even close observers.

That backlash came in the form of a directive, embedded deep in the omnibus spending bill for 2014, that instructed the Treasury to advise the U.S. representatives to the World Bank and other international financial institutions that "it is the policy of the United States to oppose any loan, grant, strategy or policy of such institution to support the construction of any large hydroelectric dam."

These directives, known as mandates, have become a fairly common way for members of Congress to assert their will over multilateral investment banks using the power of the purse. This one came from veteran Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who sees potential U.S. involvement in Inga 3 as a huge mistake.

U.S. foreign assistance agencies, including USAID, rely on Leahy to bankroll their programs. He is one of a few members of Congress who have been vocal in their support of a robust foreign aid budget, and he pulls funding strings as the chair of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations.

But the senator also uses his leverage as a vital foreign aid advocate to speak out against U.S. development initiatives and programs he feels do not make the grade. When USAID's "Cuban Twitter" program came to light two weeks ago, Leahy was one of its highest-profile critics, calling the idea "dumb, dumb, dumb."

Leahy holds similar views about U.S. government support for Inga 3, according to an aide who spoke with Devex about the senator's concerns.

"The Inga dam … is a classic example in a country where everything that can go wrong often does, and particularly because it could be the first of many similar projects on that river which sustains the livelihoods of millions of people," the aide told Devex, citing the potential environmental and social costs of the project.

"If you add all those factors together," the aide suggested, "it is unwise to use public funds for projects of this scale, particularly in countries where corruption is rampant and where often the electricity is either exported or sold to industry and doesn't benefit the people who need it most."

Leahy is particularly concerned, the aide noted, that the power the Inga dam will produce won't be accessible to rural residents who currently live off the energy grid. Much of the power from Inga 3 is expected to be sold to South African power offtakers or directed to DRC's industrial mining interests, which currently face a power shortage.

The project would also flood Bundi Valley in southern DRC, displacing an estimated 8,000 people, according to a U.S. government cable obtained by Wikileaks.

The mandate tucked into the 2014 omnibus spending bill was "intended to signal that the Congress wants assurance that mega-projects like this make sense in terms of the long-term economic, environmental and social costs before public funds are used."

Despite uncertainty, bank officials charge ahead

After postponing a vote for more than a month, the World Bank's board of directors approved funding on March 20, with the U.S. executive director abstaining. In the official position paper on the U.S. vote, released by the Treasury Department, the U.S. executive director's office explained that "the United States believes that given the enormous challenges associated with Inga 3, the governance and environmental risks required further mitigation as part of this TA (technical assistance) proposal."

While the paper did not cite Leahy's mandate as a reason for the abstention, it seemed to have its intended effect.

But the rest of Congress is hardly lined up behind Leahy, and the mandate the senator inserted in the omnibus bill will expire at the end of the fiscal year. Efforts to shore up future U.S. support for Inga 3 seems to be underway already. Last month, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Electrify Africa Act after inserting language that counters the Senate mandate.

While the bill doesn't mention any other form of energy specifically, it goes out of its way to say that "it is the policy of the United States ... to encourage private sector and international support for construction of hydroelectric dams in sub-Saharan Africa," albeit only ones that are in the "national security interests of the United States" and built following "international best practices" for environmental and social safeguards — another mixed message from the legislative branch.

Scott Morris, a former treasury official who oversaw U.S. relations with the World Bank and other  international financial institutions for the Obama administration, sees the lack of a clear policy on these issues as hugely detrimental to U.S. development interests.

"These are highly complex projects, and that's the very reason you need the multilateral development banks involved," Morris said, adding that backroom maneuvering like Leahy's had become increasingly frustrating.

"There's no reason that the mandate in the omnibus couldn't have been more carefully crafted instead of creating a political straight-jacket for the U.S.," he said. "And where are the hearings on these issues where we have a real airing of both sides?"

Who's going to build it?

Many feel that Inga 3 is going to happen one way or another, and that Grand Inga is too valuable a prize to go ignored indefinitely — particularly at a time when the narrative around development in Africa is shifting from one of foreign aid to one characterized by partnership and economic growth potential.

If the U.S. government and U.S. businesses remain on the sidelines of Inga development, Chinese state-supported companies, whose presence in Africa is already widely felt, could take a leading role in financing and constructing the massive dam complex. In fact, a Chinese consortium led by Sinohydro and China Three Gorges Corp. is said to be bidding for the Inga project. Much of the support for the Power Africa initiative in Congress is fueled by a desire to help U.S. companies compete against Chinese interests in Africa.

Additionally, many supporters of the project like Morris — and even some skeptics — feel the United States could play an important watchdog role through its own involvement in Inga's development. U.S. government agencies, their argumentation goes, are more likely to account for and guard against the massive potential social and economic consequences the Inga dam could entail, the types of consequences that are no stranger to those in the path of Chinese hydropower projects.

Even without official U.S. support, the World Bank's technical assistance project will go forward, but the U.S. government's lack of a clear policy on hydropower projects of this kind raises questions that extend beyond Inga's risks and into the overall strategy undergirding President Obama's Power Africa initiative.

A number of observers have raised the concern that Power Africa's leaders may be more interested in attaching the initiative's name to major power generation deals than they are in providing a realistic, operational plan for linking more African people, particularly those living in rural areas, to some kind of reliable power supply. The Inga dam project, and the USAID chief's enthusiasm for it, could reinforce some of that skepticism.

The debate continues

The battle over data on the project is sure to continue.

At a World Bank spring meeting panel last week, Vijay Iyer, a director of the bank's sustainable energy department who previously worked as the bank's task manager for Inga, reminded civil society representatives that energy poverty is hardly just a rural issue, as power generation in cities has merely kept pace with urban population growth. African cities routinely experience rolling blackouts due to energy shortages, and that inconsistent availability is a particular drain on industrial economic output and investment.

"Hydropower is perhaps the one largest source of clean affordable power than can be developed," Iyer said. "We have to see that sometimes, by not putting all the facts on the table, we do a disservice actually to the proliferation of good, cleaner solutions."

At the same event, Peter Bosshard, the president of International Rivers, an NGO, was particularly vocal in his criticism of Inga's development, referring to an Oxford University study that suggests cost valuations of the power generated by mega dams consistently fail to account for the cost and time overruns those dam projects tend to experience.

According to the Oxford study, 96 percent of mega-dam projects have costs overruns and 54 percent are not completed on time. And the potential for the Inga project to be derailed by corruption is a very legitimate concern given the DRC's weak institutions. The fact that a year ago SNC-Lavalin, a partner in one of three pre-qualified consortia that expressed interest in the project, was barred from winning World Bank contracts for 10 years due to alleged corruption in previous projects, has comforted no one.

"If Inga 3 is completed on cost and on time, it is very competitive. If it has average cost and time overruns … it ends up being very expensive," Bosshard said.

Of course giant dam projects aren't new to the World Bank, which financed dozens of large hydropower projects around the world throughout the second half of the 20th century. Those projects often became rallying points against the bank for environmental and human rights activists. Kim, in fact, got his start in international development providing health services to a community of Haitians living in extreme poverty after being displaced by a large dam that was partially financed by the World Bank.

This project would be different, Kim said in response to a question from Devex, because of the social and environmental safeguards the bank has introduced over the past 20 years and the involvement of "many stakeholders," public and private, working together.

"In other words, this will be a very different project than dam projects that have taken place before — one that I lived and worked near in Haiti for many, many years," he said.

Kim will have to hope that as the debate surrounding Inga 3 heats up, his prior experience on the front lines of dam displacement will be seen by policymakers — and residents of the Bundi Valley — as a mark of credibility, not irony.

Want to learn more about Inga or share your thoughts on it? Please leave a comment or question below or tweet @PaulDStephens and @twIgoe.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

World Bank, U.S., China Discussing Congo’s Inga Hydropower Plant

World Bank, U.S., China Discussing Congo's Inga Hydropower Plant
By Michael J. Kavanagh, Bloomberg News, April 02, 2014
www.businessweek.com/news/2014-04-02/world-bank-u-dot-s-dot-china-discussing-congo-s-inga-hydropower-plant

The World Bank is in "active negotiations" with the U.S. government to
support the Democratic Republic of Congo's $12 billion Inga 3 hydropower
project, bank President Jim Yong Kim said.

The lender, based in Washington, is providing $73 million in technical
assistance to develop the site, which could offer 4,800 megawatts of
power supply to South Africa and Congo by the beginning of the next decade.

"The U.S. is going to be a critically important partner, not only in the
sense of government participation, but there are a lot of great
companies in the United States that actually make the technology that we
need," Kim told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York yesterday,
according to a transcript on the World Bank's website.
Story: North Korea Bags $5 Million for Building Two Mugabe Statues

Congo is currently considering three groups of companies from Spain,
China and Korea to begin construction by October 2015. The government
has said it would welcome other companies that wished to join the project.

While the World Bank hasn't yet decided to support Inga 3's
construction, Kim said Africa "desperately" needed the power generated
from Inga, which could eventually produce as much as 40 gigawatts of
energy after expansion.

"It's going to be World Bank, African Development Bank, probably the
government of the United States," working on the site, Kim said. He
added that "the government of China has shown great interest in this
particular project."

"If we could get this group together, I really do think we could make it
work," he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael J. Kavanagh in Kinshasa
at mkavanagh9@bloomberg.net
________________________________________________

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World Bank, U.S., China Discussing Congo’s Inga Hydropower Plant

World Bank, U.S., China Discussing Congo's Inga Hydropower Plant
By Michael J. Kavanagh, Bloomberg News, April 02, 2014
www.businessweek.com/news/2014-04-02/world-bank-u-dot-s-dot-china-discussing-congo-s-inga-hydropower-plant

The World Bank is in "active negotiations" with the U.S. government to
support the Democratic Republic of Congo's $12 billion Inga 3 hydropower
project, bank President Jim Yong Kim said.

The lender, based in Washington, is providing $73 million in technical
assistance to develop the site, which could offer 4,800 megawatts of
power supply to South Africa and Congo by the beginning of the next decade.

"The U.S. is going to be a critically important partner, not only in the
sense of government participation, but there are a lot of great
companies in the United States that actually make the technology that we
need," Kim told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York yesterday,
according to a transcript on the World Bank's website.
Story: North Korea Bags $5 Million for Building Two Mugabe Statues

Congo is currently considering three groups of companies from Spain,
China and Korea to begin construction by October 2015. The government
has said it would welcome other companies that wished to join the project.

While the World Bank hasn't yet decided to support Inga 3's
construction, Kim said Africa "desperately" needed the power generated
from Inga, which could eventually produce as much as 40 gigawatts of
energy after expansion.

"It's going to be World Bank, African Development Bank, probably the
government of the United States," working on the site, Kim said. He
added that "the government of China has shown great interest in this
particular project."

"If we could get this group together, I really do think we could make it
work," he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael J. Kavanagh in Kinshasa
at mkavanagh9@bloomberg.net
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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Uttarakhand’s Furious Himalayan Flood Could Bury India’s Hydropower Program

[In-depth report on the Uttarakhand floods and their impacts on dam
building on Circle of Blue, with stunning images and a video feature by
SANDRP]

Uttarakhand's Furious Himalayan Flood Could Bury India's Hydropower Program
Circle of Blue, Wednesday, 02 April 2014 06:00
www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2014/world/uttarakhands-furious-himalayan-flood-bury-indias-hydropower-program/

The Uttarakhand flood exceeded every previous high-end boundary of water
surge, infrastructure failure, and survivability. At the Vishnuprayag
Hydroelectric Project on the Alaknanda River, floodwaters surged over
the 55-foot tall dam and boulders buried it in 60 feet of rubble. Click
image to enlarge.
By Keith Schneider, Circle of Blue

SRINAGAR, Uttarakhand, India – On May 24, 2003, as part a national plan
to generate more electricity from sources other than coal, Prime
Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee directed India to pursue one of the most
daring energy production campaigns in history.
Vajpayee called on his nation of more than 1 billion people to break
through corruption, bureaucracy, and its own doubts and build 162 big
hydroelectric power projects by 2025. The dams and power stations would
be capable of generating 50,000 megawatts of electricity, the equivalent
of 50 big coal or nuclear-fired power plants.
At the time, India's utility sector had the capacity to generate 108,000
megawatts – one-tenth as much as the electrical sector in the United
States. Some 27,000 megawatts, or a quarter of India's total energy
production, came from hydropower.
Vajpayee's announcement was robed in the formality and national
determination comparable to U.S. President John Kennedy's 1960s plan to
land a man on the moon and bring him back safely within a decade. Energy
sourced from moving water, Vajpayee said, was desperately needed in a
country demoralized by hourly supply disruptions, daily brownouts and
regular blackouts.
"Power is a critical input for any economic activity," the prime
minister said. "Its sufficiency is a prerequisite for speeding up
India's economic growth and improving the living standards of all our
citizens. Without power, we cannot empower our people in the economic
dimension of their lives. It is a major determinant of the quality of life."
And just like the American space program, not much was discussed in
public by the government about the extraordinary risks. Meeting the
prime minister's vision would be technically challenging and extremely
dangerous.
Almost all of the new projects — 113 dams and power stations capable of
generating 40,000 megawatts of electricity —- were planned for five
Himalayan states. Of those, 33 of the new hydropower schemes were
targeted for the high mountain valleys in Uttarakhand.

A Himalayan state north of New Delhi that 9 million people call home,
Uttarakhand shares borders with China and Nepal. The state, a little
smaller than West Virginia, is rich in perpendicular slopes, ample
water, turbulent rivers and a history of ecological chaos.

The Mountains Respond
The Himalayas are still forming, still rising — producing one of the
most active earthquake zones in the world. The fierce drenching from
annual summer monsoons erupt in regular flash floods that undermine the
soils of vertical slopes, cause monstrous landslides, and episodically
lay waste to big stretches of the region's serpentine one-way-in,
one-way-out highways. In a typical year, dozens of people drown, are
buried, or swept away by floods in India's Himalayan states.
Hubris, Climate Change Magnifies A Flood's Rampage
The Uttarakhand flood, according to the Wadia Institute for Himalayan
Geology and other scientific agencies, was caused by a convergence of
hydrological events, several of them linked to the region's changing
climate.
First was the early arrival of the annual monsoon that accelerated snow
melting, produced higher than normal rainfall, and then unleashed a
cloudburst that dumped at least 300 millimeters (12 inches) of rain on
June 16 on the Himalayan ridges that fed the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi
river basins.
The second event, a direct result of the cloudburst, was the collapse of
the banks that retained the waters of Chorabari Lake, a glacial lake fed
by rain and snowmelt that was located at 3,960 meters (13,000 feet) and
two kilometers (1.2 miles) upsteam of Kedarnath, in the Mandakini River
floodplain. Chorabari Lake, 400 meters long by 200 meters wide and up to
20 meters deep (1,300 feet long, 660 feet wide and 60 feet deep)
released all of its water in 10 minutes.
Like packs of wild dogs clamoring for blood, floodwaters tore down the
steep valleys, bounded out of the river channels, and lashed at
everything in their path. Kedarnath, Rambara, Gaurikund, much of
Sonprayag, and other villages disappeared under the deluge of water,
boulders and mud. The rivers clawed at the banks and bluffs, causing
over 100 landslides that brought down or damaged more than 1,000
kilometers of highways and caused an unknown number of hotels, homes,
shops, and government buildings to fall into the torrent.
The estimated death toll ranged from 6,000 (Government of Uttarakhand)
to 30,000 (residents and the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology). The
Indian Army and emergency and rescue crews transported tens of thousands
of stranded people to safety, many by helicopter. Under rolling masses
of clouds, it was dangerous work. Twenty rescuers died when one of the
choppers crashed.
The torrent produced consequences that no engineer anticipated and no
Uttarakhand resident had ever seen. A joint study by the World Bank and
the Asian Development Bank estimated that damage to public
infrastructure — roads, water transport, buildings — amounted to nearly
$700 million. There has been no formal estimate of the financial damage
to the state's hydropower projects.
Despite the inherent risks, India's hydro-entranced prime minister and
his aides were determined to join China, Bhutan, Nepal, and Pakistan in
turning the Himalayas into the Saudi Arabia of hydroelectric energy. In
the decade since 2003, India's hydropower ambitions magnified: 292 big
hydro projects are under construction or planned for India's Himalayan
region, according to the Central Electric Authority.
The most turbulent stretches of many Himalayan rivers are scheduled to
support five or six new dams, one every 10 kilometers or so. That's more
utility-scale installations than are planned for the world's other new
hydropower production zones – the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia,
the Amazon Basin, and the Andes mountains, according to assessments by
power authorities in those regions.

"The government wants to put dams on every river in the Himalayas," said
Prakash Nautiyal, a fisheries biologist and for decades a professor of
zoology at the Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University in this
Alaknanda River city of 150,000 residents. "You know the car culture of
Delhi and Mumbai? Bumper to bumper. That's what they want to do in the
Himalayas with dams. Bumper to bumper."
The unavoidable challenge that India's engineers and contractors
recognized but largely ignored, according to a flurry of government and
university studies dating to the early 1990s, was whether the truculent
mountain range would accept such intensive industrial intrusion. Late
last spring, at the start of the heaviest monsoon season in memory, the
Himalayas answered that question.
On June 16 and June 17, 2013 the mountains unleashed two days of
monstrous floods that killed about 6,000 people, according to estimates
from the Uttarakhand government. Survivors and researchers at the Wadia
Institute for Himalayan Geology put the death toll at 30,000. Some 800
battered bodies were recovered and 5,200 others were declared missing.
India defends the estimated death toll of 6,000 based on the
applications it reviewed and approved for compensation to families that
lost loved ones.
Residents of the Mandakini River Valley interviewed by Circle of Blue
said the number of people who died was much higher, perhaps 30,000. That
figure is supported by Kapil Kesarwani, a senior research fellow at the
Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, a prestigious government-supported
research center in Dehradun, Uttarakhand's capital.
The flooding wiped away at least six villages, buried dozens of others
in mud, wrecked over 1,000 kilometers of highways, and dumped hundreds
of buildings into the furious waters.
Maharaj Pandit, a professor in the Department of Environmental Studies
at the University of Delhi, and one of India's independent authorities
on hydropower development, was on a field research trip in mid-June when
the rains intensified along the Bhagirathi River near Gangotri, a Hindu
sacred site high up in a Himalayan pass.
Pandit heard the grind and crash of boulders knocking against each other
in the boiling water. It was a new sound, an alarm signaling urgent
danger. He gathered his team, terminated the trip, and descended as
quickly as he dared out of the mountains where bridges were washing away
and roads were vanishing in landslides.
"I had never seen the river in such a rage," Pandit said. "The river
didn't feel well that day."

Flood's Effects on Dam Construction
The June flood also may have drowned India's long campaign to diversify
its energy production with big Himalayan hydropower projects.
Circle of Blue was able to document that the flood seriously damaged at
least 10 big projects in operation and under construction in
Uttarakhand. Another 19 small hydropower projects that generate under 25
megawatts were destroyed.
The findings are based on Circle of Blue's field reporting in December
and January, state and national media dispatches, independent news
services, and trade journal notices. We were assisted by the South Asia
Network on Dams and Rivers, a non-profit advocacy group, and reports
posted on Down to Earth, an online New Delhi-based environmental news
site affiliated with the Centre for Science and Environment.
The Central and state government authorities, and private dam
developers, have said next to nothing about the extent of the damage in
news releases, on their Web sites, or in public statements. Repeated
efforts by Circle of Blue to reach business executives and government
regulators by email and phone calls were ignored.
The most heavily damaged projects, according to our findings, include:
• The 400-megawatt Vishnuprayag Hydroelectric Project, upriver from
Srinagar along the Alaknanda River, was buried beneath 20 meters of
rubble that also filled its water storage lake and likely wrecked the
mouth of the penstock, the pipe that transports water to the powerhouse
downstream.
• A second dam under construction on the Mandakini River, the
76-megawatt Phata-Byung Hydroelectric Project, washed away.
• The 99-megawatt Singoli-Bhatwari Hydroelectric Project downstream
on the Mandakini, a major tributary of the Alaknanda, was so
aggressively pummeled by boulders that big chunks of concrete were
gouged out of its base and the patches of steel reinforcing rods of two
support towers were bent like broken fingers.
• The powerhouse and turbines of the 330-megawatt Alaknanda Hydro
Power Project in Srinagar were inundated with mud and silt just weeks
before it was scheduled to begin operating.
• A landslide blocked the end of the water discharge tunnel at the
280-megawatt Dhauliganga project near the border with Nepal. The plug
caused a backup that submerged the entire turbine room constructed deep
inside the hill near the dam, causing at least $50 million in damage and
a shutdown that has still not ended, said dam operators. (See sidebar
for more damaged hydropower projects.)
The Uttarakhand flood surprised India with its fury. Energy authorities
in Asia and in North America have said the flood caused the most damage
to a nation's hydropower infrastructure since 1975, when rains from a
typhoon overwhelmed the Banqiao Dam and 61 smaller dams in central
China, killing 171,000 people.
In the history of energy disasters, the Uttarakhand flood struck the
global hydropower industry with the same force that the reactor
meltdowns at Three Mile Island (U.S. 1979), Chernobyl (Soviet Union,
1986), and Fukushima (Japan, 2011) battered the nuclear power sector.

Uttarakhand: India' s holy land
Uttarakhand is a land of religious pilgrimage. The Ganges River, India's
most sacred, forms where the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers tumble off
the snowy peaks of the Himalayas and meet in Devaprayag, 35 kilometers
(22 miles) downriver from Srinagar, a university and tourist city of
150,000 residents.
Upriver, at elevations that are snow-covered and frozen most of the
year, are the 1,000-year-old Badrinath and Kedarnath temples. They are
situated in the headwater floodplains of the Alaknanda and Mandakini
rivers. Both shrines are as holy to Hindus as the Wailing Wall is to
Jews and the Dome of the Rock is to Muslims.
The high mountain temples, difficult to reach on dangerous roads and
open just a few months a year, serve as sentinels to the magnificence
and the treachery of Uttarakhand's vertical geography.
Tens of thousands of people were in the Mandakini flood plain at the
height of the annual pilgrimage to Kedarnath temple. The hotels and
shops in the villages leading up to the shrine were filled with Hindu
pilgrims. Pilgrims also jammed Rambara, and the long footpath from that
Mandakini River town to Kedarnath.
In addition, some 7,000 to 10,000 workers were in the area carrying
pilgrims to the shrine on their mules, serving in the restaurants and
hotels, working in the hundreds of religious stalls along the way. Many
of those workers were from Nepal or neighboring countries, said
residents, and had no documentation.
They were in the direct path of the floodwaters. The destruction
unfolded quickly, and was catastrophic.
Sonprayag, a tourist village just downstream from the Kedarnath shrine,
was swept nearly clean away by floodwaters and boulders. Vicky Bhatt,
the 22-year-old owner and manager of a guesthouse, said 500 cars were
carried into the Mandakini River. At least 25 people who were hiking
down from Kedarnath and crossing a hillside just upriver were buried
when it slipped into the river.
What's left of Sonprayag now sits directly on the Mandakini's banks. The
riverbed is a new geography of immense boulders. Before the flood,
Sonprayag perched on a high bluff, and the river lay so far below — 75
meters (250 feet) by Bhatt's estimate — that it took half an hour to
reach the river's waters by foot on a narrow and steep path.
The tourist trade that supports Sonprayag has essentially dissolved to
nothing. "It's going to take three, four, five years to get back to
normal," Bhatt said. "We can't believe what happened here. All these
stones around us. The river is right there. We're still stunned by it."
Residents of the Alaknanda basin said there was a religious dimension to
the June flood. The Hindu gods, they said, were angry with the tourist
trade, intense and growing, in a region of such splendid spiritualism.
The case for the religious connection also is strengthened, they said,
by two events involving sacred shrines.
North of Srinagar, the lake filling up behind the new Alaknanda
hydropower dam required the owners to build a concrete platform high
enough to keep Dhari, the goddess of power, dry. Dhari is named for an
Alaknanda River village and is a noted Hindu shrine. On the day that
Dhari was placed on the new platform, June 16, the cloudburst opened on
the Himalayan ridges above the Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers, setting
off the calamitous flood.
The same day, the torrent of water pushed a huge boulder down the
Mandakini valley toward Kedarnath. The rock, as big as a truck trailer,
slipped sideways and stopped mere feet from the rear of the Kedarnath
shrine. The boulder was long enough and heavy enough to serve as a
floodwall, diverting the water and debris around the shrine; it saved
one of Hinduism's most sacred sites and dozens of people inside who'd
sought shelter.
"The disaster is a costly wake-up call," said Peter Bosshard, the policy
director at International Rivers, a California based non-profit research
and river protection group that primarily operates in Asia, Africa, and
Latin America. "It shows that nature will strike back if we disregard
the ecological limits of fragile regions like the Himalayas through
reckless dam building and other infrastructure development. We can only
expect such disasters to happen more frequently under a changing climate."

Court Intervention
India's Supreme Court reached essentially the same conclusion. Last
August 13, eight weeks after the flood, two Supreme Court judges, ruling
in a case involving the 330-megawatt Alaknanda Hydro Power Project,
issued an order that indefinitely prohibited the Central and state
governments from granting any more permits for hydroelectric projects in
Uttarakhand. The order essentially shut down new hydropower development
in India's 27th state.
"We are very much concerned about the mushrooming of a large number of
hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand and its impact on the Alaknanda
and Bhagirathi river basins," wrote Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and
Dipak Misra. "Various studies also indicate that in the upper Ganga
area, there are large and small hydropower projects. The cumulative
impact of those project components like dams, tunnels, blasting, muck
disposal, mining, deforestation, etc. on the ecosystem has yet to be
scientifically examined."
The Supreme Court's intervention also came with a directive to the
Ministry of Environment and Forests, the principal regulatory agency, to
form a special commission to study the safety and merits of continuing
with constructing dams in India's most important hydropower state.
The commission, appointed last year, is unlikely to issue its
conclusions until after the national election results are announced in
mid-May. Those findings, and their implementation, also are likely to be
overseen by the National Green Tribunal, a four-year-old panel of senior
jurists that rules on India's big environmental cases.
In August, two weeks after the Supreme Court order, the Tribunal said it
would hear a case involving flood damage that citizens in Srinagar said
was amplified by the Alaknanda hydropower dam. The Tribunal also is
monitoring repairs and construction at the damaged Vishnuprayag dam. The
Tribunal's presence is a clear indication that its jurists will closely
follow other legal and regulatory aspects of the disaster.

A Long History of Water-Powered Electricity
India's experience with hydroelectric energy is among the longest in the
world. In 1897, just two years after the world's first hydroelectric
power station opened at Niagara Falls, in the United States, British
engineers built the 130-kilowatt Sidrapong Power Station near
Darjeeling, in northeast India near the border with Bhutan. It was
India's first water-powered electrical generating plant.
In 1947, when India gained its independence, 508 megawatts of the
country's 1,362 megawatts of electrical generating capacity were gained
from hydropower, or 37 percent. Most of the remaining 756 megawatts of
generating capacity, or 55 percent, came from coal combustion.
Jawaharlal Nehru, India's prime minster from 1947 to 1964, encouraged
dam construction as a symbol of modernization and rapid
industrialization. The Hirakud Dam, completed in 1957 along the Mahanadi
River in eastern India, has 307.5 megawatts of generating capacity and
is one of the longest dams in the world.
Other Damaged Dams
Along with the operational hydropower projects damaged by the 2013
flood, a number of big projects under construction were bullied by the
furious waters, some so badly they may never be built.
The 520-megawatt Tapovan-Vishnugad dam, under construction on an
Alaknanda River tributary and seriously damaged last year by a flash
flood, was hit again. The tunnel carrying water to the powerhouse,
finished in April 2013, was washed away in June, according to a report
in a hydropower trade magazine.
Just upriver, the 171-megawatt Lata Tapovan project, under construction
and approaching its 2017 opening, was overrun by floodwaters that
damaged concrete work and forced at least a year-long delay in its
commissioning. The delay could grow longer because the highway network
is so broken and unstable it is unsafe to transport heavy equipment that
is needed for repairs.
Both of the Maneri Bhali projects on the Bhagirathi River were damaged.
The 25-year-old Maneri I dam, with a 99-megwatt generating capacity, and
the 304-megawatt dam that opened in 2008, were hit hard enough for walls
to collapse.
Heavy rains also affected dams in other regions of Uttarakhand including
the Banbasa project on the Sarda River in eastern Uttrakhand near Nepal.
Devandra Singh, an assistant engineer with the National Hydroelectric
Power Corporation, told reporters that dam operators opened the
floodgates after water upstream swelled to 544,000 cubic feet per
second, higher than the previous record of 522,000 cubic feet per
second. Officials said 48 people died in villages in Nepal and in Uttar
Pradesh, an Indian state that shares a border with Uttarakhand. Half a
million people in Uttar Pradesh also were driven from their homes by the
flood.
Nehru was enthralled by the 225.5-meter (740 feet) Bhakra Nangal dam in
Himachal Pradesh, for decades India's tallest dam. During a visit to the
dam in 1956, one of 10 he made to view construction and to dedicate the
dam in 1963, Nehru declared, "Bhakra, the new temple of resurgent India,
is the symbol of India's progress."
Yet building dams at the pace India's government long sought proved
elusive. It wasn't that India's leadership lacked resolve. In the 1970s,
India established the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation to focus
the national government's technical and financial attention on building
hydroelectric dams. Between 1975, when the agency was founded, and 1985,
water-generated electricity capacity grew to 14,460 megawatts, almost
7,500 megawatts more than when the new agency was formed. Still,
hydropower fell to less than 30 percent of the country's generating
capacity.
Not satisfied, India's energy and finance authorities approved a more
aggressive hydropower development policy, approving a new Electricity
Act in 1998 that led in 2003 to an updated law and Prime Minister
Vajpayee's hydropower initiative. Both were established as India was
opening its economy to foreign investors and as its leaders eyed the
energy-sucking whirlwind in neighboring China as an economic growth
model to emulate.
The Central Electric Authority estimated that 50,000 new megawatts was
just a third of India's potential hydropower generating capacity of
150,000 megawatts, more than all but three other nations – China, Brazil
and Canada.
New financing, subsidies, and permitting protocols were established to
encourage the construction. India's prime minister and The Ministry of
Power, the energy development agency, promoted the idea that hydropower
would account for 40 percent of India's total generating capacity. On
paper, and in the glare of intense media attention, the development plan
seemed ambitious but achievable.

Uttarakhand – Land of Big Water Projects
More than half of the hydropower generating capacity announced in 2003
was to come from just two states. Uttarakhand, then named Uttaranchal
until it became India's 27th state, was the focus of 33 projects and
5,282 megawatts of generating capacity. Arunachal Pradesh, which borders
China, Bhutan, and Myanmar in India's Northeast region, was set for 42
projects and 27,293 megawatts.
The first four years of the hydropower expansion, 2003 through 2006,
went well. Generating capacity nationally jumped sharply to 34,654
megawatts, an increase of 7,654 megawatts in capacity. That was close to
the 11,000 megawatts of new generating capacity from coal-fired power
plants during the same period.
Global Confrontation Over Water and Energy
Intense national programs designed to meet growing global demand for
energy are creating a number of mammoth and dangerous energy production
zones. As Circle of Blue and the Wilson Center have reported since 2010
in our Global Choke Point Project, tapping those zones yields urgent
contests over fresh water supplies, environmental and economic security,
and public safety.
India is a player in the swirl of these new global energy, water, and
food trends. Last year, in our first reports from the Choke Point: India
project, Circle of Blue described how India's policy of providing free
energy and water to farmers produced massive grain surpluses that rot in
storage facilities in the northwest Punjab region. Meanwhile, so much
energy is wasted moving water with electric pumps that the country is
unable to mine enough coal in its eastern states, causing fuel shortages
in thermal electrical power industry.
India's response to that is not to ask farmers to pay for water and
electricity, a change that would temper demand for energy and for water,
and ease food surpluses. Rather, India is building highly complex
hydroelectric production facilities in the treacherous alpine valleys of
the world's tallest and most perilous mountains.
Circle of Blue and the Wilson Center, its Global Choke Point research
partner, also have reported on the fierce global contest for energy and
water in these production zones:
Tar sands mining in Alberta, Canada, and fracking deep shales in the
U.S. to produce new streams of oil and natural gas come with manifest
evidence of serious damage to land and to water.
So much oil-fueled power is needed to convert seawater to fresh water in
the Arabian Gulf that several studies, including one by the Qatar
Foundation, predict that desalination is a factor in the enormously
unsettling economic prospect that Saudi Arabia will cease to be an oil
exporter by the early 2030s.
A serious contest for scarce water between livestock herders and mining
companies has developed in Mongolia's energy-rich South Gobi desert.
China's Yellow River Basin, a desert region that produces most of the
nation's coal and a fifth of its grain, will run out of water by the
early 2020s unless energy and farm production practices undergo
formative changes.
Australia was gripped by a 12-year drought in the Murray-Darling Basin,
its primary food production region, that started in the late 1990s.
While the big dry unfolded Australia installed courageous, expensive,
and pioneering water conservation equipment, farm production practices,
and policy designed to limit the consequences of the next big episode of
water scarcity.
In the United States, a severe drought in Texas prompted voters last
November to approve a $2 billion bond to support water conservation and
water supply measures. The federal and California state governments this
year agreed to spend $2 billion in relief to aid farmers and cities
affected by a three-year drought, and state lawmakers are proposing a $7
billion to $9 billion bond for equipment and construction to improve how
the state stores, transports, and conserves fresh water.
Uttarakhand emerged as the most important state for new dams and power
stations. In 2005 and 2006, three big hydropower facilities opened, with
generating capacity of 1,680 megawatts, or more than a fifth of the
country's new hydro capacity.
But the years from 2007 to 2013 were much more difficult for India's
hydroelectric construction sector. Generating capacity rose to 39,941
megawatts by the end of March 2013, an increase of 5,287 megawatts in
six years, or less than 1,000 megawatts of new generating capacity
annually. During the same six-year period, India's overall generating
capacity from utilities grew to 223,343 megawatts — a 90,000-megawatt
jump, driven principally by 60,000 megawatts of new coal-fired
generating capacity.
The causes of the slowdown in hydropower development are numerous,
according to assessments by the Central Electric Authority, the Ministry
of Power, engineering studies and hydro trade association journals. The
difficulty in securing financing for projects that typically range from
a low end of $500 million to well over $1 billion, and to move proposals
through India's suffocating permitting bureaucracy, added time and
expense. The size of the projects, the extent of land needed for water
storage, the numbers of people to be moved, along with the considerable
harm to fisheries and local ecology, generated a fierce civic opposition
movement, particularly in Uttarakhand and in Arunachal Pradesh.
Then came the forbidding technical difficulties of building and
operating big hydroelectric schemes in the Himalayas. They baffled
engineers and managers. Constructing a big dam in the Himalayas, it
turned out, was as difficult a feat of engineering, design,
construction, and industrial management as exists on the planet.
Flash floods wrecked construction schedules and added costs. Landslides
buried equipment. It has taken years for engineers and designers to
fully understand and deal with the exceptionally high concentrations of
mud, silt, and grit carried by Himalayan rivers. The load of
ragged-edged grains of quartz and feldspar constantly overwhelm settling
basins, and chew up pipes and turbines.
Stories of epic episodes of engineering and construction have become
part of the Himalayan narrative. In Himachal Pradesh, west of
Uttarakhand, the owners of the 1500-megawatt Nathpa Jhakri Power scheme
on the Satluj River finally opened six generating turbines in 2004 after
11 years of construction.
The project was a study in Job-like calamity and persistence. In 1993,
just as construction began, a rockslide caused by the monsoon demolished
the construction site. Flash floods struck in 2000. In its first years
of operation so much silt clogged the dam's power turbines that the
plant was shut down for weeks at a time. New coatings on metal parts, an
increase in the height of the dam, and revised operating procedures have
helped since.
India's power authorities and engineers insist they recognize and can
manage the risks. Hydropower sector executives say opponents of dam
construction are exaggerating the potential harm.
"There has been considerable environmental awakening in India during
the past 25 or so years," wrote Chetan Pandit, a hydropower specialist
and former official in India's Central Water Commission, in an email to
Circle of Blue. "We did realize that there was a need and scope to
improve the performance of our river valley projects on environmental
and social counts. India responded to this requirement by enacting
several laws and rules that stipulated an exacting scrutiny of the
project design before it was granted environmental clearance. This was a
welcome move. But the downside of it was, some enterprising young people
saw in this an opportunity to earn a livelihood by opposing all
infrastructure, and that includes river valley projects."

Warnings Ignored
Concern about the safety of the new Himalayan dams didn't come just from
uninformed opponents. In 1996, a report on the Himalaya's changing
ecology by the Center for Science and Environment, the New Delhi-based
research group, said: "The Himalayan mountains constitute an ecological
system naturally primed for disaster. The deep gorges through which the
Himalayan rivers flow convey the impression that the Himalayan valleys
would never face floods. Yet these very channels often fail to contain
the fury of disastrous floods. Among the most affected valleys are the
Alaknanda and Bhagirathi valleys of the Garhwal Himalaya."
In 2007, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
noted that the Himalayas were among the regions most affected by the
warming atmosphere, a point supported two years later by India's
Ministry of Environment and Forests.
A 2009 report on the risk of floods in Uttarakhand by India's
Comptroller and Auditor General warned that "audit scrutiny of project
records revealed that no specific measures had been planned/designed in
any project to cope with the risk of flash floods. The adverse
consequences of such floods are acute as they cannot only damage the
project structures, but can cause loss of life in low-lying downstream
areas."
In 2012, a study commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and Forests
recommended that 24 of 39 hydropower projects proposed for Uttarakhand
be suspended because of the havoc they would cause for fisheries, and
the region's environment. The Ministry did not act on the recommendation.

Run-of-River Water Diversion Projects
Most, but not all of the new dams built and planned in Uttarakhand, are
compact in design and meant to be built in high mountain locations. They
are based on an old and familiar technology called "run-of-river."
In such projects, a dam – known in India as a barrage – diverts a
portion of a river's flow to a headpond created by the dam. A canal or
pipe (known as a head race tunnel) directs the stored water through
mountains to turbines in the powerhouse, which is often many kilometers
downstream and much lower in elevation. The kinetic energy that develops
from the falling water and the pressure in the pipe turns turbines and
produces substantial energy. The water then flows back to the river.
The commission appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests was
directed by the Supreme Court to study whether the run-of-river projects
amplified the flood's damage, as critics of Himalayan dams assert. The
blasting associated with building dams and the long water transport
tunnels, say residents interviewed by Circle of Blue, caused cracks in
the foundations of their homes and destabilized already unstable
hillsides. Indian environmental groups say that the flood scoured
riverbanks where dam construction companies stored huge piles of dirt,
mud, and stones – the spoils of excavation. The National Green Tribunal
is reviewing whether flood damage in Srinagar was heightened by spoils
piles that washed downriver from the Alaknanda hydropower station.
That same year, Uttarakhand's own Disaster Management Department
finished a report that documented the causes and aftermath of a flash
flood in the upper reaches of the Bhagirathi River. The disaster, on
August 3-4, 2012, was a virtual dress rehearsal for the much bigger
flood 10 months later.
Like the 2013 flood, the Bhagirathi flood was triggered by a big monsoon
cloudburst. The raging waters and landslides killed 35 people. The
highway and mountain road network in the Bhagirathi basin was heavily
damaged and thousands of people were stranded for weeks.
The authors of the government report found "widespread devastation in
the district and even the district headquarters was not spared by the
fury of nature. Heavy precipitation and ensuing flash flood resulted in
washing off of a number of vehicular and pedestrian bridges."
No official heed was paid to these and other studies that clarified
hazards from floods and landslides. Instead, the Central Government and
Uttarakhand authorities ardently pursued construction of big dams with
generating capacity above 25 megawatts, and of many more small dams that
generated less than 25 megawatts.
In 2008, the 304-megawatt Maneri Bhalli II project opened on the
Bhagarithi River, more than halfway up the turbulent course to its
source in the Himalayas.
In 2012, the 400-megawatt Koteshwar project, featuring a 97-meter tall
(318 feet) concrete dam, opened on the Bhagarithi River, 22 kilometers
(14 miles) downstream from the 1,000-megawatt Tehri Dam, which opened in
2006 and, at 260 meters (855 feet), is India's tallest dam.
Of the 7,200 megawatts of new hydro generating capacity that India
developed from 2006 to 2013, 2,384 megawatts was opened in Uttarakhand,
or 32 percent. Of the 21 big hydropower stations commissioned in India
since 2006, five opened in Uttarakhand. A sixth big project, the
330-megawatt Alaknanda Hydro Power Project here opened on March 5, 2014,
six months after its scheduled start. The June 2013 flood inundated its
power station and jammed the turbines with muck.
Uttarakhand also is the site of India's most aggressive plan for future
hydropower development. Five other big dams and 35 projects fewer than
25 megawatts each are under construction. If completed, they'll add
1,866 megawatts of capacity from large dams, and 180 megawatts from
small projects. Moreover, India's newest Five-Year plan (2012 – 2017)
for energy development urges Uttarakhand to build 24 more big dams by
2017 to generate 6,858 megawatts of electricity.
In short, before the flood, Uttarakhand's hydroelectric development
program was rivaled in Asia only by China's Himalayan provinces.

Whether that remains the state of hydro affairs is not at all secure.
There are five big dams under construction in Uttarakhand. It's unclear
if those facilities will be commissioned. A storm of bureaucratic
decision making, financial shortfalls, engineering challenges, and the
Supreme Court's expert commission findings can be drawn into a
convincing case that India won't meet its ambitious timeline in
Uttarakhand, or in the other Himalayan states.
"The Supreme Court of India ordered the Ministry of Environment and
Forests to constitute an expert committee to re-examine certain
environmental aspects of the hydro power projects in Uttarakhand,
including to examine whether the hydro power projects in any way
contributed to the floods," said Chetan Pandit in an email. "Pending the
report by this committee, the court has put a ban on giving further
environmental clearances, which has affected 24 ongoing projects.
Whether these projects will survive, or whether these will be
terminated, will depend to a great extent on the report this committee
submits."
The Supreme Court's intervention exemplifies the intensifying and
conflicting response to the Uttarakhand disaster by India's political
infrastructure. On January 31, 2014, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay
Bahugunah resigned at the insistence of his Congress Party leadership,
who said his inept management of the rescue and relief operations was
unacceptable.
A month before, in December 2013, Jayanthi Natarajan resigned under
pressure as head of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. India's
senior leadership, according to press accounts, were dismayed by the
slow pace for reviewing and approving permits for big industrial
projects, including for hydroelectric schemes. She was replaced by
Veerappa Moily, a senior leader of the Oil and Petroleum Ministry, and a
proponent of hydroelectric development.
In interviews, high government officials said they anticipated that
neither the Uttarakhand disaster, nor the findings of the Ministry of
Environment and Forests study commission, would significantly alter
India's strategy of aggressive Himalayan hydropower development. H.L.
Bajaj, the former chairman of the Central Electric Authority, said the
risks of India's hydropower strategy are worth the gain of securing more
electricity. "Perhaps we will make adjustments to designing hydro
schemes," Bajaj said in an interview in his New Delhi office. "I don't
foresee that India will stop building these projects."
Ram Prasad Lal, a director in the India Meteorological Department,
asserted that until the June flood — what he called a "100-year event" —
hydro schemes had proved resilient to heavy Himalayan rainfall.
Opponents to Himalayan hydropower dams questioned that view. They said
that the numbers of dams being washed out of high Himalayan valleys is
increasing. Floods in Nepal in 1981 and 1985 destroyed new hydroelectric
projects. Two dams were lost in a 1982 flood in Bhutan. Two more dams
washed away in Arunachal Pradesh in the last decade, according to Partha
Jyoti Das, programme head at Aaaranyak, a science research organization
in Guwahati, and co-author of an influential report on the hazards of
Himalayan hydropower projects. "It's becoming more common in this
region. People just don't hear about these disasters," said Das.
Nine months after the Uttarakhand disaster, India's regulatory and power
development agencies ardently pursue construction, permits, and
financing for more big hydro projects in four other Himalayan states,
and for at least two projects in Bhutan. One hydro scheme under
construction since 2007, the 330-megawatt Kishanganga Hydroelectric
Project on the Kishanganga River in Jammu and Kashmir, prompted a
dispute with Pakistan, which is concerned about the water diverted from
the river for generating power.
Pakistan brought a case to the Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration,
which ruled last year that India was entitled to just a minimal flow for
electricity. How that ruling affects India's relationship with Pakistan,
or the generating capacity of a project due to be completed in 2016, is
a new facet of the ecological and diplomatic tumult India's hydropower
strategy is now generating.

More Seasons of Menace
In December and January, the dry season in Uttarakhand, the Alaknanda
and Mandakini Rivers are clear and blue with no angry crest at all. Yet
both rivers, and several more affected by the June flood, reflect the
grimness of what happened, and the strain of what could easily happen
again later this year.
The road transport network is not fully repaired. Transportation is so
difficult, newspapers reported in February, that 1,200 tons of food
could not be distributed and rotted in place. Hundreds of people are
homeless.
The gathering danger is not close to being lifted from Uttarakhand's
magnificent and hardened Himalayan valleys. So much silt and mud and
boulders washed off the hillsides during the June 2013 flood that they
filled the riverbeds. The rivers of the Alaknanda and Bhaghirati basin
run now on new bottoms that are 5 to 35 meters higher than they were
before the flood, according to residents and the Geological Survey of India.
That means that unless rubble is removed, which amounts to a monumental
and costly excavation project that has not started, the approaching 2014
monsoon this summer will easily overflow river banks and could cause
more terrible flood damage to dams and to communities. The Himalayas,
like a daredevil avenger, is exacting its vengeance with lingering
seasons of menace.
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Friday, March 21, 2014

Villagers count cost of Chinese dam project in Myanmar

Villagers count cost of Myanmar dam project
By Michael Peel in Paunglaung
Financial Times March 21, 2014
www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/edc7a794-aff1-11e3-b0d0-00144feab7de.html?siteedition=intl#axzz2wdKPWI4H

The looming flood in Myanmar's Paunglaung river valley has forced
thousands of residents out to higher ground, leaving behind deserted
bamboo buildings where the only sign of life is the haunting toll of
cowbells.

A Chinese-backed dam downstream is due within months to shut its gates
and start submerging more than 20 villages here, in a project that will
power Myanmar's purpose-built capital city – and add to the dispute over
the fast-opening nation's future.

"We have never felt like this before," said Ma Khin Oo Wai, 24, whose
family had to leave their rice farm and are now making a living weaving
baskets and gathering wood in a new settlement up in the hills. "I don't
know what effect this will have on the country – but for our village
this is a serious setback."

Opponents of the Upper Paunglaung development and dozens of other
planned dams scattered around Myanmar claim the damage will be too great
and the benefits too small from this energy bonanza at one of Asia's
richest hydroelectric frontiers. However, supporters say the dams offer
an unpalatable but unavoidable answer to electricity shortages that
plague citizens and curb the ambitions of a nation emerging from decades
of insular military dictatorship.

"The economic development of this country is going to come at a huge
social and environmental cost," said Richard Horsey, an independent
Yangon-based analyst. "It's easy and nice to say these dams are bad,
which they are – but, at a certain point, the alternatives may be worse."

The Upper Paunglaung dam is part of the three-year-old quasi-civilian
government's strategy to focus on the country's little-exploited
estimated 100,000 megawatt hydroelectric potential, which is roughly
equivalent to the installed electricity capacity of the UK. Myanmar's
great waterways – including the Irrawaddy and Salween rivers – are seen
as a way to bridge a power gap that cripples companies with power losses
and has left more than four in five rural people without network
electricity, according to the Asian Development Bank.

But the plan has stuttered forward so far, with some projects delayed or
cast into doubt because they are in areas of conflict between the
government and ethnic militias. Many of the sites are shut off in
security zones guarded by a military put on still higher alert by
incidents such as a mysterious bomb attack in December that killed three
people not far from the planned Kunlong dam.

Other hydroelectric projects are provoking protest because some of their
production is likely to be sent to energy-hungry neighbours such as
Thailand and, especially, China. In a case that resonated nationwide,
the Myanmar government responded to demonstrations in 2011 by
indefinitely suspending work on the Myitsone dam in the far north of the
country, whose contractors included the state China Power Investment
Corporation.

"People in other regions protest against these projects and they are
postponed or cancelled," U Kyaw Mint, 49, a village head in the
Paunglaung river community of Khan Hla, or "Good Fortune" noted
wistfully. "But we say nothing and it goes ahead."

Upper Paunglaung's 140MW generating capacity is tiny compared with some
proposed dams – such as the towering 7,100MW Tasang – but the project
foreshadows some bigger brewing battles. Built by a consortium including
China's Yunnan Machinery Equipment Import & Export Company and AF Group
of Switzerland, it is the second in a pair of dams in an area of
spectacular beauty in the hinterland of the wide but still near-deserted
highways of Naypyidaw, capital since 2005.

The dam is a shock to local people who fish in the gently rippling
Paunglaung river or farm in the lee of the hills ripe with stories of
animist spirits, such as the region's fabled green ghosts. Relocated
farmers say the hillside areas they now till are much less accessible
and fertile than their former valley paddies, causing food shortages
they fear will worsen.

"I do not like that situation, as we will become bandits among us,"
lamented U Aye Maung, 59, who said he only had 40 bags of rice in store
for this year, barely half what his family needed. "Sometimes I foresee
that one house will steal from another – and I will also steal from
others, and we will hit each other with sticks and kill each other with
swords."

Villagers still nervous of criticising government after generations of
repression say they have been given some compensation, new land and a
water supply piped down from the mountains, but still have no network
electricity – and have access only to a basic school and no hospital.

"Government is like our father, and we can't go against our father,"
confided one local man, tacitly referencing the historic intimidation
and rights abuses locals and activists say took place after the then
military junta launched the Paunglaung project a decade ago. "But we
pray that maybe there are technical problems with this project, so that
the dam breaks."

Myanmar government officials point to the money and services already
delivered to the Paunglaung river communities and say more will follow.
The dam companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

For now, villagers in the Paunglaung area are waiting for the waters –
and wondering just what they will get back for a sacrifice that will be
demanded from more of their fellow citizens as their country changes.

"We heard that they will provide us electricity, but that will be the
only benefit for the village." said Moe Aung, 18, as he gathered with
friends clad in Arsenal, Liverpool and Barcelona shirts for a
valedictory football match on a pitch they have played on since
childhood. "Apart from that, the rest will be negative".
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China rivers at the brink of collapse

China rivers at the brink of collapse
CGIAR Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog, March 21, 2014
by Peter Bosshard
http://wle.cgiar.org/blogs/2014/03/21/china-rivers-brink-collapse/

China's rulers have traditionally derived their legitimacy from
controlling water. The country ranks only sixth in terms of annual river
runoff, but counts half the planet's large dams within its borders. A
new report warns that dam building has brought China's river ecosystems
to the point of collapse.

Since the 1950s, China has dammed, straightened, diverted and polluted
its rivers in a rapid quest for industrialization. Many of these
projects had disastrous environmental, social and economic impacts. The
Sanmenxia Dam on the Yellow River for example flooded 660 square
kilometers of fertile land and displaced 410,000 people. Yet because it
silted up rapidly the project only generates power at one sixth of its
projected capacity.

In the new millennium, the Chinese government realized that its ruthless
dam building program threatened to undermine the country's long term
prosperity and stability. In 2004, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao suspended
dam construction on the Nu (Salween) and the Jinsha (upper Yangtze)
rivers, including a project on the magnificent Tiger Leaping Gorge. The
government created fisheries reserves and strengthened environmental
guidelines. In 2011, it even acknowledged the "urgent environmental
problems" of Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, the world's largest
hydropower project.

The growing climate crisis ended the period of relative caution in
building dams. At the climate summit of Copenhagen in 2009, the Chinese
government committed to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by
40-45% by 2020. As a consequence, the government launched a relentless
new dam building effort under its 12th Five-Year-Plan (2011-15).

The current plan commits to approving 160 megawatts of new hydropower
capacity by 2015 - more than any other country has built in its entire
history. It prioritizes 50 large hydropower plants on the Jinsha (upper
Yangtze), Yalong, Dadu, Lancang (upper Mekong), Yarlung Tsangpo
(Brahmaputra) and upper Yellow River. The plan also authorizes the
construction of five of the 13 dams on the Nu (Salween) River which the
government had stopped in 2004.

Alarmed by the pace of renewed dam building, experts from Chinese
environmental organizations have come together to prepare what they call
the "last report" on China's rivers. The report, which was completed in
February 2014, highlights four main problems with the current wave of
hydropower development:

. Dams are seriously degrading China's freshwater ecosystems. They
are drying up rivers and lakes, inundate fertile floodplains, and
compromise the capacity of rivers to clean themselves. As a result, the
Three Gorges and other reservoirs have been turned into waste dumps, at
times exploding in toxic algae blooms. The Chinese river dolphin, which
ploughed the waters of the Yangtze for 20 million years, has become
extinct, and other freshwater species are under threat. Fish sanctuaries
created to mitigate the impacts of dam building exist on paper only, or
have been curtailed to allow space for more dams.

. Dams impoverish poor communities further. According to former Prime
Minister Wen Jiabao, dam building has displaced 23 million people in
China. Displaced populations are frequently cheated and bullied by
corrupt local officials, and the promised jobs or replacement lands
often don't materialize. Land conflicts have become the primary cause of
social unrest in China. As dam building moves upstream into mountain
areas, ethnic minorities are particularly affected by displacement.

. Reservoirs are destabilizing geologically fragile river valleys,
create frequent landslides, and compound earthquake risks. Scientists
suggest that the Zipingpu Dam in Sichuan may have triggered the Wenchuan
earthquake, which killed at least 69,000 people in May 2008. Dam
cascades in the seismically active valleys of southwest China are a
particular concern for triggering and being impacted by earthquakes.

. The decision-making process is in disarray, and government
regulations are no match for the new dam building rush. Integrated river
basin plans and environmental impact assessments are almost always
carried out after dam construction starts. Large projects such as the
Xiluodu and Xiangjiaba dams even began their construction phase before
they received their final approval. In the face of such abuses, no
channels for effective public consultation and participation exist.

The authors of the new report point out that China's energy intensity is
7 times higher than Japan's and 2.8 higher than India's. Energy
intensive and polluting industries continue to suffer from
over-capacity. A less energy-intensive development path will be required
to relief the pressure on China's ecosystems. In the meantime, the
authors propose a system of "ecological redlines" that could protect
critical ecosystems from being dammed.

According to the first national water census carried out in 2013, China
lost 28,000 of its estimated 50,000 rivers within a few decades. The
"speed of current hydropower dam construction", the authors of the new
report warn, "will bring unexpected, irreversible and unbearable
consequences" to the country's remaining rivers. Unless the government
takes urgent action, the new report may become the epitaph for China's
rivers.

About the Author: Peter Bosshard is the Policy Director of International
Rivers.

This blog post is featured alongside responses to the question "Should
we build more large dams" as part of a series of responses for World
Water Day 2014 at
http://wle.cgiar.org/blogs/2014/03/21/asked-answered-build-large-dams/.
The new China rivers report is available at
www.internationalrivers.org/node/8262.
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