Vientiane Times, 10 May 2013
The Lao government has gained a new partner to back its hydropower development policy after the World Bank resumed its support for the construction of dams.
According to a report published in the *Washington Post *this week, the bank is making a major push to develop large-scale hydropower projects in Africa and Asia after a decade of backing away from such projects. “Large hydro is a very big part of the solution for Africa and South Asia and Southeast Asia. . . . I fundamentally believe we have to be involved, said Rachel Kyte, the bank’s vice president for sustainable development as quoted in the *Washington Post *. The earlier move out of hydro “was the wrong message. . . . That was then. This is now. We are back.”
According to the US newspaper, World Bank lending for hydropower has scaled up steadily in recent years, and officials expect the trend to continue amid a world wide boom in water-fueled electricity. Such projects were shunned in the 1990s, in part because they can be disruptive to communities and ecosystems.
But the World Bank is opening the taps for dams, transmission lines and related infrastructure as its president, Jim Yong Kim, tries to resolve a quandary at the bank’s core: how to eliminate poverty while adding as little as possible to carbon emissions.
The bank backed out of large-scale hydropower because of the steep trade-offs involved. Big dams produce lots of cheap, clean electricity, but they often uproot villages in dam-flooded areas and destroy the livelihoods of the people the institution is supposed to help.
A 2009 World Bank review of hydropower noted the “overwhelming environmental and social risks” that had to be addressed but also concluded that Africa and Asia’s vast and largely undeveloped hydropower potential was key to providing dependable electricity to the hundreds of millions of people who remain without it. “What’s the one issue that’s holding back development in the poorest countries? It’s energy. There’s just no question,” Kim said in an interview.
The World Bank and Asian Development Bank played an important role in helping Laos to develop the Nam Theun 2 dam in Khammuan province, the largest existing hydropower plant in Laos. The dam became operational in 2010.
The Lao government aims to develop dams in ways that are sustainable as part of efforts to generate revenue for poverty reduction projects. The government believes the use of dams as an energy source will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is a major problem faced by the global community.
Laos has the potential to build about 100 dams with a combined generating power of about 26,000MW. At present, Laos has only 14 dams with a combined installed capacity of about 3,200MW.