Opinion: Drought In Africa Casts New Light On Hydropower
From DiplomaticCourier. Story by Uju Okoye.
The worst drought in a decade, which has put at risk almost 10 percent of Southern Africa and left a record number of people in need of aid, has gone almost unnoticed.
The drought has underscored the degree to which Africa’s dependence on hydropower is both a blessing and a curse. Massive dam projects across Africa inherited from colonial times have limitations under the best of circumstances in terms of keeping up with Africa’s growing population, energy demands and economic clout.
On one hand, just 8 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s hydropower potential has been developed. A 2014 World Bank report encouraged governments to strike up private public partnerships with the mining companies driving power demand in the region. But continued plans for hydropower use by nations need to take into consideration the potential conflicts that could arise in the long run, as global warming saps water supplies across the continent. Even if water wars have yet to come to pass, simmering tensions between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt over a planned dam make it painfully clear that African countries have to seek out energy alternatives.
Given the African continent’s capacity for leapfrogging, it can and should bypass the obsolete fossil-fuel sources of the West, while engaging developed nations on long-term solutions. In Zambia, utility companies are already encouraging consumers to conserve energy, and have distributed 2 million compact fluorescent lamps while ramping up their investment in solar plants.
There are also calls for Canadian and other owners of African-based businesses, especially in the power-hungry mines devoted to extracting African resources, to support the demand they create. To the extent that foreign firms have bought and operated these businesses, often at the expense of the environment and health of local communities, they have a moral obligation to invest in the solutions.
“Energy is life,” writes the editorial staff at Zambia’s Daily Mail, aware that the power crisis in drought-stricken southern Africa is inseparable from the increasing food insecurity and economic manifestations that climate conditions have caused. “Our survival will depend on how we interact commercially on the world arena because, like water, energy is life. The application of electricity affects every aspect of human endeavor.”
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