WASHINGTON, D.C. – On August 6th, the World Bank approved a $340 million USD project to build a hydroelectric plant in Africa’s Great Lakes region. The Regional Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project will utilize power from the Rusumo Falls, located between Tanzania and Rwanda. The hydroelectric plant will eventually generate 80 megawatts of electricity. The electricity generated will be distributed between Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi, and management of the hydroelectric plant will be shared amongst these three countries. This project is contingent on all three countries abiding by an U.N.-led peace deal.
Only 4 percent of Burundi’s population has access to electricity. In Rwanda the number is 13 percent and in Tanzania 15 percent. The hydroelectric plant will benefit 62 million people distributed across the three countries. In 2012 one-third of all Africa’s power was hydro-generated. However, in East Africa hydroelectric power provides a majority of electricity and is expected to reach 79% of total new generation capacity.
A stable electricity supply is essential to economic growth. Providing lower-cost and reliable energy will help stimulate these local economies. Construction on the plant and its operation will also provide jobs for citizens from the three countries. By making this a regional project, the hope is to demonstrate the positive outcomes of cross-border cooperation that may spillover into economic initiatives. While other areas of Africa have seen positive growth in the last few years, the Great Lakes region still maintains high levels of poverty and low agricultural yields.
The World Bank also hopes that the hydroelectric plant will serve as an incentive for the governments to cooperate and adhere to a peace deal. The relationship between Rwanda and Tanzania has frayed somewhat since Tanzania was put in charge of a U.N.-deployment force in the Democratic Republic of Congo, on Rwanda’s border.
Hydropower in the region does face obstacles, however. The technology requires significant funding. The Rusumo Falls Project will cost a total of USD $468.60 million. The funding for hydropower typically comes from public support, however, governments in this region do not have the capacity for such large scale projects. The World Bank will help fund a significant portion of this project.
The lack of technical expertise in the region also serves as a barrier. In order to overcome this hurdle, 30 countries in Africa have partnered with the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering in Burkina Faso to train 200 water engineers each year. Additional obstacles include drought, unrest, and poor regional cooperation.
Some aid and environmental groups worry that promoting hydroelectric power plants will put food security and rural livelihoods at risk. Minimizing the impacts on the environment will be essential to ensuring the project does not exacerbate food security problems in the region. Often the rural population living close to the river is not connected to the electric grid and therefore does not benefit from the increased electricity generated by the hydroelectric plant. The run-of-river design that this project will use is intended to limit these social and environmental impacts.
The Rusumo Falls Project is the first project of the World Bank’s USD $1billion aid commitment to the Great Lakes region. The funding comes from the World Bank’s International Development Association.
– Callie D. Coleman
Sources: Reuters, All Africa, UN, Sci Dev Net, Consultancy Africa
Photo: The African World