Category Archives: Water Projects (PPP, ODA, IOs)

The World Bank is Bringing Back Big, Bad Dams


A renewed focus on mega-dams will make matters worse in Africa and benefit companies, not people. (Guardian)

The big, bad dams of past decades are back in style.

In the 1950s and ’60s, huge hydropower projects such as the Kariba, Akosombo and Inga dams were supposed to modernise poor African countries almost overnight. It didn’t work out this way. As the independent World Commission on Dams found, such big, complex schemes cost far more but produce less energy than expected. Their primary beneficiaries are mining companies and aluminium smelters, while Africa‘s poor have been left high and dry.

The Inga 1 and 2 dams on the Congo River are a case in point. After donors have spent billions of dollars on them, 85% of the electricity in the Democratic Republic of Congo is used by high-voltage consumers but less than 10% of the population has access to electricity. The communities displaced by the Inga and Kariba dams continue to fight for their compensation and economic rehabilitation after 50 years. Instead of offering a shortcut to prosperity, such projects have become an albatross on Africa’s development. Large dams have also helped turn freshwater into the ecosystem most affected by species extinction.

Under public pressure, the World Bank and other financiers largely withdrew from funding large dams in the mid-1990s. For nearly 20 years, the bank has supported mid-sized dams and rehabilitated existing hydropower projects instead.

Following a trend set by new financiers from China and Brazil, the World Bank now wants to return to supporting mega-dams that aim to transform whole regions. In March, it argued that such projects could “catalyse very large-scale benefits to improve access to infrastructure services” and combat climate change at the same time. Its board of directors will discuss the return to mega-dams as part of a new energy strategy on Tuesday.

The World Bank has identified the $12bn (£8bn) Inga 3 Dam on the Congo River – the most expensive hydropower project ever proposed in Africa – and two other multi-billion dollar schemes on the Zambezi River as illustrative examples of its new approach. All three projects would primarily generate electricity for the mining companies and middle-class consumers of Southern Africa.

The World Bank ignores that better solutions are readily available. In the past 10 years, governments and private investors installed more new wind power than hydropower capacity. Last year, even solar power – long decried as a Mickey Mouse technology by the dam industry – caught up with new hydropower investment. Wind and solar power are not only climate friendly, they are also more effective than big dams in reaching the rural poor in sub-Saharan Africa, most of whom are not connected to the electric grid.

The International Energy Agency recommends that more than 60% of the funds required to bring about universal access to electricity be invested in distributed renewable energy projects such as wind, solar and small hydropower plants. Yet so far, funding for bringing these promising technologies to Africa has been woefully lacking. Like other donors, the World Bank is behind the curve on this. In 2007-12, it spent $5.4bn on hydropower, but only $2bn on wind and solar projects combined. A renewed focus on mega-dams would make matters worse.

Big Dams : Inga Dam Site and Inga Rapids on Congo river in DRCInga dam site and Inga rapids on Congo River in DRC. Photograph: International Rivers

Is the World Bank blinded by an outdated ideology? More likely, its return to mega-dams is driven by institutional self-interest. A strategy paper leaked from the bank in 2011 recognised that the increase in project size “may seem somewhat at odds with the goal of scaling up activities in areas where many potential projects – such as solar, wind and micro-hydropower … tend to be small”. Yet, the paper argued, the “ratio of preparation and supervision costs to total project size” is bigger for small projects than large, centralised schemes, and so bank managers are “disincentivised” from undertaking small projects.

The World Bank, in other words, still finds it easier to spend billions of dollars on mega-projects than to support the small, decentralized projects that are most effective at expanding energy access in rural areas. It appears to be caught in the development model of past decades. If internal constraints prevent the bank from doing what is best for the poor, governments should find other vehicles for reducing energy poverty and combating climate change.


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Seawater and Solar Power Grow Crops in the Desert


In the scorching desert of Qatar, scientists are showing that saltwater can be used to help grow crops. (CNN)

In the scorching desert of Qatar, scientists are showing that saltwater can be used to help grow crops.

A one hectare research initiative known as the Sahara Forest Project — modest in size, but not in ambition — has produced a harvest of barley, cucumbers and arugula in the last few months using a mix of ingredients not usually associated with successful agriculture: seawater and Qatar’s ample supply of heat.

Conceived in Norway, the first-ever Sahara Forest Project facility launched last November to coincide with the United Nations Climate Conference e(COP18) in Doha. It implements a range of cutting-edge environmentally-friendly technologies that takes the things that Qatar has in excess — heat and seawater — and converts them into a range of valuable resources.

“These are ideas that could sound too good to be true,” admits the project CEO, Joakim Haugue, adding that in the early days the project met with an equal measure of enthusiasm and skepticism.

“Really, though, there’s a very simple principle behind this. Our starting point was to take what we have enough of — seawater, heat — and use it to produce what we need more of — water, energy and a sustainable production of food.”

The project has a global scope. It boasts seawater-cooled greenhouses, concentrated solar power and algae production — all working symbiotically to solve several of the world’s ecological crises in one go.

Read more: Crowdfunding innovation in the Middle East

“Qatar is one of the most challenging climates in the world to work in for this kind of thing,” says Dr. Virginia Corless, the science and development manager. “The high temperatures and humidity make it very challenging for our technology. But if the technology works there, and it has, it proves it’s feasible for many locations around the world.”

In addition to producing food and desalinated water in regions that indigenously lack both, the facility is also looking into greening the desert and creating alternative, eco-friendly fuel sources.

Synergy is one of the cornerstones of the project; it’s what allows it to address so many issues at once, like an elaborate, environmental Rube Goldberg mechanism. The facility features a concentrated solar power plant, which turns heat into steam, then, with turbines and generators, into electricity, which in turn pumps seawater to the site, where it is used to cool the greenhouses.

Freshwater waste from the greenhouses is then used to irrigate plants outside. Strategically planted hedges outside the greenhouse help filter the remainder, creating a humidified and cooler environment for plants downwind.

Read more: Qatar’s new cultural jewel

Lastly, the saltwater is also used to cultivate algae, which can be used for large-scale bio-energy production — though currently the algae plant is still in the research phase. Algae production on its own, says Corless, can be expensive and dependent on geographical constraints (it usually needs to be developed along expensive, sought-after coastal property).

“What we’re doing is putting an algae cultivation system into an even broader system that can share costs and increase energy. One of the biggest shared costs we have is the saltwater infrastructure,” she says.

Neil Crumpton, the chair and CEO of Planet Hydrogen, an NGO that promotes green energy, says the project is, potentially, a “game changer”.

“The biggest issues right now are climate change and water resources globally, and these simple technologies can tackle both,” he says. “I can’t help thinking that this is vision, not mirage.”

Read more: Risks and rewards in West Bank city project

Some experts, however, question if the Sahara Forest Project is the best use of resources. The facility, which was funded by fertilizer companies Yara International and Qafco and cost $5.3 million to set up.

“With the same funding, you could restore ecosystems and help people more effectively through community-based natural resource management,” says Patrick Gonzalez, a forest ecologist who has conducted research in the Sahel region of North Africa with the University of California, Berkeley.

“Rather than pouring water on desert sands that haven’t had much vegetation in centuries, you can restore land that until recently had a healthy tree cover. Natural regeneration of trees in the Sahel is less flashy and more difficult, but you could directly benefit the families that depend on the trees,” he adds.

Despite the mixed reviews, Hague says that the site has proven itself with the new crop influx, adding that many skeptics have been won over.

“It helps when people can see it on the ground, and taste the cucumbers and see that this is real,” he says. “We’ve proven that this can be implemented.”


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$10 Billion Red Sea-Dead Sea Middle East Water Project Roiling, Again, Israel, Palestinians, And Jordan


The proposed $10 billion Red Sea-Dead Sea conduit — a joint Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian project touted by its supporters as the solution to Jordan’s water deficit and the Dead Sea’s environmental degradation, as well as the catalyst for regional peace — is facing hurdles as immense as its lofty goals. (International Business Times)

JERUSALEM — It took a miracle for Moses to part the Red Sea’s water.

Now, a mammoth multinational project to do pretty much the same thing may need a comparable level of divine intervention.

The proposed $10 billion Red Sea-Dead Sea conduit — a joint Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian project touted by its supporters as the solution to Jordan’s water deficit and the Dead Sea’s environmental degradation, as well as the catalyst for regional peace — is facing hurdles as immense as its lofty goals.

“It’s way too complicated,” said Munqeth Mehyar, director of the Jordanian arm of Friends of Earth Middle East or FoEME, a trinational Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian organization dedicated to making peace through environmental projects.

Proponents say the conduit would stabilize the depleting Dead Sea by piping each year 2 billion cubic meters of seawater from the Gulf of Aqaba into the inland body of water. Along the way, the water would be pumped through hydropower plants to generate electricity and desalination plants to produce drinking water. The by-product would be up to 800 million cubic meters of fresh water when the desalination plants run at maximum capacity. The lion’s share of fresh water would go to water-poor Jordan, and the leftover brine to the Dead Sea, which is receding at a rate of 1 meter, or more than 3 feet, a year.

It sounds like a dream come true. But the science is far from certain and the financing is shaky — and then, there’s the politics.

The last two weeks have seen stormy discourse at public hearings in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman between the project’s staunch proponents and those not quite so convinced that the World Bank’s $16 million feasibility study and an environmental and social assessment of the project, released in January, hold water.

Critics say the project would require international donations totalling $4.5 billion, while the world still grapples with the aftermath of a global economic crisis. Three billion dollars more would come mostly from private business investment in Israel. Cash-strapped and heavily indebted Jordan would have to secure an extra $2.5 billion. Israel would have to recognize the riparian rights of Palestinians to the West Bank portion of the Dead Sea. None of these things are easy.

But the biggest concerns stem from the possible environmental impacts. Israel’s Ministry of the Environment released a statement in early February in light of the reports and of a $500,000 alternatives study, also conducted by the World Bank.

“The Dead Sea is a unique and a rare natural resource, and hasty decision — devoid of real data and tests — may destroy it completely and with it the tourism,” said Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Ardan.

It’s hardly a “hasty decision,” though. Talk of a canal or conduit between the Red Sea and Dead Sea has been around for decades, and the World Bank has worked on the project since 2005. Now that the international body’s reports are out and the public hearings are complete, it’s decision time for the governments of Israel and Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

Israel’s Ministry of Regional Development, headed by Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, leads the conduit project in Israel. Maya Eldar, who advises Shalom on the project, said the ministry remained in favor of the conduit. “We are going to … check whether it’s going to work economically and environmentally. But it should be something that’s going from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. To leave the Dead Sea like this is to let it die. This is trying to prevent it,” she said.

The Jordanian government supports the conduit, so long as money promised by some Gulf states actually appears, as does the Palestinian Authority, at least in principle.

Three Goals

The project’s three objectives are to save the Dead Sea from environmental degradation; to generate electricity and desalinate water at affordable prices for Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority; and to build a symbol of peace and cooperation in the Middle East.

The degradation of the Dead Sea — which is actually a hypersaline lake — is due to the stemmed flow of the Jordan River and to the extraction of valuable minerals and potash from the water, by companies that evaporate between 280 and 350 million cubic meters of it each year.

Environmentalists say that trying to replace it with water pumped in from an actual sea 200 km (130 miles) away is a jump into the unknown. And in any case, it may not be enough: the Dead Sea needs 1 billion cubic meters of new water each year to reach a stable state, according to the Word Bank’s feasibility study.

What is known is that adding Red Sea water to Dead Sea water will change the chemical composition of the latter, particularly the first 50 meters (about 160 feet) of depth. What remains a mystery — in the absence of a pilot study or full 3-D modeling — is how much, and whether it would alter the Dead Sea permanently.

The surface layer will certainly dilute and may reach the critical value where the biological phenomena of red algae blooms occur. According to the reports, the algae blooms would result “in changes of water color, turbidity and possibly floating slimy deposits in the waters.”

Mixing the two waters will also produce gypsum, a mineral that could have the beneficial effect of curbing the algae. Or, it could turn the Dead Sea white.

FoEME has opposed the project since it was first proposed in its current form at the Earth Summit 2002 in Johannesburg.

The chief complaint from the group has to do with the Dead Sea’s attraction as a natural spa, due to its unique mineral composition, said FoEME’s Israeli director, Gidon Bromberg. Tourists invariably get photographed floating belly-up in the warm water, buoyed by a salinity more than eight times the ocean average. The impact on the Dead Sea’s unique ecology and related tourism would be astronomical if either the algae popped up or the gypsum changed the water’s color, Bromberg said.

“You are certainly going to reduce the salinity, but it’s still going to be high enough to float,” he added. “But would you want to float with slime? It’s not existent in the Dead Sea at the moment. If the Dead Sea turns into a milky white, are you going to want to float? The two bodies of water will not mix — it’s like bringing oil and water together.”

Doron Markel, Israel’s representative at the Study Management Unit for the International Feasibility Study for the Red Sea-Dead Sea convergence, was less concerned about the gypsum.

“So there will be a whitening effect. So what? The research said it may be suspended on top, but they don’t know,” he said. “However, they found a way to mitigate the problem. They found that by adding gypsum it will coagulate and sink it to the bottom.”

Affordable Water?

Gypsum or not, there’s also the production of water, a big issu ein this parched part of the Middle East.

But FoEME Jordanian director Munqeth Mehyar is under the impression the World Bank’s feasibility report fudges the real numbers. The report listed a potential benefit of $10 billion over 50 years, based on the increased availability of water as a result of the project, but it calculated that number on the cost of tankered water. That’s the most expensive option to obtain water in Jordan.

In reality, the feasibility study states that the cost of a cubic meter of water via the Red Sea-Dead Sea conduit would be up to $2.70, which is nearly triple the current cost of a cubic meter of fresh water to Amman residents. The cost to Israel and the Palestinian Authority would be up to $1.85 per cubic meters. Israel’s Mediterranean desalination plants produce drinking water for an average price of $0.61 per cubic meters.

The feasibility study also estimates a benefit of $1.4 billion from the generation of hydropower over 50 years, being the total amount of hydroelectricity generated multiplied by the difference between the long-run marginal cost and the actual unit cost of producing hydroelectricity. But the two power stations connected to the conduit would create just 251 megawatts of electricity altogether, not enough to pump the projected 800 million cubic meters per year of desalinated fresh water to Amman.

So the project would be in a power deficit to the tune of 880 megawatts, and that’s without calculating the cost to pump water to Israel and the Palestinian territories. To make up for that, it would require two new power stations that would double the project’s carbon footprint. The report says those “conventional” power stations would push emissions of CO2 per year to 650,000 metric tons by the year 2020.

Building Peace, Or Maybe Not

Israel’s Markel said the three governments have worked well together on the conduit project so far, which is an effective mechanism for peace-building.

But the devil is in the details. The governance structure laid out by the World Bank requires recognition of all parties’ riparian rights to the Dead Sea, but the West Bank that borders the Dead Sea is still under Israel’s control, as it has been since 1967. Project financing is dependent upon Israeli leadership recognizing Palestinian sovereignty of the Dead Sea in the West Bank. That is unlikely, given the stalled peace process.

There’s also the security risk. The preferred route of the conduit is solely on Jordanian territory. Israeli investment could be a hard sell if the conduit is vulnerable to the tap being turned off in the event of war. Jordan, while formally at peace with Israel, previously turned down a proposed conduit from the Mediterranean for the same reason.

Then there’s the potential for terrorist attacks, such as those that have occurred repeatedly on the gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel in the Sinai.

The initial stage of the conduit project would produce 230 million cubic meters of fresh water for Amman and 60 million each for Israel and the Palestinians by 2020.

It’s a minimal amount of water for Israel compared to the some 600 million m3 it will desalinate on the Mediterranean by the end of 2014. But it would service the Arava region, which is water-poor. And, anyway, Israel’s main concern is saving the Dead Sea, said Maya Eldar from Israel’s Ministry of Regional Development.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” she said.

Eldar’s team supports a pilot stage for the conduit, but the feasibility study indicates that the design requires 75 percent of the full scale of the project to be built in order to meet the project’s objectives and not encounter a cumulative loss of $3 to $4 billion. “The first phase would not even cover the interest on the finance needed to build [it], let alone cover the operating and maintenance costs,” the report said.

Markel, the Israeli representative at the conduit’s study management unit, agrees: “We suggest a very careful step. Start with a slow stage one,” he said.


FoEME threatened to take the World Bank to the inspections panel — an independent complaints mechanism for people who believe they have been, or are likely to be, adversely affected by a World Bank-funded project — over its failure to initiate a study of alternatives to the conduit.

“We don’t think it was so much the Bank, but our own governments that didn’t want the alternatives report,” said Bromberg, who claimed there are a handful of companies that stand to make big bucks from the conduit’s construction. (He declined to  name them, as the work is still in its early stages.)

“The alternatives study is making life difficult for those who want to build the Red-Dead canal,” he said, mentioning the World Bank’s look at other possible ways to tackle the project.

That study compares the conduit proposal with roughly 20 alternatives, or combinations of alternatives, to meet the project’s aims.

One combination suggested that the project’s objectives could be met without the big price tag or environmental risks by doing a number of things together. This would include rehabilitating the Lower Jordan River; adding desalination plants in Aqaba and on the Mediterranean coast; importing water; improving water recycling and conservation; and taxing the Dead Sea companies for the water they evaporate. It could also be implemented incrementally, allowing room for technological advancement.

FoEME has long argued that replenishing the lower course of the Jordan is the answer to the Dead Sea’s decline, considering it is its natural life source.

The flow rate of the Jordan River once was 1.3 billion cubic meters per year; as of 2010, just 20 to 30 million flowed into the Dead Sea. The reason for this is because its fresh water is diverted by Israel, Syria and Jordan.

The European Union last year funded FoEME to develop a master plan to restore the Lower Jordan.

Markel countered that this combination of alternatives was still at concept stage, it was unrealistic, and that FoEME had an agenda of its own. “There’s no alternative for fresh water to flow in the Jordan River into the Dead Sea,” he said. “We don’t have this water; nobody will produce this water and discharge it into the Jordan.”

A report on the public hearings is due to be published in Israel in mid-March, but any decision on how to move forward will have to be taken by Israel’s government. But after January’s general elections, outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still hasn’t cobbled together a new majority. And a hot summer, with its increased rate of Dead Sea evaporation, looms.


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Thai Gov’t Sanctions: Six Water Projects ‘Are Ready’ for Construction


At least six projects under the Thai government’s Bt 350-billion ($11 billion USD) water and flood management scheme are now ready for construction, according to the Royal Irrigation Department. (The Nation)

The six projects include the flood diversion channel on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River, the Water and Flood Information Center and four dam projects.

Meanwhile, the Council of State’s secretary-general, Atchaporn Jarujinda, said that the recent Central Administrative Court verdict ordering the government to conduct public hearing, environmental impact assessment (EIA) and environmental and health impact assessment (EHIA) would not be an obstacle to implementing the water mega-projects.

The state legal body will ask the National Environmental Board to clarify the projects on which the EIA and EHIA needed to conducted.

Under the government’s Bt 350-billion water and flood management scheme, irrigation department director-general Lertviroj Kowattana said about five projects had already undergone the feasibility study and EIA for construction as required by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.

Meanwhile, the Water and Flood Information Centre is not required to conducted the EIA and is expected to go ahead with the plan soon, he said.

Lertiviroj said that the irrigation department had already completed the feasibility study for the flood diversion channel on the eastern route of Chao Phraya River, and the project could take off as soon as the government signs the contract with the bid winners.

According to the feasibility study, the length of the flood diversion channel on the east bank of Chao Phraya is about 135.20 kilometres, starting from Chainart, Singburi, Angthong, Lop Buri, Saraburi, Ayutthaya, Nakhon Nayok, Chachoengsao, and Samut Prakan.

Lertiviroj said most of the flood diversion channel areas on this route will be located to irrigation areas but these areas have been encroached upon by local people.

“The irrigation department might file a lawsuit against people who have been encroaching on the irrigation area, which will be used to build the flood diversion channel. We might pay them some compensation for the demolition,” he said.

Dams get the go-ahead

Besides the flood diversion channel on the east bank of Chao Phraya, four dam projects – Uttaradit’s Bt575-million Huay Phang-Nga reservoir, with a capacity of 11.33 million cubic metres; the Bt445-million Huay Tha Phon reservoir in Phetchabun; and Chaiyabhum’s Bt395 million Chi and Yang Na Di dam – are ready for construction.

These four dams are among 21 dams listed under the government’s water mega-projects.

Meanwhile, about nine reservoir projects are required to conduct the EIA. The projects are: Mae Tip and Huay Pong Phak in Lampang; Phrae’s Mae Lang, Phayao’s Nam Ngim; Phitsanulok’s Wang Chom Phu; Uttaradit’s Nam Pad; Lamphun’s Huay Tang; Kamphaengphet’s Klong Klung Lang; and Chiang Mai’s Mae Khan.

Three other big dams such as Phrae’s Lower and Upper Yom and Chiang Mai’s Mae Chaem are required to conduct EHIA according to the Constitution’s article 67(2).

Stop Global Warming Association Srisuwan Janya yesterday submitted an open letter to Prime Minister YingluckShinawatra, urging the government to cancel the Bt350 billion water and flood management scheme. He reasoned that this was in violation of the Constitution and lacked people participation.

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World Bank keen to invest in Pakistan’s Water Supply


The Bank wants to support the development projects of water supply and sewerage in Pakistan’s biggest city of Karachi. (AP)

South Asia Sector Manager of World Bank’s Urban Development, Water Supply and Sanitation Development Department, Ming Zhang, said the World Bank (WB) is interested to make investment in water supply and sewerage system of Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB).

The Bank wants to support the development projects of water supply and sewerage in Pakistan’s biggest city of Karachi so that the citizens can get clean drinking water through a modern system/facilities. This will also help to stop the large scale wastage of water due to old and damaged supply lines, the World Bank official said.

Ming Zhang said this during a meeting with Managing Director KWSB, Misbahuddin Fareed here. His team included World Bank’s Urban Specialist Huang Chyl-Yun, Senior Urban and DMR Specialist Shahnaz Arshad, Senior Urban Specialist Fatima Zehra Shah and Consultant Shoaib Arshad, said a KWSB statement here on Sunday.

KWSB’s Deputy Managing Director (Planning) Mashkoor-ul-Hasnain, Project Manager, K-IV Saleem Siddiqui, Project Director, S-III Imran Hashmi and other senior officers of KWSB were also present.

On this occasion, the Managing Director of KWSB said that from population point of view Karachi is the seventh biggest city in the world. From the year 2006, there is no progress in the water supply and sewerage projects for the city having population of more than twenty million.

In 2006 JICA in its study pointed out the shortage of water by 400 million gallon daily in the city. Greater Karachi Water Supply project K-IV and Greater Karachi Sewerage project S-III could not be executed for non-availability of funds, he said.

He said lakes are the source of water supply to the city. The water is being supplied to the citizen after chlorination and filtration process; whereas, industrial waste and sewerage flow un-treated into the sea and pose serious threat to the eco system and marine life.



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