Small-Scale Dams More Beneficial to Community

Small-Scale Dams More  Beneficial to CommunitySmall-Scale Dams More  Beneficial to Community

To provide more clean energy, particularly in fast-growing Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the world needs more hydropower dams. However, an energy expert says building small-scale dams may be a more effective.

But a surge in building of big dams is also leading to poor people being displaced and losing rights to water—something that needs to be addressed if more dam projects go ahead, community leaders and researchers were quoted as saying by TradeArabia.

"When you build a mega dam, your land acquisition and inundation creates a great level of displacement. This is a disastrous plan and not true development," charged Rajendra Singh, an Indian water activist and winner of this year's Stockholm Water Prize for his efforts in protecting rivers and boosting rainwater harvesting.

Speaking at World Water Week (August 23-28) in Stockholm, Singh said building small-scale dams—rather than huge ones—may be a more effective way to protect poor people while increasing access to clean power.

"Build your dam on the river, just before the bend and communities can still use the free flow of water," he urged, drawing a serpentine line on a piece of paper. "You can still produce energy, though on a smaller scale, and you can still ensure people's rights to use the water."

At present, about 160 countries use hydropower technology for power generation, according to Adnan Amin, director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency.

"The power produced amounts to just fewer than 16% of the world's total electricity generation," he said. In more than 50 countries, hydropower plants provide at least 50% of the total electricity supply. An increase in this number, Amin said, is crucial if the world wants to shift to a sustainable society.

That is particularly true in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where much of the world's population growth is expected to occur by 2050, experts say. Amin said building small-scale hydropower facilities can make sense, but he warned they may not be up to meeting the coming demand. "There is a strong business case for small hydro projects, but we are also facing a situation where the energy demand in Africa is set to triple and in Asia Pacific it will double by 2050. So we have to explore all possibilities," he said.

"If we look at the developing countries with large power needs, large water needs, growing populations, we have to find power and water sources that can support this growth in the future. It's very difficult to forego opportunities to develop clean power and irrigation because of some skeptics."

Amin noted that while the costs and benefits of building large dams need to be weighed, the greater good is what is important.