Hydropower dams linked to poverty and corruption

Countries that rely on large hydropower dams for their electricity suffer higher levels of poverty, corruption and debt than other nations, a study has found.

The study by the University of Sussex and the International School of Management in Germany compared the security, political governance, economic development and climate change performance of major hydropower states against oil-producing and all other countries using 30 years of World Bank data.

It also claims the financial benefits of major hydropower projects could also take decades to emerge.

The authors believe that while hydroelectricity brought countries improved energy access, economic development and positive spillover effect, the championing of large-scale dam projects to bring about industrialization were not supported by the data analysis.

Levels of corruption in hydropower countries scored even higher than petro-states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya.

The report recommends that smaller-scale, run-of-river designs that can operate without reservoirs, as deployed in Nepal, Tanzania and Sri Lanka, could be used more widely to limit corruption and environmental problems and increase developmental outcomes while still producing sufficient energy to meet demand.

Lead author Prof Benjamin Sovacool said: ‘Our results bring into focus some of the pernicious trade-offs that can occur as one seeks to transition to large-scale sources of energy supply: bringing in jobs and generating economic activity, but also inviting corruption; seeking to supplant fossil-fuels (and lower carbon emissions), but only by increasing levels of debt, or creating new energy security threats.’

Since 2008 there have been 30 hydropower dams commissioned on the China, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos sections of the Mekong River, with 31 more currently under construction and 74 planned. They have blamed for stopping the deposition of sediments down the Mekong River in South East Asia.

These sediments have helped make the Mekong Delta one of the largest rice producing regions in the world but its ecosystem is under threat due to the man-made interventions.

It could have serious economic consequences for the region as an estimated 30 million people depend on the Mekong Basin for their livelihoods.

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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