23 March 2012 – According to a UN report launched at the World Water Forum in Marseilles this month, hydropower could supply all of Africa’s electricity needs if cross-border cooperation was increased.

Africa generates a third of its electricity from hydropower, but could learn from cooperation and training programmes between India and some Western countries, according to Ulcay Unver, coordinator of the UN World Water Assessment programme, which produced its fourth edition of the World Water Development report.

The report said African governments have begun to recognise the importance of cooperative hydropower projects. Several examples of cooperation have begun to emerge, including the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), the East African Power Pool (EAPP) and the West African Power Pool. These bring together groups of national electricity companies in regional cooperation.

SAPP has created a common power grid between its 12 member states. Such cross-border cooperation is increasing. However, Amadou Hama Maiga, the deputy director general of the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering (IIWEE) in Burkina Faso warns that the challenges of financing dam and hydropower plants were significant.

Some environmentalists are not in favour of a global push to develop hydropower, as they believe this carries risks, especially in developing countries. Their call is for hydropower projects that take into account the impact on agriculture and fisheries, and which could include the use of cascading dams and the addition of turbines to existing dams rather than building huge new projects.