Industry expert discusses upcoming International Hydropower Association World Congress

HYDROWORLD | June 5, 2013

Dr. Cecilia Tortajada, President of the Third World Centre for Water Management, recently took time to discuss the International Hydropower Association 2013 World Congress with HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide Chief Editor David Appleyard.

The World Congress is a biennial event that takes place May 21-24 in Sarawak, Malaysia, and includes four days of interactive programs and discussions designed to both inform and test current strategies and stimulate future thinking.

1) Can you introduce yourself briefly and confirm your current position?

Dr. Cecilia Tortajada, President, Third World Centre for Water Management. Member of the OECD Initiative in Water Governance and collaborating with the UNDP Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Water Resources Development, Associate Editor of Water International, member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research and IWRA (India), and member of the Series Advisory Board, Springer Briefs in Earth Sciences, Geography & Earth System Sciences. Author and editor of more than 30 books by major international publishers. My work has been translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese and Spanish languages.

2) As a speaker or chair, why is this topic important to you/your organisation?

I will be a speaker in the Focus Session 2a: Is Sustainability Constraining Economic Development? This topic is very relevant for discussion as there is still the misconception that sustainability parameters will have negative impacts in economic development. This is very far from reality. Economic development depends on a myriad of variables, many of them social and environmental, and no hydropower project will ever be successful and will ever make use of its enormous potential if it does not have solid foundations that will sustain it on long-term basis.

Hydropower projects are essential components of development and they should be planned, constructed and operated taking this into consideration. In this day and age, considering hydropower projects through the lens of economic development is very short-sighted. It also denotes lack of realisation of the multiple and multiplying positive and negative economic, social and environmental impacts these projects can have in the short-, medium- and long-term for entire regions and also for millions of people.

3) What is the single biggest takeaway you hope to get from your time in Kuching?

IHA is a forward-looking association that responds to the present and coming challenges. I am thus not looking for a single takeaway. The congress itself, the programme and the level of the discussions will be my takeaway.

4) What is the single biggest issue/challenge most affecting hydro development

I would say that the biggest challenge affecting hydro development is the consideration and mitigation of social and environmental impacts in the planning, construction and operation stages of the projects.

Hydro was opposed for many years by social and environmental activists all over the world. This literally forced governments and private sector companies to improve their practices significantly both socially and environmentally. Nevertheless, the energy constraints the world is facing at present and is likely to face in the future, and the concerns related to potential impacts of climate change, have transformed the way hydro is perceived. From being negative for overall development, it has become one of the most important renewable sources of energy. The challenge is now that both governments and developers keep in mind the importance of hydro for overall development for the regions and the countries concerned, which in turn depends on social and environmental considerations.

5) Is there a water crisis?

Crisis is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a time of great danger, difficulty or confusion when problems must be solved or important decisions must be made”. In this sense, there is certainly a water crisis not because of physical water scarcity, but because of its dismal management all over the world that has seriously constrained the availability of the resource for its increasing demands.

Water management in much of the world is at a critical juncture at present. Even when it has to fulfill an essential role in promoting development and reducing poverty at the national and sub-national levels, water is often scarce, polluted, mismanaged, misgoverned and poorly allocated. A main handicap has been that water management has often been considered as an end by itself, and not as a means to an end, the end being to achieve overall development, economic prosperity, improvement of quality of life, and protection of the environment.

Overall, developed and developing countries are confronted with the urgent need to support the increasing demands of growing populations and of the energy, industrial and agricultural sectors, as well as to respond to environmental concerns with sources of water that are scarce, over-exploited or too polluted for the intended uses. In spite of its relevance in terms of security, water is generally not regarded as a key determinant for development, being notably absent from most political agendas.

6) What can built infrastructure, including hydropower do to mitigate crisis situations?

Infrastructure is essential for development. Nonetheless, it will not mitigate crisis situations by itself if it is not within an overall framework for development, economic growth, social equity and protection of the environment. Infrastructure, including hydropower, is a means to an end, not the end itself: the final end is overall development.

As mentioned by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, the absence of infrastructure has a pervasive influence on poverty, but is by no means a free-standing factor in lifting people from poverty. The focus should thus not be on infrastructure per se, but on the relationship between infrastructure, human security, governance and the improvement of quality of life of the people.

7) Are water and energy policies sufficiently well articulated/linked up?

Water and energy policies are not sufficiently well articulated and are certainly not linked up. It is well known that water is fundamental for energy production and that energy is essential for water production, transportation and treatment. Even then, in general, policy-makers and thus policies do not consider jointly both sectors and their natural and economic and human related resources. The reason would be that countries do not have an overall vision for development and growth within which the different sectors play a certain role.

On the contrary, the different sectors operate in isolation from each other, which only shows the lack of foresight and vision of politics when formulating and implementing policies.