For the most part, Africa did not experience the dam-building boom of the late twentieth century, which helped to increase the global food supply, drive industrialisation and improve health outcomes. As a result, it has also avoided the deleterious effects that often accompany large-scale dam projects. As parts of the continent seek to increase their electricity supply, however, hydropower dams are becoming an attractive source of energy. Consideration needs to be given to the interaction between food, water and energy security if the continent is to achieve a sustainable balance between those three resources.
Electrification rates are low across Africa, with electricity demand much larger than supply. The continent holds enormous hydroelectric potential, less than ten per cent of which is exploited.
Two countries in particular, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have plans to construct large-scale hydroelectric plants. If those dams are not diligently managed, however, they could create more problems than they solve.
While well-planned dams can bring considerable economic benefits and improve water, food and energy security, they can also have the opposite effect if they are poorly planned or maintained.
Africa could also learn lessons from the twentieth century dam-building boom and minimise the deleterious effects of reliance on dams.