WASHINGTON, Aug 6 (Reuters) - The World Bank's board on Tuesday approved $340 million for a hydro power plant in central Africa's Great Lakes region as the global development lender seeks to ramp up support for electricity in some of the continent's poorest and most conflict-prone areas.
The project is part of a $1 billion aid package World Bank President Jim Yong Kim pledged during a trip to the Great Lakes in May.
The funds are contingent on all the countries in the region abiding by a U.N.-brokered peace deal, as the World Bank and U.N. seek to link immediate security with lasting political and economic solutions and give countries an incentive to stick with peace.
The plant will draw on the power of the Rusumo Falls between Rwanda and Tanzania, one of the headwaters of the Nile, to eventually generate 80 megawatts of electricity and benefit 62 million people in Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania, the World Bank said. The money will be split evenly among the three governments.
Only 4 percent of Burundi's population has access to electricity. For Rwanda that figure is 13 percent, and for Tanzania, 15 percent. The World Bank has said tackling poverty and boosting economic growth is impossible without stable electricity supplies.
"By connecting grids, people and environmentally sensitive solutions, the project will help to catalyze growth and to encourage peace and stability in the sub-region," Colin Bruce, the World Bank's director for strategy, operations and regional integration in Africa, said in a statement.
This is the first major hydro power project approved since the World Bank updated its energy strategy last month to increase support for hydroelectric power. In the 1990s, it had decided to abandon such projects under pressure from aid groups that warned they would displace people.
Hydro projects, including large-scale dams, give the bank a way to balance global energy needs with its pledge to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The World Bank has said it has social and environmental safeguards in place for such projects, and hydro power is the only renewable energy source that can provide electricity to people on the largest scale.
Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi will share the electricity and jointly manage the Rusumo Falls plant, in a region where economic and political cooperation has not always been easy.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete last week said he wanted to mend relations with Rwanda, after admitting their ties had frayed since Tanzania got involved in peacekeeping in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Tanzania leads a newly deployed U.N. intervention brigade in Congo's eastern region, near the border with Rwanda. The force is tasked with neutralizing rebel groups like the M23, mostly Tutsi fighters widely believed to be backed by Rwanda.
Rwanda has denied supporting the insurgency. It sharply criticized Kikwete for suggesting in May that governments should negotiate with all rebel groups, including the Rwandan Hutu FDLR. Ethnic Hutu militias and soldiers killed 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. (Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; editing by Andrew Hay)