Message from the Director General

World Water Day 2014

Water and Energy

22 March 2014
Kathmandu, Nepal

Dear All,

The World Water Day provides us an opportunity to join our friends and colleagues from the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) and the rest of the world in creating awareness about the importance of water for human and ecosystem wellbeing towards achieving sustainable development.

The theme of this year‘s World Water Day is ‘Water and Energy’. The theme aims to raise awareness of the interlinkages between water and energy and draw attention of policymakers as well as various stakeholders in promoting integrated approaches for attaining greater economic and social benefits. Water and energy are closely interlinked and interdependent. Energy generation requires utilization of water resources, particularly for hydroelectric energy.  Likewise, water supply requires energy, for example to pump water from groundwater. This theme is very appropriate and timely in the context of the HKH region when the countries are facing acute shortage of electricity to meet their demands, and thus are facing long hours of power supply interruptions that hinder the development of the region. Moreover, many mountain people suffer from water scarcity in spite of high availability of water in rivers.  

The Himalayan region has the largest reserves of water in the form of ice and snow outside the Polar Regions and is the source of 10 of the largest rivers in Asia. Atmospheric moisture in the form of monsoon and westerly and ground water are also major sources of water. The HKH river basins meet the needs for drinking water, irrigation, hydropower, fishery, inland navigation, etc. for more than 1.3 billion people living in the mountains and downstream. The river basins also support wetlands and varied habitats that contribute to the maintenance of biodiversity that benefits all. However, climate change and variability is increasing the uncertainty of water availability and the frequency of extreme weather events is making it difficult for the region to meet the growing demand for water for food, energy, and economic activities. Moreover many of these rivers cross national borders, requiring cooperation to reap the most benefits. The water-energy-food security nexus is linked and interdependent making it important for an integrated approach towards its management. 

Mountains play a vital role in energy security. The HKH region has a huge potential for hydropower development of more than 500 GW. According to an ADB report, the contribution of hydroelectricity to total commercial energy is about 50% in Bhutan, 17% in Nepal, 13% in Pakistan, 6% in India, and 4% in Afghanistan; and to the total electricity supply is about 100% in Bhutan, 92% in Nepal, 74% in Myanmar, 33% in Pakistan, 17% in India, and 16% in China. Though hydro-energy potential is large, the actual capacity harnessed is only a small fraction of this potential. As a result, there is a severe electricity shortage in the region with wide gaps in demand and supply. To meet the large deficit in electricity there are plans of harnessing hydropower in the major river basins of the HKH region such as the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra. Despite many plans, the development of hydropower is not at the pace to keep up with booming demand. But we do see across the HKH a boom of hydropower construction, and it seems in Nepal that boom is inevitable. The question of whether or not to build hydropower is not as frequent as the question of when and where.  But in the quest to build new hydropower, let us not forget the question of how to do it better that serves mountain and downstream people, and minimizes environmental impacts. ICIMOD is ready to join hands to figure out how to do it better. 

Sunkoshi Hydropower Station, Sindhupalchowk district

Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya/ICIMOD

Ways to do it better taking into account social and environmental concerns include benefit sharing between upstream and downstream communities, and using a river basin approach. Transboundary issues can represent a particular challenge for hydropower projects, particularly where the benefits of the project are in one country while the costs in terms of hydrological changes and their social and environmental consequences are in another. There is a need for investments in institutions as well as infrastructure, and proper regulatory frameworks and basin development planning considering cumulative impact assessments. Developing hydropower with a regional perspective and putting in place benefit sharing mechanisms could contribute to effective development and enhance regional cooperation towards improving the lives of millions of people living in the HKH region. 

ICIMOD is working to develop an economically and environmentally sound mountain ecosystem to improve the living standards of the mountain people and to sustain vital ecosystem services – now, and for the future. Thus water, rivers, and river basin management are accorded a high priority. ICIMOD through its regional programme on river basins seeks to promote improved river basin management and improve upstream-downstream linkages for equitable access to water for energy and food security.

Thus, in collaboration with our member countries and other international partners we look forward to working together towards ensuring a sustainable and equitable supply and use of water for sustainable development in the region. 

My best wishes to all on this special day.