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25 Aug 2021 | Koshi Basin Initiative

National consultation on freshwater ecosystem assessment handbook

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Photo credit: Rays Rajbhandari/ICIMOD

To aid Nepal’s efforts in considering viability and social, environmental, and cultural impacts while optimizing its hydropower potential, we drafted a Freshwater Ecosystem Assessment Handbook as supplementary guidance for implementing Nepal’s Hydropower Environmental Impact Assessment Manual 2018. To collate expert inputs and recommendations on its structure and contents, we supported the Forest Research and Training Centre (FRTC), Ministry of Forests and Environment, Government of Nepal who organized a national consultation meeting on the handbook on 22 July 2021 which brought together over 30 representatives from the Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoFE) and the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources, and Irrigation, Government of Nepal as well as academic institutions, development partners and other key stakeholders.

 

The handbook is an important contribution for conservation and sustainable management of freshwater ecosystems as Nepal embarks on a path of sustainable hydropower development. It will be useful for stakeholders in the hydropower sector, Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reviewers as well as consultants, researchers, environmental professionals, students, and policy makers.

 

Supporting sustainable hydropower development

In his welcome remarks, Buddhi Sagar Poudel, Joint Secretary, MoFE, Government of Nepal highlighted the government’s declaration of 2016-2026 as the Electricity Development Decade and that it would be prioritizing development of this sector. In this regard, the handbook will help promote hydropower development from a holistic lens while considering the impacts on freshwater ecosystems and the overall social and ecological environment. Our Director General, Pema Gyamtsho, shared that the handbook – an important milestone in freshwater management – is a response to the need and demand for capacity building of stakeholders in conducting freshwater ecosystem assessments as a part of the EIA process.

 

Filling knowledge and data gaps

The participants also discussed the relevance and timeliness of the handbook in the freshwater ecosystem and the hydropower sector. The Environment Protection Act 2019 and the Environmental Protection Rules 2020 of Nepal have mandated to conduct environmental impact assessments of hydropower projects and impacts on river ecosystems of Nepal. However, to date, there is lack of information and primary data on freshwater ecosystems, and data included in the assessments is often based on secondary sources. The handbook includes information on site selection, data collection, and assessment of aquatic habitat and water quality, which will assist in primary data collection. It also provides guidelines, tools, and methods for assessing different parameters of freshwater ecosystems that will be helpful to EIA practitioners.

The participants observed that while the handbook is an important resource in itself, it would be equally important for the knowledge and instructions to be translated and implemented in the field. For this, they suggested that it would be vital for different stakeholders to join hands in supporting the capacity building of EIA practitioners and reviewers so that the recommendations in the handbook can be implemented in the respective study sites.

 

Way forward: Revision and finalization

Reviewers and experts also shared their feedback and insights on the handbook. Taking the feedback into consideration, the handbook will undergo further revision. With our support, the Department of Forests and Soil Conservation, Government of Nepal, will be finalizing the handbook and publishing it for wider use.

 

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