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Complex environmental and social impacts must be researched and understood for sustainability
The HKH is endowed with immense hydropower potential, making it an invaluable resource for alleviating energy poverty and powering economic growth. However, if not undertaken with due consideration for communities and the environment, hydropower development can lead to environmental degradation and increase disaster risks.
To promote sustainable hydropower development, we continue to engage with key stakeholders in Nepal’s hydropower development sector, including government and private hydropower developers. In a fact-finding workshop in 2019, we collaboratively identified key challenges and data gaps, such as standardized data collection guidelines and the need for data on extreme events, such as glacial lake outburst floods, landslides, and avalanches, as well as on year-round river discharge to better understand regional and localized hydrological cycles. Improving research on each basin and making such data accessible to hydropower developers can contribute to maintaining environmental sustainability.
To ensure that social and environmental concerns are addressed in hydropower development, we supported the drafting of the ‘Hydropower Environmental Impact Assessment Manual (HP-EIA) of Nepal’ which provides guidelines for developers to identify and manage environmental and social risks and impacts and guard against unforeseen risks and impacts.
Since there are myriad environmental impacts of hydropower development, we have a longer-term aim to assist governments in undertaking rigorous scientific assessments that support not just EIA but the full range of evidence-based decisions related to sustainable hydropower development. To that end, we organised a training for stakeholders in the hydropower sector and environmental officers in different government agencies on assessing freshwater ecosystems and we provided a special platform to understand the potential impact on hydropower development from changing cryosphere conditions, especially potential GLOF risks, and streamflow variability, as well as explore measures for mitigation of environmental hazards during our major event ‘International Forum on Cryosphere and Society’ held in August 2019. We also developed an issue brief based on initial research related to sediment in the Koshi River basin since data on the origin, transfer and deposit of sediment particles at a river basin scale can further support sustainable hydropower development.
Other aspects of sustainable hydropower development are more social in nature, including systems and policies related to energy trade and issues surrounding where benefits from that trade accrue. We want to ensure that as many of those benefits as possible go back to the mountain communities who bear the environmental and social costs of hydropower development, so we commissioned research on benefit sharing from hydropower in India, Nepal, and Pakistan. This study provides insights into how mountain communities located close to hydropower plants are benefiting from hydropower plants and whether there are relevant laws in place to ensure that they derive commensurate benefits.
Our upcoming paper on “The Role of Hydropower in South Asia’s Energy Future,’ as part of the International Journal of Water Resources Development’s Special Issue on ‘Hydropowerbased Collaboration in South Asia: Socio-economic Development and Electricity Trade’ discusses the future of hydropower and the role of policies and institutions in managing the risks and power trade in the region.
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