Nepal Embraces Opportunity to Advance Sustainable Hydropower


Over 6,000 rivers and streams run through the Himalayan country of Nepal. Since the 1970s, the harnessing and distribution of hydropower has attempted to power a country that tries to cope with 12 to 18 hours of power cuts every day. Environmental and social experts, with the support of the Australian and U.S. governments and IFC, continue to build knowledge on how Nepal’s waterways can be developed sustainably, while protecting aquatic biodiversity and lowering social impacts.


“We’re aiming for hydropower without hydrophobia,” said Dipak Gyawali, former Minister of Water Resources and Pragya, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology. “Instead of no dams, we should try for no bad dams.”


Gyawali was the keynote speaker at the launch of the Sustainable Hydropower Workshop Series in Kathmandu in April. High-level officials from the Nepalese, U.S. and Australian governments, representatives from IFC, MIGA, and the World Bank, industry professionals, and NGOs gathered at this event to discuss the urgent need to achieve sustainable hydropower in Nepal and how the workshop series could contribute to this.


Implementation gaps exist in Nepal’s hydropower development policy. To address this, the World Bank Group is supporting both the public and private sectors to improve policy and implementation practices. New environmental impact assessment guidelines for the hydropower sector are currently under development by the government of Nepal with support from IFC.


The workshop discussed Nepal’s rich aquatic biodiversity and shared survey methodologies from the Upper Trishuli hydropower project in depth. Aquatic biodiversity experts discussed a variety of data-collection methods to better understand how hydropower development affects the biodiversity chain – from phytoplankton to fresh water dolphins. Additionally, environmental experts working on the Gulpur hydropower project in Pakistan’s Jelhum-Poonch Watershed shared their experiences in protecting biodiversity from activities in the basin including sand mining, illegal fishing, and hydropower.  


“You must understand the ecology, migration patterns, and swimming and jumping capabilities of each fish species to design effective fish passage facilities,” said Dan Shively, National Fisheries Program Manager, U.S. Forest Service. “We are at a critical point in Nepal’s history: opportunity exists to develop sustainable hydroelectric power that protects natural capital and biodiversity.”


Researchers from Kathmandu University and other institutes such as the Center for Molecular Dynamics, presented on innovative non-invasive genetic survey and genetic markers methods that can identify fish presence, migratory patterns, and population densities without having to catch any fish, but only by detecting genetic material in water samples. 


“We’re taking many factors into consideration including other developments, cascades of dams, types of ecosystems, and the level of social dependency on the river,” said Cate Brown, Senior Consultant from Southern Waters consulting firm, who was speaking on the importance of conducting basin-wide and holistic environmental flows studies. “Risks will exist whether we can predict them or not. We need to be aware and take proper precautions.”


Participants agreed that the private sector must do more to lower environmental and social risks. However, there is a need to streamline issues at a government level as well.


 “This workshop is a good start to sharing aquatic biodiversity baseline data collection methods and experiences from the U.S. government and IFC clients in Nepal and Pakistan,” said Kate Lazarus, IFC Hydro-Advisory Team Lead in Asia. “Over the next year, IFC and its partners plan to roll out four technical workshops on topics including, benefit sharing, cumulative impact assessment, and management and mitigation, specifically on environmental flows and fish passages.”