IFC is playing a significant role in Pakistan’s hydropower sector. By contributing to the generation of over 3,500 megawatts, IFC is aiming to help around 12 million people gain access to electricity – crucial in a country with a severe power deficit - while promoting renewable energy solutions.
In mid-April, IFC environmental and social experts, with the support of the Australian government, stepped up efforts to promote sustainability in Pakistan’s hydropower sector. Their plan: to help untangle important environmental and social issues in the Jelhum-Poonch watershed.
“We not only want to protect, but we want to put in place strategies to improve the management of aquatic biodiversity in the Jelhum-Poonch watershed,” says Moazzam Ahmed, IFC Senior Country Officer for Pakistan. “We’re getting authorities, civil society and the private sector around the same table to take action together.”
With multiple hydropower projects already commissioned and more lined up, the Jelhum-Poonch Watershed provides habitat for important biodiversity values of Pakistan, including two important fish species - the endangered Golden Mahaseer and the critically endangered Kashmir Catfish.
“We aim to reach a wide network of stakeholders in Pakistan who can benefit from our guidance on how to achieve better environmental and social outcomes,” says Ahmed. “IFC’s support will build on the experiences from each hydropower project to take a landscape approach in the watershed. Ultimately, companies who adopt IFC’s Performance Standards will lower their environmental risk, advance positive working relationships with stakeholders, and improve long-term sustainability of their business.”
IFC is helping maintain stakeholder engagement by sharing updates on what hydropower companies are doing to meet the objectives of a new biodiversity strategy for the Jhelum-Poonch watershed. The strategy is being jointly developed by hydropower companies, local environmental authorities and environmental NGO’s under the guidance of IFC aiming to secure commitments from stakeholders on their roles in implementing it. The strategy focuses on developing an understanding of biodiversity conservation and hydropower development challenges; identifying key biodiversity values; enhancing and building capacity; and sharing good international practices.
“The Jhelum-Poonch biodiversity strategy is the first of its kind in Pakistan,” says Vaqar Zakaria, Managing Director of Hagler Bailly in Pakistan. “What’s unique is that we’re signing agreements between hydropower projects and authorities to jointly implement our biodiversity action plan, which is a great start to this project.”
Zakaria also explained to stakeholders how Pakistan would benefit from hydrological and ecological mapping in the basins and country-wide capacity building. While Pakistan’s water, power, and environmental authorities have over 50 years of experiences collecting data on surface water hydrology and there is scattered data on aquatic ecosystems, there is currently no system in place for national-level modeling of hydrology. Broader modeling activities would also increase the understanding of the risks hydropower projects may pose to Pakistan’s Indus Delta area.
“We need to take action at the right time, before it’s too late for fish species in the Jelhum-Poonch,” says Anis Ur Rahman of the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation. “The time is right for IFC, hydropower companies and the government to protect biodiversity and national parks in areas affected by development. The biodiversity strategy is a win-win for hydropower companies and the government.”
Workshop participants also discussed how environmental concerns are taken into consideration when planning private sector hydropower projects. Stakeholders were called on to provide input to the current draft of the biodiversity strategy and how to prevent illegal activity like unregulated sand mining, waste dumping, and dynamite fishing. The importance of community awareness along rivers was also discussed, as well as the need for funding to support the execution and long term sustainability of the biodiversity strategy.
“The level of the discussion, local expertise and energy from stakeholders to protect biodiversity in the Jelhum-Poonch is outstanding,” says Pablo Cardinale, Principal Environmental Specialist from the IFC. “There is a good opportunity for this work to encourage more sustainable management of cumulative impacts on biodiversity of hydropower development in Pakistan and serve as an example of good practice to be followed in other countries and regions.”