How Two Fish Are Changing Hydropower in Pakistan

Jhelum-Poonch river watershed. © Leeanne Alonso / IFC   

In project finance, environmental and social risks traditionally have been managed one project at a time. IFC is changing the game, by considering and addressing the impact of projects on an entire region, interconnected ecosystems, and communities. We bring together the private and public sectors, civil society, and local communities to achieve that. In Pakistan, it all started with two fish.

The Jhelum-Poonch Watershed, in South Asia, is home to critically endangered species of fish such as the Golden Mahaseer and the Kashmir Catfish. The basin is also a vast source of hydropower in Pakistan.

More than 50 power plants are located along the two rivers, in various stages of operation and development. Six of them are being financed by IFC. They are expected to bring up to 4,000 megawatts of additional power to Pakistan—where daily blackouts last for up to eight hours. But continued hydropower development in this area can have an irreversible impact on its rich aquatic biodiversity—particularly on the two endangered fish species, which are important for local food consumption.

IFC has taken on the challenge to help develop Pakistan's rich hydro resources and save the fish.

IFC's Environmental and Social Performance Standards, integral to our business model, require that projects financed by IFC have a positive outcome on biodiversity. To design the first comprehensive biodiversity strategy for the entire basin, we brought together clients, other developers, investors, and representatives from academia, governments, and environmental organizations. The strategy incorporates a set of common guidelines for all hydropower plants operating in the region.

As a result of this work, protected aquatic areas of the basin are being set aside and a hatchery to breed and restock the fish is being created. In addition, all stakeholders have agreed to a coordinated plan to manage water flows and sediment flushing along the rivers.

IFC continues to work with all stakeholders to address additional environmental and social challenges including those related to safety, labor conditions, community relations, and effective grievance mechanisms. We're working to institutionalize these practices at the country, sector, and project level so we can extend our impact beyond our own portfolio and establish new approaches for how countries can manage their hydro resources in ways that preserve biodiversity and benefit communities.

IFC hydropower portfolio projects in the Jhelum-Poonch Watershed:
  • New Bong Escape: 84 MW
  • Star Hydro: 150 MW
  • Gulpur: 102 MW
  • Karot: 720 MW
  • China Three Gorges South Asia Investment Limited (CSAIL): two projects totaling 2,400 MW

Key risks: cumulative impacts on biodiversity, including potentially eliminating the Golden Mahaseer fish population and extinction of the Kashmir Catfish.

IFC’s solution: assessment of impact on an entire region and interconnected ecosystems; multistakeholder effort to develop a common and all-encompassing approach to environmental and social risk management for all hydro power plants in the Jhelum Poonch River.

Expected Outcome: bring much needed power to over 12 million people in Pakistan, preserve the region’s rich biodiversity and contribute to attracting further hydropower investment in the basin. Establish new region-wide and/or country-wide approaches to managing hydropower resources.


Published in June 2016