Abhushan Neupane is a civil engineer from Nepal with over 13 years of experience in hydropower planning, design, and development. Neupane previously worked withUT-1 (216 MW) and will soon be joining the AG Power Company and UT-3B HEP (42 MW) in the Trishuli River Basin, where a number of projects are under development or planned for the next 10 years. For Neupane, assessing development from a cumulative, basin-wide perspective is the way forward for companies to achieve sustainable business operations.
“Cumulative impact assessment approaches are developing very quickly,” said Neupane at a regional training held by IFC and the International Centre for Hydropower (ICH) in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR, in mid-February. “As part of the training, we are practicing to improve how we set assessment boundaries and how to select particular valued environmental components that support tourism and local livelihoods. This is a worthy exercise.”
The intensive five-day training, which targets hydropower professionals like Neupane, helped participants better understand associated basin-wide risks from hydropower projects and how to conduct cumulative impact assessments. IFC environmental and social specialists and ICH experts used IFC’s Good Practice Handbook on Cumulative Impact Assessment and Management: Guidance for the Private Sector in Emerging Markets as a practical learning tool for the course.
As Neupane explains, important species are under pressure in the Trishuli River Basin. This is coupled with social and economic effects on local people, including the Tamang community in the case of the UT-3B project. Training participants agreed that project-specific environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs) are not enough to manage the impacts within a river basin.
“Today, we face severe environmental and social issues including loss of biodiversity, shortage of water resources, and displacement of local communities, leading to threats to traditional livelihoods,” said Naeem Akhtar, General Manager, Environment & Social at CSAIL. The challenges to implementing cumulative impact assessments in Pakistan are not unique to countries in the region. In countries with vast hydropower potentials including Nepal, Myanmar, and Lao PDR, cumulative impact assessments (CIAs) require collaboration between companies, civil society organizations, and government authorities. Despite challenges, this basin-wide approach—involving shared information and accountable decision-making—ultimately creates trust between stakeholders and builds stronger, more sustainable businesses.
“Through the CIA process, people who are directly or indirectly affected by the multiple projects have a right to voice their opinions and also have the opportunity to participate in decisions that affect their lives,” said Akhtar.
Since 2012, IFC has worked to elevate cumulative impact issues from hydropower in Asia and provide training and seminars to assist with improved understanding. IFC believes this is a crucial issue that can be tackled with the right baseline information and mitigation measures in place. By taking basin-wide approaches, stakeholders can improve environmental and social standards. For example, in 2016, IFC supported a basin-wide biodiversity strategy in the Jhelum-Poonch basin in Pakistan to identify and address cumulative impacts. In Myanmar, a country-wide government-led strategic environmental assessment is underway to understand the shared environmental and social values within the country. In Lao PDR, cumulative impact assessment guidelines were completed in 2017 and are now being considered by the government for adoption.
“Myanmar is less exposed to the idea of cumulative impact assessments,” said U Han Thein Lwin, Deputy CEO, Shwe Taung Infrastructure. “The case studies we explored were very useful as I can now practice directly on real projects where I am involved.”
Kate Lazarus, IFC’s team leader for the environmental and social hydro advisory program in Asia explained, "Getting all companies in one river basin on board to conduct a cumulative impact assessment isn’t an easy task. However, the benefits of conducting cumulative impact assessments are clear and could change the way companies view sustainability."
With commitment from major developers in a river basin, cumulative impact assessments will help companies work together to identify and ultimately lower the risks and effects on people and the environment, as is being planned in Nepal through a Trishuli River platform. Lazarus is planning to continue trainings on cumulative impact assessments and encourage governments to develop guidelines on this topic in Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.