IFC environmental and social experts are urging companies and governments to consider the impact of hydropower projects from a broad, basin-wide perspective that includes planned upstream and downstream developments.
“Unless you look at cumulative impacts, you don’t have a project,” said Vaqar Zakaria, Managing Director, Hagler Bailey, based in Islamabad. In February, Zakaria presented his company’s findings from the IFC-commissioned cumulative impact assessment (CIA) for the Gulphur Hydropower Project in Pakistan at the Sixth International Conference on Water Resources and Hydropower Development in Asia in Vientiane.
About 700 participants from over 40 countries joined the conference, where IFC offered a one-day seminar on the importance of conducting cumulative impact assessments. The assessment, a component of IFC’s Performance Standard 1, Assessment and Management of Environmental and Social Risks and Impacts, is becoming more relevant to hydropower projects as stakeholders look upstream and downstream to understand impact. At the conference, case studies from Pakistan and Nepal, where IFC has required its clients to prepare such studies, were shared.
In Pakistan, the assessment was carried out in two phases to identify valued environmental and social criteria (VECs) at a basin-wide level using a comprehensive model focused on environmental flows, or the timing of flows and quality of water that helps sustain healthy livelihoods and ecosystems. The assessment helped the Gulphur project better understand the impact of planned and foreseeable development on the environment and human activity in the basin.
“With cumulative impact assessments there’s often a perception problem,” said Ashok Baniya, Environmental Manager for Nepal Water and Energy Development Company. “The private sector often sees its responsibility ending at the property boundaries and expects the government to take care of issues beyond this area, using tax dollars.”
During a panel discussion led by IFC, Baniya shared the case for the Upper Trishuli 1 hydropower project in Nepal, showing how a cumulative impact assessment could help strengthen weak governing systems. His recommendations included the need to develop policy and legal frameworks as well as clearly defining responsibilities of the government and hydropower developers.
“There is solid evidence of how important a cumulative impact is, but for it to work everybody needs to get on board,” said Baniya. “Leadership models and coordination mechanisms need to be in place.”
As explained by Baniya and Zakaria, roles and responsibilities should be clarified in countries such as Pakistan and Nepal. The intensive coordination that a cumulative impact assessment requires could help improve communication between the private and public sector and promote government ownership.
“We’re helping untangle environmental and social issues, bringing the private sector and government around the same table,” said Kate Lazarus, Team Lead for IFC’s hydro advisory program based in Vientiane. “This marks a major shift in the hydropower space.”
In 2013, IFC developed a six-step process to conduct a rapid cumulative impact assessment. IFC specialists are now working together with companies in emerging markets to help them identify how they contribute to cumulative impacts and offer guidance on project design and implementation of measures to manage associated risks better.
At the conference, IFC also organized a session on the challenges and opportunities of small hydropower development in Lao PDR. The panel discussion, chaired by the Hydropower Developers’ Working Group, debated the complexities of small hydropower development including perspectives from the buyer, financier and government. Additionally, IFC sponsored a booth illustrating how companies can drive change in the hydropower sector as well as an exhibition of photographs by Tessa Bunney, on the women of the Nam Ou River Basin in Lao PDR.