'Managing climate and social risks key to hydro sector development'
Kathmandu, September 2
A new study says the societal risks of alienating local people in areas where hydropower projects are constructed are nearly as important to consider as climate risk. The findings were based on the study of glaciers across the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, which was presented during Stockholm World Water Week.
According to the study — being conducted by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and FutureWater to understand the impacts of climate change in the mountains and the possible downstream consequences — these hydropower projects are mostly in mountain areas, and local people often perceive that the benefits accrue to people in the plains who get electricity, while people in the mountains bear the environmental and social costs.
“To manage this risk, hydropower companies need to provide direct and tangible benefits to local communities,” reads a media release issued today.
Aditi Mukherji, theme leader for water and air at ICIMOD, discussed successful benefit sharing mechanisms in Nepal and India, concluding that good and responsible governance at the local level is needed to ensure that local communities derive commensurate benefits from hydropower projects.
The Hindu Kush Himalayan region has nearly 500 GW hydropower potential, but only a fraction of it has been developed. As countries in the region gear up for increased hydropower production to alleviate energy poverty, they find themselves grappling with increasing climatic and social risks.
The seminar convened by ICIMOD, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), FutureWater, and Statkraft at Stockholm World Water Week on Thursday discussed these risks and the way forward, the release adds.
“There is a need to manage risks so that the mountains and the plains derive sustainable benefits from the region’s rich hydropower potential,” the release has quoted David Molden, director general of ICIMOD as saying, and stressing the importance of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region as a global asset.
The hydropower sector is facing major challenges as a result of climate change-induced glacier melt. Glaciers across the region are retreating, leading to changes in future hydrological regimes. At the same time, the risk of glacial lake outburst floods and landslides is increasing, putting both existing and planned hydropower plants at risk.
“Changes in hydrological regimes means that there will be more water in the near future as glaciers melt, but it will decline after 2100,” said Arthur Lutz from FutureWater, a water management research organisation, as per the release.
Martin Honsberg, from the hydropower company Statkraft, added, “The only feasible way to manage this risk is to be better informed about the impacts of climate change on glaciers and river regimes, which can be done by setting up long-term monitoring systems.”
At World Water Week this year, ICIMOD convened various seminars and hosted a booth to draw attention to a range of water-related issues and their impact on the ecosystems and people of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, the release says.