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Breakthrough’ sustainable hydropower assessment tool launched for Mekong River Basin

An innovative new assessment tool that helps identify, in as little as a week, the most sustainable sites, designs and operation rules for hydropower development in the lower Mekong River Basin has been launched by The Asian Development Bank, Mekong River Commission (MRC) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The Rapid Basin-wide Hydropower Sustainable Development Tool (RSAT), is designed to enhance existing tools and processes such as Environmental Impact Assessments and Management Plans, not to replace them. It works by bringing together different sectors and institutions and seeks integrated basin-wide planning and cooperation.

“This is a breakthrough in sustainable hydropower development because it allows for hydropower projects to be assessed within the basin-wide context, rather than on a case-by-case basis,” said Marc Goichot, Senior Infrastructure Advisor for WWF Greater Mekong Programme. “The sustainability of hydropower projects cannot be assessed in isolation from one another. Their cumulative impacts need to be considered and this is the only way to ensure the ecosystems and the services they provide are conserved.”

Currently, there are over 100 hydropower projects proposed for the lower Mekong River Basin that encompasses parts of Lao PDR, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. The tool is to be used by stakeholders such as government agencies and regulators, river basin organizations, developers, financial institutions and civil society groups. The tool uses existing social, environmental, cultural, economic and financial information on a river basin to make the rapid assessment.

“Sustainable hydropower requires that decisions about its development and management are placed in a river basin perspective. This involves a shift in thinking about water infrastructure as a wider development intervention, with more attention to the overall development effectiveness of projects beyond viewing infrastructure narrowly as a way to meet growing needs for water and energy services. In the long term this will also lead to local and national economic benefits,” commented Jeremy Bird, chief executive officer of the MRC Secretariat, an intergovernmental organisation working on sustainable development of the Mekong River Basin.

“Cumulative impact assessments are complex and time consuming to undertake and often difficult for all interested stakeholders to grasp the complete picture of the technical, environmental, social and economic issues in play. The RSAT enables the knowledge of many stakeholders to be captured so that hydropower investments do bring the positive outcomes needed by society to ensure everyone benefits. The RSAT tools help identify and communicate key actions to ensure these benefits are sustainable,” added Ian W Makin, Senior Water Resources Specialist, ADB.

The tool can be used in a number of different ways depending on the stage of planning or implementation, including as a checklist for preliminary assessments; a framework for risk assessment; to facilitate dialogue among different groups; to adapt management to changing contexts; identify capacity building needs; for training and as a skills development tool.

Specifically the tool is designed to assess existing and proposed cascades of hydropower projects within a sub-basin or multiple projects within a basin of a tributary; a single hydropower project and its relationship to a tributary basin; a sub-basin as a whole that has hydropower potential; and trans-boundary issues for basins shared by different countries, where hydropower is already developed or could be developed in future. The tool has been developed in the context of the Mekong River, but is equally applicable elsewhere in the world.

The basin-wide assessment tool complements and builds on a similar project based tool developed by a multi-stakeholder initiative, the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum, and which focuses on the planning, design and operation stages of individual projects.

Financial support for the initiative has been provided by the governments of Germany and Finland and the USAID.


Category/ies:Hydropower Tech.
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