Frequently asked questions - RSAT

Rapid basin-wide hydropower sustainability assessment tool (RSAT) is a multi-stakeholder dialogue and assessment tool designed to consider hydropower sustainability issues in a river basin context.

A frequently asked question is regarding the difference between the RSAT and other tools such as Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Strategic Assessment (SEA) and the IHA Sustainability Protocol. The RSAT is designed as a “value add” tool that complements but does not replace these other tools. How is the RSAT different from these other tools? The boxes below provide a summary of the key differences.

Q. What is the difference between RSAT and EIA?
A. Key differences between RSAT and EIA
Voluntary tool Regulatory and legal requirement
Conducted by basin stakeholders groups Conducted by consultants or hydropower companies to comply with regulatory requirements.
Assesses a sub-basin with multiple projects at any stage of development from planning to operation stage. Assesses the impacts of one project in the planning stage of development only.
Uses secondary data as evidence, does not collect primary data. Includes collection of primary data.
Does not assess impacts of individual projects. Assesses the impacts of individual projects.
Focuses on cumulative and basin wide impacts. Focuses on the impacts of an individual project
Focuses on issues that are the responsibility of government agencies as well as hydropower developers and operators at all project stages. Focuses on issues that are the responsibility of developers of new projects.
Assesses institutional capacity and effectiveness of national safeguard systems. Does not typically assess institutional capacity or effectiveness of national safeguard systems.


Q. What is the difference between RSAT and SEA?
A. Key differences between RSAT and SEA
Hydropower sub-basin is the unit of assessment. The unit of assessment varies e.g. national plan, sector plan, master plan or power plan may be the unit of assessment.
Hydropower specific Can be applied to any sector
Rapid assessment Generally involves longer term and resource intensive studies.
RSAT uses a pre-determined multi-criteria framework and consistent method based on IWRM and hydropower sustainability principles. The methodology for SEA varies and is usually developed in the scoping stage.
Conducted by multi-stakeholder groups. Usually conducted by consultants.
Dialogue is a priority Dialogue may or may not be important.
Focuses on national to local level and includes analysis of on ground practices. Focus on strategic level and is a high level assessment.
Assesses effectiveness of safeguard systems and institutional capacity. Not focused on institutional capacity and safeguard systems.


Q. What is the difference between the RSAT and the IHA Hydropower Sustainability assessment protocol?
A. Key differences between RSAT and IHA Protocal
RSAT IHA Protocal
Assesses the sub-basin and multiple projects at all project stages. Assesses one project at one stage of development.
Stakeholders conduct the assessment. Certified assessors conduct the assessment.
Dialogue approach Independent audit approach
Optional scoring Scoring is the main output.
Key output is recommended actions. No recommended actions
Intended primarily for government use. Intended primarily for developer use.
Flexible use Strict rules of use
Less detailed focus on individual projects More detailed focus on individual projects
Combines good practice principles for IWRM and sustainable hydropower. Defines good practice and best practice for hydropower sustainability for individual projects.
Mekong application Global application


Q. Is the RSAT a regulatory tool?

A. No, the RSAT is a voluntary tool. It does not replace regulatory tools and processes and its use is not mandated.

Q. Does the RSAT assessment reach a conclusion on whether a project is sustainable or not. Is it a pass or fail tool?

A. No, the RSAT is not a pass or fail tool for an individual project. It takes a basin wide approach. The current situation in the sub-basin is assessed against a set of topics and criteria to identify risks and priority actions and build consensus on good practice and actions to be taken to improve practice in hydropower sub-basins.

Q. Is the RSAT a tool to promote hydropower?

A. The RSAT is designed to assess river basins that have hydropower development; planned, proposed, operating, committed projects or a combination. The RSAT is not designed to promote hydropower or to reject hydropower as the best available development option in a river basin. It is designed to facilitate analysis of risks and opportunities in the sub-basin and the identification of actions to be taken towards sustainable development, improved governance and on ground practices.

Q. Does the RSAT assess whether planned hydropower projects in the basin should go ahead?

A.The RSAT is not used to determine whether or not individual projects should proceed. More comprehensive and detailed assessment of individual projects such as EIA is conducted under national regulatory systems to determine whether planned projects proceed. An RSAT assessment includes analysis of the various studies, planning and decision making process relating to hydropower and water resources and their effectiveness in achieving sustainable development objectives.

Q. Why do we need another tool when there are already so many tools for hydropower and IWRM?

A. The RSAT does not replace existing regulatory and planning processes such as EIA but it does assess the effectiveness of the existing safeguard systems. An RSAT assessment also enables connections to be made between different tools and processes that may be the responsibility of different stakeholder groups or government agencies (e.g. EIA studies, licensing, power planning, hydrological data, regulations, SEA etc). Understanding the relationship between different processes helps to identify gaps and strategies for integrated planning and management.

Q. At what stage of development should the RSAT be used?

A. The RSAT can be used at any stage of development and addresses aspects of development from strategic planning through to operation stage. It provides an assessment of the current situation in the sub-basin at any point in time.

Q. Who can use the RSAT?

A. There are no restrictions on the use of the RSAT and resources and training is available to support its use for stakeholder groups that would like to use the RSAT. It has been used by provincial and national government agencies, river basin organisations, NGO’s, consultants, water user groups and hydropower developers in the Mekong Region.

Q. What is the main method of assessment?

A. Multi-criteria gap analysis, multi-stakeholder dialogue, issue analysis and prioritisation and developing recommendations.

Q. How were the RSAT topics, sub-topics and criteria selected?

A. The RSAT consists of 10 topics and 27 sub-topics. The topics and criteria were selected as a result of research into IWRM principles and practices and internationally accepted good practice for hydropower sustainability. The topics and criteria are also designed specifically for the Mekong context.

Q. What if there is not enough data to conduct an assessment?

A. In most cases in Mekong hydropower sub-basins there will be insufficient data to conduct a fully informed evidence based assessment. The RSAT is conducted based on available and accessible secondary data at the time of the assessment. The multi-criteria analysis will identify the current data gaps or data access issues in the sub-basin. Such analysis will assist prioritisation for investment in future data collection and data sharing efforts in the basin.

Q. Is the RSAT a software application or modelling program?

A. No, it is a set of topics and criteria and an easy to use assessment method.

Q. How long does it take to complete an RSAT assessment?

A.  It varies, depending on the scale and complexity of the basin, the objective of the assessment and availability of data. Usually it requires 2-4 weeks for data gathering and preparation by the RSAT practitioner, 2-3 days for the RSAT overview training session and 3-4 days for an assessment and dialogue workshop including a field visit. These activities are followed by a reporting period.

Q. Why does the RSAT focus only on hydropower and not other sectors in the basin?

A. An RSAT assessment will also consider issues relevant to other sectors (e.g. fisheries, irrigation, flood control) however hydropower is the central focus. It is designed as a tool to focus on hydropower sustainability in an IWRM context.

Q. What expertise is required to use the tool?

A. The RSAT is designed to be easy to use for a range of stakeholder groups. It is a multi-disciplinary tool. The RSAT practitioner or national consultant teams conducting the data collection and gap analysis should have background knowledge and experience in hydropower and field related to water resource management related fields. The participants in a dialogue workshop ideally should have knowledge and experience in the basin being assessed and represent a diversity of stakeholder groups.

Q. What are the outputs and outcomes of an RSAT assessment?

A. For each topic, the outputs are: a stakeholder analysis, a gap analysis against RSAT criteria, multi-stakeholder analysis of the significance and consequence of gaps, identification of priority issues and actions. If scoring is used, then a score is allocated for each topic. A report is produced to summarise the assessment outcomes.