Innovative Tool for Mekong Basin-wide sustainable hydropower assessment launched

Vientiane, Lao PDR, 26th Jan 2011

A breakthrough in sustainable hydropower development has been made with the launch of 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.

The Asian Development Bank, Mekong River Commission (MRC) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) launched the Rapid Basin-wide Hydropower Sustainable Development Tool or RSAT.

“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,” he added.

Currently, there are over 100 hydropower projects proposed for the lower Mekong River Basin that encompasses parts of Lao PDR, Cambodia, Thailand and Viet Nam. 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,” says Jeremy Bird, the chief executive officer of the MRC Secretariat, an intergovernmental organisation working on sustainable development of the Mekong River Basin.

The 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.

“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,” says 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.

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Notes to Editor

The Asian Development Bank ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific region through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members – 48 from the region.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) is the intergovernmental body responsible for cooperation on the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin whose members include Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. In dealing with this challenge, the commission looks across all sectors including sustaining fisheries, identifying opportunities for agriculture, maintaining the freedom of navigation, flood management and preserving important ecosystems. Superimposed on these are the future effects of more extreme floods, prolonged drought and sea level rise associated with climate change. In providing its advice, the MRC aims to facilitate a broad range of dialogue among governments, the private sector and civil society.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with almost 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. www.panda.org/media for latest news and media resources.

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Email: surasak@mrcmekong.org  
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