SOURCE: The Third Pole

DATE: March 4, 2019

SNIP: With growing warnings of the cascading impacts of climate change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, the region’s hydropower sector ought to take note.

Melting snow and retreating glaciers in a region, parts of which are warming up at three times the global average, will drastically change the seasonal flow of Asia’s major rivers. More intense floods and rainfalls and periods of prolonged drought are predicted and will wreak havoc for hydropower stations. In the longer term lack of water may mean dams are no longer viable.

The region has 500 GW of potential energy, and 550 projects underway are planned or are under construction in steep Himalayan valleys in China, India, Pakistan and Bhutan, according to ICIMOD’s new HIMAP report.

The potential impacts on fragile ecosystems, river flow, downstream flood plains are mentioned, but framed as necessary trade-offs. Large hydropower projects with well-defined benefit-sharing mechanisms are held up as the ideal energy solution.

Hydropower is considered as key to reducing poverty and promoting industrial growth in the mountain regions, as well as a way to mitigate and adapt to climate change. But the negative impacts on local communities are brushed over.

History shows large dams too often leave local communities suffering from environmental damage and lack of water and without even the benefits of power – which is largely produced for export to other regions or countries.

Large dams are not only vulnerable to disasters, they also contribute to them.

In areas of the Himalayas where dams are built, cracks emerge on houses, landslides increase, slopes become unstable and springs and water resources dry up nearby. This can happen years after construction.

Dam reservoirs may even trigger earthquakes. This is the most fiercely debated risk, since the 7.9-magnitude Sichuan earthquake in 2008, which killed around 70,000 people and left nearly 20,000 missing. Some scientists argue that the weight of water behind a dam can produce shearing stress strong enough to worsen, or trigger, an earthquake. The 510 foot high Zipingpu dam, the largest dam in Sichuan province of China, was implicated in the 2008 earthquake.