This document by International Rivers Network provides a background for the recent plans initiated by India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan to build several hundred dams on the Himalayan mountains, which store vast amounts of water and with their high slopes and fast moving rivers, present a huge potential for generating hydropower.
India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan have been facing the increasing challenges of meeting their rising elecricity and energy needs and hydropower dams in the Himalayas are being proposed as solutions to meet a considerable part of these requirements.
The document examines the various arguments that have been put forward against the building of the dams as against the proposed advantages that the dams are claimed to have for these four countries, which share common geographical, topographical and eco-climatic features but have starkly different political and economic contexts.
A review of existing evidence and the arguments raised by a number of experts highlight the following points:
- There is very little evidence to establish that big dams are the only, the best or the optimal solution to the electricity question.
- While these projects will undoubtedly generate many thousands of units of electricity, it does not mean that they will help improve access to power for the poor and the vulnerable sections of society.
- The high cost of these projects, their long distances from load centres, the increasing need for privatisation of these projects and the incentives and tax breaks being offered to attract private companies, are all likely to result in high costs of electricity, which will only benefit the sections of society with a high paying capacity.
- These projects are likely to have huge social, environmental and cultural impacts, which will be especially harsh on locals, tribal people, farmers and others living in the remote valleys of the Himalayas.
- The downstream impacts of the proposed projects will also be serious, and will be felt in areas from just downstream of the projects all the way to the plains and the deltas.
- Experts have also been concerned about the cumulative impacts of what is likely to be the highest concentration of dams in the world, in a region that is ecologically fragile.
- Many have raised concerns about the way in which the decisions for the construction of the dams have been taken without taking into consideration the views of the people who will be most affected by the dams. Similarly, social, environmental and cultural issues have not been given any considerations in the decision-making processes.
The document argues that pushing ahead such a massive dam-building program in the fragile Himalayan region without proper social and environmental assessments and safeguards, and ignoring the likely impacts of climate change, can have severe consequences for the environment and the people of the region.
The document argues for the need to conduct a comprehensive review of the dam building program in each of the river basins in the Himalayas and for evolving an alternative approach to meet the pressing energy and water needs in a manner that is just and sustainable. The document ends by making an appeal to the people of the region to remember that they are the custodians of a treasure that is the common heritage of the entire world - The Himalayas.
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