An Asian Development Bank report last month is touting hydropower development as the key to maintaining Bhutan’s status as the continent’s fastest-growing economy, despite mounting concern about the environmental and human impact of past hydro development in the country.
The ADB’s Outlook 2017 sees the Bhutan economy growing 8.2% this year and 9.9% next, Renewable Energy World reports. “Bhutan has built its economy by focusing on clean energy that helps counter the impacts of climate change,” writes HydroWorld.comAssociate Editor Gregory Poindexter, citing the report. “Bhutan has untapped hydropower resources estimated at 30 GW, but only about 5% of that has been developed.”
ADB states that “large hydropower plants built for electricity export in recent years were bundled with programs to bring power to surrounding remote communities,” Poindexter reports. Earlier this year, HydroWorld identified hydro as the country’s biggest international commodity last fiscal year, accounting for 32.4% of exports and 8% of GDP.
But a report last year by the Delhi-based Vasudha Foundation and Oxfam India took a more critical view of projects since 2006, most of which were completed under bilateral agreements with India.
“Analysis of projects reveals that the control of management in project authorities is skewed in favour of India,” the report stated. “The planning, design, and management of projects implemented under the India-Bhutan energy cooperation agreement, and all major construction and supply contracts, are handled by Indian agencies.”
On the ground in Bhutan, “governments approve hydropower projects before assessing them for environmental impacts, and this has contributed to adverse environmental consequences,” the two NGOs concluded. “The impacts from projects include loss of forest lands; disturbance to wildlife habitat; noise pollution due to blasting and tunneling activities; impacts on fish breeding and migration; extreme dust pollution leading to respiratory disorders, lower crop productivity, and pollution of water sources; damage to open water bodies such as streams and ponds causing severe stress on water resources in the region.”
Moreover, “even though projects have been planned and constructed in close quarters and many times on the same river course, basin-wide studies to assess cumulative impacts of projects have not been conducted,” the report noted. “Consent of landowners was not sought prior to acquisition of their lands, and the affected people were not informed of the potential adverse impacts of large hydropower projects during consultative meetings.”