The development of hydropower in India is being reviewed after the Uttarakhand disaster, in which flash floods this year killed thousands of people and wrought immense damage in the mountainous region, a senior Indian official has said.

“After the Uttarakhand floods, high-level policymakers and bureaucrats have been in serious discussions, rethinking hydropower development in the country,” said Mihir Shah, member of the Planning Commission of India, adding that there were serious concerns regarding the current pace of hydropower development after the Uttarakhand disaster. This is the first time that a senior Indian member of the government has admitted this on record.

Concerns over hydropower

India is not alone in its concerns. Climate induced disasters are on the rise and there is urgent need to rethink development strategies in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, said other worried experts who gathered in Kathmandu in early December for a conference organised by the National Planning Commission of Nepal and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

According to the government of India, only 23% of the total hydropower resources have been tapped so far in the country and getting to the remaining resources is a major priority. The government has set the optimum power system mix target at 40% from hydropower and 60% from other sources.

“Undoubtedly India is power hungry country and is under pressure due to increasing demand for the energy but present development of hydropower should  be reviewed and sustainability should be assured,” Shah said.

More than 200 planners, policymakers, experts and development workers brainstormed at the conference, which ended on December 4, to discuss key issues to be included in the post 2015 development goals – the UN Millennium Development Goals will be reviewed in 2015.

“Addressing poverty of the mountain people should be the priority of the countries in the region as there is high degree of inequality to access on natural resources for the mountain people,” said Phrang Roy, an expert from India on rural development.

According to ICIMOD, the poverty rate is on average 5% higher in the mountainous Hindu Kush-Himalayas, than the rate for countries as a whole.

Giving the Nepal perspective, Rabindra Shakya, vice-chair of the National Planning Commission of Nepal, said: “Hydro development is also the priority of the government of Nepal and we are clear that poverty reduction could be done by hydropower development but we are serious on minimising environmental impacts.”

Wei Fangqiang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Chengdu said China had been trying to balance development activities in mountains and lowlands.

“We are massively developing the mountainous region as we feel there is an urgency to address people’s needs but we have put education and technology as the priority in mountainous region which will ultimately help reducing poverty in the region,“ Wei said.

The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region extends 3,500 kilometres over all or part of eight countries from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east. It is the source of ten large Asian river systems. The Himalayas, also termed as the Third Pole, provides water to 1.3 billion people—a fifth of the world’s population.



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