ASIA-2017: Surplus power, cancelled Hydro and dam risks dominate

SOUTH EAST ASIA Rivers are invaluable INTERESTING QUESTION: HOW MANY DIFFERENT WAYS CAN YOU MEASURE A RIVER? “Perhaps the most important – and largely overlooked – measure of a river is its value to the economy and wellbeing of a nation, a region, and its people. Simply put, large healthy, productive rivers like the Mekong and Ayeyarwady (or Irrawaddy) are unifying geographic features that serve as economic juggernauts, essential to long term growth and in maintaining the quality of life for millions of people.”

“These (FLOOD) benefits are valued annually at US$8-10 billion (K10.8 trillion), while floods in the Lower Mekong basin cause a much lower $60-70 million in damage every year.” “Floods and sediment are the artisans of river systems. If you lose them you are left to human-engineered solutions. That is now the only option for the US government in the Mississippi River. A $50-billion program has just been launched to rehabilitate the Mississippi delta. Conserving the natural processes that created it in the first place would have been a much more cost efficient option.”

CHINA Hydropower boom outpaces regional electricity demand This interesting RARE article about China hydropower and electricity dynamics asks, why is China and specifically Yunnan province continuing to push hydropower in spite of apparent access. The answer does not sound very convincing: If oversupply is already apparent, and if much of China’s new renewable generation is either curtailed or not connected to the grid, then why continue large-scale hydropower development in Yunnan and neighbouring regions? Just as planners are keen to export Yunnan’s hydropower to Guangdong, China as a whole is keen to export its planning expertise. Plans for region-wide power grids linking ASEAN states will facilitate transmission of electricity across national borders, even if the financial arrangements for such transfers prove more complicated. And because hydropower output can be changed almost instantaneously it can effectively balance the increasing share of intermittent renewable electricity sources on grids.

The last part would be increasingly less attractive, considering the huge impacts and costs of Hydro and likely development of cheaper storage options. This is also not convincing considering the huge costs and impacts of hydro: As leaders in China and elsewhere look to reduce dependence on polluting energy sources, hydropower’s role will only grow in importance.

It rightly ends: Small or large, all dams displace people, disrupt ecosystems, limit sediment transport, contribute to downstream erosion, alter flow regimes, and create a host of other problems. Overbuilding and under-utilising dams in sensitive areas of acute cultural and biological diversity will only worsen those impacts.

See how the land use change has completely transformed the landscape around Pearl River Delta in China between 1990 and 2016

Rising water threatens China’s rising cities In the Pearl River Delta, breakneck development is colliding with the effects of climate change. Picture of future Indian coastal cities? STRANGELY, THE PIECE DOES NOT MENION ONE OF THE KEY FACTORS BEHIND SINKING AND SHRINKING DELTAS THAT IS THE TRAPPING OF SEDIMENT BY UPSTREAM DAMS.

The water you drink is as dangerous as the air you breathe As per official standards Shanghai water pollution crisis continues unabated – 85% of the water in the city’s major rivers was undrinkable in 2015 and 56.4% was unfit for any purpose. Green Peace new water quality reports finds that nearly half the country has missed its five-year water quality targets. Water pollution levels in China’s other major cities are also extremely high. In Beijing, 39.9% of water was so polluted that it was essentially functionless. In Tianjin, northern China’s principal port city and home to 15 million people, a mere 4.9% of water is usable as a drinking water source. One reason for this is that local governments have too often failed to crack down on polluting industries.

LAOS China-built hydro project threat to Mekong Delta Nguyen Anh Duc, director of the Mekong River Development Assistance Center under the Mekong River Commission of Vietnam, said if the hydropower plant is built on the basis of such inadequate information, it would cause unforeseen consequences to the lower course, especially Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. Preliminary estimates show that the cumulative impacts to be caused by Pak Beng along with the hydropower terraces on the Mekong mainstream may reduce the amount of nutrients for Vietnam’s Mekong Delta by 6-10 %.–poses-threat-to-mekong-delta.html

Concerns over dam’s environmental impact The first dam on the lower Mekong River may start generating electricity earlier than expected. The controversial Don Sahong dam is in Laos, and the communist government says it needs the project to improve its economy. But many who rely on the river argue that not enough research has been done on the environmental effect. (Al Jazeera, 20 Feb. 2018)

Thailand Opposition to Mekong dredging plan Conservationists are worried that dredging the Mekong River would destroy ecosystems supporting numerous fish and bird species in the 180 km stretch that flows past the northern province of Chiang Rai. Dredging has already begun along the Laos and Myanmar stretches north of Thailand. Kham Yana, a Thai fisherman in Chiang Saen near the Golden Triangle, said he has already seen the impact. According to Kham, the river flow has been more rapid and there has been less fish as a result because the rocky outcrops are fish-breeding grounds. Locals also said that there has been more erosion of river banks.

Cambodia Rapid decline in Tonle Sap raises alarms The damage done to fish migration to and from the Tonle Sap by upstream dams in China and Laos has already been widely reported. But the damage to the Tonle Sap caused by a decline in sediment flows which have been disrupted by the dams has been less well studied. According the SEI report, factors leading to “a drastic reduction in sediment loads” in the Mekong include hydroelectric dams, riverbed mining for sand, land-use changes, and climate change. Among these factors, the report says, the most important are the dams and riverbed mining. (Radio Free Asia 27 Dec 2017)

Vietnam Climate change impacts worsen in Mekong Delta Scholars attribute reoccurring flood, landslides and drought issues in Mekong Delta to global climate change, interventions in the Mekong River’s course made by countries along the river, and low environmental awareness of the public. 2016 was worst drought in a century that hit the delta. In 2017, the region went through its annual flooding season, finding almost no resources coming from the upstream areas. Upstream dams have led to a reduction of alluvium, thus causing landslides. (29 Dec 2017)

Myanmar Tamanthi & Shwezaye HEP under India-Myanmar cooperation suspended According to latest report from Govt of India’s Central Electricity Authority, dated Feb 2018, the implementation of 1200 MW Tamanthi costing Rs 17271 crores and 642 MW Shwezaye Project, costing Rs 18026 Crores “has since been suspended by Ministry of Electric Power (MOEP), Myanmar due to their perceived Social and environmental impacts and their economic unviability.” About the DPR of the Shwezaye project, the report says: “However, the same could not be finalized due to geological constraints, project location in seismically active terrain, possibility of presence of volcanic crater below dam foundation etc.”

Flood of resistance against govt large dam push  There are a number of major problems with Myanmar’s dam plans. First, the most lucrative hydro spots identified lie in the country’s rugged periphery – home to ethnic minorities. So far these projects have been led by the military with no public consultation or participation, causing forced displacement and bringing no benefits to local people. Second, projects have been identified by foreign and private developers without carrying out proper risk assessments as a result many of large dams are planned in areas of high earthquake risk. Third, these projects offer a terrible deal for Myanmar. Under many of the contracts 90% of the electricity will be exported to neighbouring China or Thailand, power that Myanmar so desperately needs. This is a comprehensive report, throwing ample light over ongoing community agitations against large hydro projects and the issues involved.

Myitsone dam supported by China to be scrapped China has shifted its position in a lengthy dispute with Myanmar over the building of a $3.6 billion dam, sources said, signalling its willingness to abandon the project in exchange for other economic and strategic opportunities in Myanmar. Until recently, China had been pushing hard for the 6000 MW project to go ahead despite widespread opposition within Myanmar which forced the suspension of work in 2011.  China is looking for an honourable way out, the report says.

Indonesia Making Rivers Great Again Research by the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry showed that 75 percent of rivers in the country are seriously polluted, 52 of which are categorized as heavily polluted, and 118 watersheds out of 450 are critically polluted.

Bali declares Plastic Garbage Emergency’ as rising tide of plastic buries beaches For decades the Indonesian island of Bali a byword for tropical paradise, now the island has declared a “garbage emergency” after its most popular tourist beaches were inundated with a rising tide of plastic waste. ( 29 Dec 2017)

Indonesia is the second biggest plastic polluter in the world after China. The river of Citarum in West Java has been described as the most polluted river in the world with detritus dumped in it by nearby factories. An estimated eight million tons of plastic were released into the world’s oceans in 2010, according to a University of Georgia study. Indonesia accounted for up to 1.29 million tons, or more than 15 per cent of the total. ( 28 Dec 2017)

Philippines Battering deadly flooding landslides The death toll from Tropical Storm Tembin in southern Philippines has risen to at least 200 people with hundreds more missing. Rescue efforts are under way after the storm lashed the country’s second largest island, Mindanao on Dec 22, triggering mudslides and flash floods.

Japan Tokyo’s underground flood system Tokyo is planning the world’s most advanced system to deal with flooding on a massive scale” costing USD 2.6 Billion. The project is called G-Cans and it’s comprised of gargantuan tunnels, colossal water tanks, massive pillars and enormous pumps that all work together to divert flood waters out to the Tokyo Bay and away from the city’s 35 million inhabitants. The system works by channeling the overflowing floodwaters of rivers in and around Tokyo into the underground tunnels and silos. The project was undertaken by the Japanese Government and overseen by the Japan Institute of Wastewater Engineering Technology. The facility is capable of withstanding a historic flood, the kind that only comes every 200 years. Tokyo exists on fairly low-lying ground and as a result, is particularly sensitive to flooding.

Israel Mishor Rotem tailings dam failure Even as India signed agreement with Israel for water resource management, the news of a tailing DAM FAILURE in that country, leading to massive ecological damage, was not in public domain. As per this blog (which includes a very good video of failed dam site) by David Petley, describing how release of 100 000 cubic meters (enough to fill 40 Olympic size pools) of highly acidic waste water of a fertiliser plant into the Ashalim riverbed, led to huge ecological damage over at least 20 km stretch.

Syria Dam at risk of collapse As per activists, the Islamic State group ordered residents to evacuate the Syrian city of Raqqa on March 26, 2017 following reports that Tabqa Dam contested by US-backed forces upstream on the Euphrates River could collapse. The militants said coalition airstrikes had weakened the Tabqa Dam, some 40 km west of Raqqa, and that the water level behind the dam was rising. The group also said in messages carried on its social media channels that the dam’s operations had been put out off service and that all flood gates were closed. The US-led coalition battling IS could not immediately be reached for comment. The dam is the largest in Syria.

Iraq Iran-Iraq quake damages Diyala River dam Engineers in northern Iraq are carrying out repairs on a vital dam built on Diyala river near the town of Darbandikhan in Iraq’s Sulaimaniyah province. It was damaged by powerful magnitude 7.3 earthquake that struck the Iraq-Iran borer area on Nov 12 night. The dam which provides water and electricity to about two million people risks breaking and unleashing disastrous flooding.

As per dam’s director, Rahman Hani, the dam, completed in 1961, is “the strongest built in the last one hundred years” but that there is now “very clear damage to the top of the dam. It wasn’t immediately clear how the damage would impact power production. The last time the dam was renovated was in 2013.

The Diyala River is a tributary of the Tigris. It is formed by the confluence of Sirwan river and Tanjero river in Darbandikhan Dam in the Sulaymaniyah Governorate of Northern Iraq. It covers a total distance of 445 km.

Iran-Iraq Imminent Danger of Turkish Dam According to an official from Department of Environment, Turkey’s plan to construct Ilisu Dam over Tigris River can pose a serious environmental threat to Iraq and eventually Iran by reducing the entry of Tigris water to Iraqi territory by 56%. Ilisu Dam is under construction. Once IIisu Dam is built over Tigris River, Hour al-Azim Wetland will eventually dry up, triggering a major environmental catastrophe in Iran. The project has drawn widespread criticism from environmental groups in Turkey and abroad, which are concerned that it will threaten endangered species and cause ecological damage to the Tigris River.

Tigris flows south from the mountains of southeastern Turkey through Iraq. Before flowing into the Persian Gulf, the river joins the Euphrates to form the Arvandroud (aka Shatt-al-Arab) whose water stream along with that of Karkheh River in Khuzestan Province feed Hour al-Azim Wetland on the Iran-Iraq border.

Ilisu Dam is part of Turkey’s large-scale project known as GAP (Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi) or the Southeastern Anatolia Project that involves the construction of 22 dams on the Euphrates & Tigris, & 19 hydro projects.

Compiled by SANDRP (

NOTE: This report excludes the developments in South Asia, for which separate compilation is being published.

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