International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, has announced it is working to improve hydropower standards in Pakistan.

International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, has announced it is working to improve hydropower standards in Pakistan.

The organization said it held events last week to encourage broad support for improved environmental and social standards in the country’s hydropower sector in an effort to reduce development impact and risk.

IFC is funding several hydropower projects in the Jelhum-Poonch River Basin. These projects include operations by Laraib New Bong Hydropower and Star Hydro. Additionally, IFC has an equity investment in China Three Gorges South Asia Investment Limited (CSAIL), which plans to develop mid to large-sized hydropower plants in the same basin. Most recently, IFC approved funding for the Gulpur hydropower project operated by Mira Power on the Poonch River.

"Our project is challenged by biodiversity impacts and the associated cumulative impacts of other developments in the same basin," said Jahanzeb Murad, Environmental Manager from Mira Power. "With IFC’s support we’ve developed a comprehensive biodiversity strategy that helps our company better manage impacts and engage stakeholders effectively."

As the Gulpur hydropower project is located in Mahaseer National Park, IFC required project developer Mira Power to update their environmental and social impact assessment in order for the project to reach financial closure.

The assessment for Mira Power confirmed that the endangered Golden Mahaseer and critically endangered Kashmir Catfish were present in the same river as the planned hydropower project. The Golden Mahaseer is an important source of protein for the local population, while the Kashmir Catfish is endemic to the Jelhum-Poonch watershed and inhabits a very restricted distribution range. To ensure the continued health and survival of these crucial local species, IFC and Mira Power are building fish hatcheries.

IFC is also developing an advisory program to improve the sector’s environmental and social standards. With consulting firm Hagler Bailly and support from the Australian government, the events last week aimed to gain commitments from stakeholders to implement the biodiversity strategy for the Jhelum-Poonch watershed to responsibly guide project development. Attended by hydropower companies, top officials, researchers, scientists, power planners, and environmental NGOs, the event mapped out ways to collectively manage the basin.

"Our environmental and social experts are working to build capacity. They are identifying key issues hydro projects face and forming innovative ways to manage the Jhelum-Poonch watershed collectively," said Moazzam Ahmed, IFC Senior Country Officer based in Karachi. "We urge companies to continue to work with authorities to improve environmental and social management. Public-private collaboration on biodiversity conservation will make a real difference."