Initiative on Sustainable Hydropower

Hydropower Development in the Mekong Basin has escalated to the point where the Mekong is one of the most active regions in the world for hydropower development.

At the same time, concerns about the cumulative and transboundary impacts of existing and proposed hydropower schemes on the environment, fisheries and people’s livelihoods in the Lower Mekong Basin have been brought to the forefront by Mekong River Commission Member Countries and a wide range of stakeholders.

In response to this dynamic situation, the Initiative on Sustainable Hydropower (ISH) was established in 2008 and specifically focused on advancing regional cooperation for the sustainable management of the growing number of hydropower projects within a basin-wide perspective.

Through this Initiative, the MRC assisted Member Countries in relating decisions on hydropower management and development to basin-wide Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) perspectives. Additionally, under the 1995 Agreement, the MRC supports regional consultations on mainstream hydropower development proposals through its Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) process. The prior consultation process enables the Member Countries to discuss and evaluate potential risks and opportunities associated with each of such proposals.

Providing regional planning support

The Initiative aimed to construct and maintain knowledge platforms and networks enabling MRC Countries to routinely exchange information, share experiences and collaborate on tools and practices that deliver sustainable hydropower outcomes. The first step to achieving this aim is to adopt partnership approaches for dialogue to raise awareness, promote and genuinely advance sustainability considerations in hydropower decision-making.

Drawing effectively on regional and international experiences to share good practices relevant to all stages of planning, the ISH, in consultation with member countries, developed the Preliminary Design Guidance for Proposed LMB Hydropower Schemes. The Guidance provides a transboundary and international best practice approach to designing mainstream Mekong hydropower schemes and is shared with MRC Member Countries. Additionally, the initiative supports the development of strategic transboundary assessments, which provide the Member Countries with technical advice on potential regional impacts of mainstream hydropower schemes.

Supporting cross-cutting initiatives

The MRC Initiative on Sustainable Hydropower (ISH) was established as a cross-cutting initiative to achieve the benefits of a basin-wide approach to hydropower and focuses on long-term sustainability and mutually beneficial development.

The cross-cutting initiatives supported include:

  • The improvement of environmental and socio-economic baseline information for hydropower planning and management;
  • The evaluation of hydropower and fisheries productivity,
  • Assessing the cumulative impacts of hydropower development scenarios including climate change considerations,
  • Attention to mechanisms for benefit sharing and innovative finance approaches focused on enhancing sustainable outcomes that meet stakeholder expectations.

Gender and hydropower development

Hydropower development in the large river basin can have significant negative and positive social, environmental and economic impacts. Due to its complexity, the social aspects of the construction and operation of large dams have been of particular concern and extensively studied. However, much more needs to be done in the Mekong to address the gender-specific dimensions of hydropower development. Women are among the most vulnerable groups when it comes to hydropower development activities. However there is a lack of specific strategies and actions, to increase the role and potential of women and men as stakeholders and actors of change in these large dam developments. Therefore, a balanced and comprehensive approach to tackle the gender related risks and opportunities associated with hydropower development and operation is urgently needed.

Specifically, gender differentiated opportunities, impacts and risks can be considered in a number of thematic issues in the figure below:Specifically, gender differentiated opportunities, impacts and risks can be considered in a number of thematic issues in the figure below:

Gender and hydropower linkage

Click the figure below for more detailed explanation


To address a need for specific strategies and actions ISH, with support from GIZ, held a Regional Scoping Workshop on Gender and Sustainable Hydropower on 20-21 June 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand. The workshop provided an important platform to raise awareness and exchange ideas on how to promote gender mainstreaming in hydropower development. Concrete activities to be implemented by the MRC and its stakeholders to improve gender-sensitive hydropower were identified. Please find the workshop report here

With the inputs from the workshop, GIZ has been producing a working paper entitled “Gender and Hydropower: Linkages, Challenges and Good Practices”, that will be published soon.

As follow up to the recommended actions agreed by the four countries at the regional workshop ISH team, working closely with GIZ technical advisor responsible for gender mainstreaming, have integrated gender issues into ISH studies including ISH02, ISH11 and RSAT. Please refer to specific studies for more details. ...

Hydropower and fisheries

The MRC has been working on aspects of fisheries and hydropower. To date this work covers:

  • Fish and Hydropower Primer: Fish and Hydropower issues are highlighted and key management approaches are described for general awareness of hydropower practitioners and regional line agencies.
  • Fish Passage: The MRC with support from the GIZ has sponsored a thorough review of available fish passage technology and design parameters that may be applied to the Mekong context. The applicability of these techniques for both upstream and downstream migration is detailed.  Review report »
  • “Fish Compatible Turbines”: Current research and practice, on turbine design that reduces fish mortality during downstream migration through turbines, has been assembled. Technology advances are summarised and research requirements, for adaptation of this technology and practice to the Mekong situation is summarised. Review report»



Sustainable Hydropower

Initiative document

For detailed information on the structure and components of the Initiative, review the Initiative on Sustainable Hydropower Document.

ISH projects

RSAT: Rapid basin-wide hydropower sustainability assessment tool

ISH01: Identification of ecologically sensitive sub-basins for sustainable development of hydropower on tributaries

ISH02: Development of guidelines on the multi-purpose evaluation of hydropower projects

ISH0306: Guidelines for hydropower environmental impact mitigation and risk management in the Lower Mekong mainstream and tributaries

ISH 11: Improved environmental & socio-economic baseline information for hydropower planning

ISH13: Benefit sharing options for hydropower on Mekong tributaries

Guidance for dam design

The Preliminary Design Guidance provides a transboundary and international best practice approach to designing mainstream Mekong hydropower schemes. Read more under:  Preliminary Design Guidance for Proposed Mainstream Dams in the Lower Mekong Basin (PDG2009)

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of Mainstream Dams

The MRC-commissioned SEA Report holistically assessed all of the proposed twelve hydropower schemes against their cumulative risks, and opportunities. The Report also provides recommendations on how the proposed projects should be best pursued by Member Countries. View the MRC-commissioned SEA Report

Related topics

For more information about Initiative on Sustainable Hydropower in the Mekong River Basin visit the Sustainable Hydropower Topic page.

Development partners

Belgium, Finland, and Germany supported the Initiative on Sustainable Hydropower. 

Related Publications

Related News

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