The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum

The International Hydropower Association created the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum (HSAF) in 2007 in cooperation with governments, financial institutions and conservation organizations. The Forum's official goal is to "develop a broadly endorsed sustainability assessment tool" for the hydropower sector by the end of 2009.

HSAF is currently preparing a new Sustainability Assessment Protocol with guidelines on more than 80 aspects of dam projects. The hydropower industry hopes that the Protocol can replace the framework of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) as the most legitimate benchmark for dam projects. In particular, the industry hopes it will be able to attract public subsidies for dams which pass an HSAF score card.

HSAF published a first report which summarizes its proposed approach in January 2009. This Key Components Document does not define any clear minimum standards that developers must follow, or rights that they must respect. It ignores several key concerns completely, and buries others in a host of less relevant aspects.

The process through which the new Protocol is prepared illustrates how HSAF is disenfranchising affected people. The Forum is a self-selected group, and dam-affected people have no seat in it. The HSAF started a belated consultation exercise in January 2009, half-way through the process. Even then, it did not ensure that affected people could effectively participate in the process.

International Rivers is monitoring the HSAF process. We have produced a comparison of the World Commission on Dams framework with the existing IHA sustainability guidelines and the policies of the World Bank's International Finance Corporation. We have written to HSAF to request effective participation of affected people and civil society. We have prepared a detailed critique of the HSAF's Key Components Document. And we will ensure that a flawed protocol will not replace the WCD framework as the leading international benchmark for hydropower projects.