New damage to hydropower project a bleak reminder of development bank missteps in Georgia

  • Dato Chipashvili

On June 23 mudflows from the Devdoraki glacier again hit the Dariali gorge and washed away a road and infrastructure connected to two hydropower projects planned in the north of Georgia. The destruction included the water intake for the 19 megawatt Larsi hydropower plant and the derivation pipes for the Dariali hydropower plant.

The Tergi river, which flows through the Darliali gorge, has changed its course and is running on protection blocks constructed to protect the derivation pipes of the Dariali plant.

According to media reports, employees at the Kazbegi checkpoint – the only legal checkpoint between Georgia and Russia – were evacuated due to the disaster. Unlike in 2014, there were fortunately no casualties.

Mudflow from the glacier does not come as a surprise to those watching the project, including geologists and NGOs that have warned both the company and the EBRD, who remains committed to funding the project. Such flooding is to be expected in the future, as there are at least two additional rivers (Khuro and Chkhere) that threaten the water intake in place for the Dariali project that have not been taken into account by the company nor the EBRD in the project’s design.

Dariali is a clear example of how NOT to construct and implement a project and why it is important to ensure that the public participates in decisions about infrastructure projects. The project is also a reminder as to why it is imperative that all project related risks and proper alternatives are identified and assessed.

In addition to the Dariali case, another project slated for financing by the EBRD and two other international financiers, the Asian Development Bank and European Investment Bank, at which seismic risks have been identified is the 280 MW Nenskra hydropower plant in the country’s northwestern Upper Svaneti.

Svaneti is a geologically sensitive mountainous area prone to landslides and mudflows, and the situation around the planned reservoir and the village of Nakra is critical. Nakra has a history of mudflows that have washed out the local cemetery and agricultural fields. Locals have long called for a flood protection system for fear that the planned works on the Nakra river could inhibit its ability to carry away sediments, resulting in flooding from mudflows in their village.

Yet according to a review of the Nenskra Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), the geological hazards and potential adverse impacts on locals have not been properly evaluated. In spite of this, the Ministry of Environment issued a positive ecological expertise report on the project, effectively giving it a green light.

The EBRD and other development banks should heed the lessons of Darliali and conduct a full geological assessment before any further consideration is given to Nenskra.

The blog has been published on the website of the CEE Bankwatch network