Nenskra hydropower project, Georgia

Resistance against a EBRD funded dam in Georgia’s northern Svaneti region has caused locals to restore the traditional ruling body lalkhor in order to increase the community’s impact on the national decision-making process


Description
The Nenskra hydropower plant is a dam project of 280 MW and considered a the most advanced of Georgia's massive plans for hydropower installations in the Upper Svaneti region. The project is located on the river Nenskra, up stream to the Khudoni dam. On Monday, August 31, 2015, the Partnership Fund of Georgia and South Korea’s K-Water company executed the key project agreements to develop and construct the 280 MW hydropower plant under the BOT scheme (Build-Operate-Transfer). Apart from serving the national demand, the project might also export electricity to Turkey [5]. According to Bankwatch, as has been the practice with other hydropower projects in Georgia, the Nenskra implementation agreement signed in August 2015 is confidential, so many details about land appropriation and tariffs are unknown. The Nenskra Hydropower Project has a total investment value of $1 billion and is the largest foreign investment in the country since Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union. [2] The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has agreed in May 2015 to provide US$200 million for the project. Nenskra is also being financed by the Asian Development Bank and Export-Import Bank of Korea. The tender for the construction of the plant worth $575 millions was won by Italian industrial group Salini Impregilo. The construction started in mid 2015. The project is planned for completion by 2019, but receive high protests from local inhabitants that claim potential negative impacts have not been properly assessed. In the last decade, Georgia has rushed to exploit its hydropower resources to become a regional energy player. At the moment 35 hydropower plants are slated for development only in the Upper Svaneti region of Georgia. All of them are located in the Enguri river basin. Most of the plants (25) are located on the territory of the planned Upper Svaneti national park and the Upper Svaneti protected landscape. According to Bankwatch, "the rush to build hydropower plants in Georgia is not backed by any energy strategy and without regard for the combined environmental consequences and socio-economic impacts." [1] The combination of weak environmental legislation and the lack of strategic plans has enabled the Georgian government to rush forward concessions on 64 plants since the adoption of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement in June 2014. But weak laws and lack of strategy have made the sector a breeding ground for environmental damage, social problems and political cronyism. The Upper Svaneti region in north-western Georgia provides a microcosm of these broader trends. Plans for development of 35 new plants are under way in an area roughly the size of Mallorca that is largely covered by a planned national park, hosts UNESCO listed medieval monuments and is inhabited by the traditional community of Svans.  The EBRD has been one of the key catalysts of this hydro boom. Yet the presence of the EBRD and other international financial institutions has not been enough to ensure the development of comprehensive energy strategies, robust project assessments and meaningful public consultations. The potential for social and environmental problems is therefore prevalent.  The Nenskra hydropower plant is yet another project that lacks the proper assessment and has failed to gain acceptance from the local communities. The impact of such intensive hydropower plant constructions on the rivers and biodiversity in Upper Svaneti has not been assessed. Activists opposing the project argue that if built, the dam on the Nenskra river will deprive people of lands and forests that are vital to their livelihood and cause geological hazards which have not been taken into account in the official social and environmental impact assessment. Locals from Chuberi, Khaishi, Nakra, Khevi and other villages that will be affected by the massive construction plans were joined last July 2016 by activists from the Tbilisi-based environmental groups Green Fist and Young Greens. According to an article in Democracy and Freedom Watch Georgia [3], "They demand that the construction project is halted until alternative projects and the consequences have been properly assessed in close cooperation with the local community. A petition was signed, addressed to the main stakeholders in the project and advocacy groups, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the prime minister and public defender of Georgia, and local and international NGOs. The activists gave investors, including the construction company Salini Impregilo, one week to meet their demands, otherwise they will resume their blockade of the road leading to the construction site." The article also reports the words by Father Giorgi Chartolani, a priest from Mestia who is an outspoken advocate for preserving the Svan language and culture: “The destruction of our language, culture, and traditions, which bear the identity of this region and the whole country will be a big blow to the spirituality of the Georgian nation. People involved in the construction project never stood up for Georgia. They are driven by profit and their vision of success,” [3] Due to the high level of contrariety to the dam project, a congress of community leaders was held in the village Khaishi on June 12, resurrecting an age old Svan tradition. The congress, called liqwbääl in the Svan language, brought together several dozen informal leaders from all seventeen communities in Upper Svaneti: Adishi, Becho, Chuberi, Etseri, Ipari, Kala, Khaishi, Latali, Lakhamula, Lenjeri, Mestia, Mulakhi, Nakra, Pari, Tskhumari, Tsvirmi, and Ushguli. The closed congress ruled that Svans are an indigenous people with its own language, traditions and culture and that it is necessary to restore the ancient tradition of holding a pan-Svan congress called lalkhor in order to have more of a say in large-scale infrastructure projects which are planned in the region.[4] The congress also condemned the fact that allegedly a number of pro-dam activists were being paid salaries by Salini Impregilo. An outsider observer at the congress told Democracy and Freedom Watch that “The company started to hire people, whose duties aren’t clear. They hire two or three people from each village and pay them one thousand lari a month — a high salary for local standards. When we asked these people about their positions, they said that they were doing nothing and had no responsibilities except occasional small tasks like changing light bulbs. It was clear, though, that the company was using these people to show the outside world that only a small group of people in Chuberi is against the construction, while the majority is for”
Basic Data
NameNenskra hydropower project, Georgia
CountryGeorgia
ProvinceUpper Svaneti region
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Land acquisition conflicts
Deforestation
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Water
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
The project consists of a dam, pressure tunnel, surge tank, penstock and powerhouse. Additionally a transfer tunnel will convey the water from Nakra river to the new Nenskra dam reservoir to improve the performance of the Project. An asphalt faced rockfill dam (AFRD) has been selected considering the site conditions in the Nenskra river basin. The peculiarity of the structure is the 65 m deep Cut-Off wall to be realized throughout the alluvial deposit on the river bed.
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Level of Investment (in USD)1,000,000,000 (total amount)
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population300 families live in Chuberi and 80 families in the village of Nakra.
Start Date2015
Company Names or State EnterprisesSalini-Impregilo from Italy
JSC Nenskra Hydro consortium from Georgia
Korea Water Resources Corporation (K-water) from Republic of Korea
International and Financial InstitutionsInternational Finance Corporation (IFC)
Asian Development Bank (ADB)
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ERBD) - The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has agreed to provide US$200 million for Georgia's 280-MW Nenskra hydropower plant.
Export-Import Bank of Korea (banking, finance, investment) from Republic of Korea
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersLocal activists organized at village level

Green Fist and Young Greens http://www.fyeg.org/

Bankwatch http://bankwatch.org/

Green Alternative
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
OtherGiven the scale of existing and new hydro developments and supporting infrastructure projects (bypass and access roads, additional high voltage transmission lines and substations and so on), a strategic environmental assessment of the existing and planned plants should be conducted to evaluate the impacts and avoid an excessive burden on river ecosystems. The current Nenskra ESIA fails to assess the cumulative environmental and social impacts of all projects combined.

There is also high seismic risk [1]
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Outcome
Project StatusUnder construction
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseInstitutional changes
Strengthening of participation
Restoration of ancient village level or community level democratic institution (Lalkhor)
Development of AlternativesThe traditional liqwbääl (Svan congress) ruled that Svans are an indigenous people with its own language, traditions and culture and that it is necessary to restore the ancient tradition of holding a pan-Svan congress called lalkhor in order to have more of a say in large-scale infrastructure projects which are planned in the region. According to Svan customary law, respected members of the community serve on the Ialkhor (congress) and are entrusted with mediating conflicts and disputes. (The last time the council met is so long time ago that it is barely within living memory among the oldest members of the community [4])

Other issues discussed during the congress included the need to agree on the strategy for preventing the planned construction of the Khudoni hydro power plant (Khudonhesi in Georgian), including all seventeen communities in the decision-making process regarding planned hydroelectric and mining projects, and develop a legal framework for protecting lands under traditional ownership, which are vulnerable to takeovers by the government and companies.

The congress also concluded that Svaneti’s model of development should move away from hydroelectric infrastructure projects and focus instead on development of ecotourism and agriculture.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The people of Chuberi and nearby villages know the experience of the Svan communities living downstream in Khaishi where the 702 MW Khudoni dam is planned to be built. The Georgian state sold their ancestral lands for next to nothing to the Khudoni dam promoter. The lands and the dam remains a subject of fierce protests to date.[1]

This has made people coming together with more awareness of what is going to happen. An ancient traditional congress of respected people from the village has been called back. The resistance is still ongoing.
Sources and Materials
Links

[2] Key Agreements Signed in $1B Nenskra Hydropower Plant in Georgia
[click to view]

Hydroworld
[click to view]

International Finance Corporation
[click to view]

[4] Democracy and Freedom Watch - Svan council convenes to stop hydro power plants
by DOMINIK K. CAGARA | Jun 15, 2016
[click to view]

[5] Eca-uk
[click to view]

[3] Democracy and Freedom Watch - Protests resume against the Nenskra hydro power plant in Svaneti
by DOMINIK K. CAGARA | Jul 6, 2016
[click to view]

[1] Bankwatch Network - Nenskra hydropower plant, Georgia
[click to view]

Salini Impregilo website
[click to view]

Other Documents

Map of Upper Svaneti hydropower plans Source: Bankwatch
http://bankwatch.org/our-work/projects/hydropower-development-georgia/map-upper-svaneti
[click to view]

Protest against the dam Source: DFWatch
[click to view]

Other CommentsMost of the information is retrieved from Bankwatch reports. For more information contact:

David Chipashvili

Green Alternative/CEE Bankwatch Network

Georgian Campaigner

[email protected]
Meta Information
ContributorDaniela Del Bene - ICTA/UAB
Last update14/12/2016
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