The hydropower industry, a cornerstone of renewable energy infrastructure, faces unique challenges when situated in regions affected by interstate armed conflicts. The complexities of operating in such volatile environments necessitate an understanding of geopolitical dynamics, risks to infrastructure, and strategies for mitigation. This article delves into the intersection of hydropower and conflict, exploring historical precedents, current hotspots, and best practices for stakeholders in the industry.

The Strategic Importance of Hydropower

Hydropower plays a crucial role in global energy supply, contributing approximately 16% of the world’s electricity and over 70% of all renewable electricity. Its significance is particularly pronounced in regions where it can provide a stable, low-cost power supply, support grid stability, and contribute to economic development. However, the strategic importance of hydropower plants also makes them potential targets in times of conflict.

Historical Context: Hydropower and Conflict

Historically, hydropower installations have been both strategic assets and targets during conflicts. For example, during World War II, the Allies targeted dams in Germany, recognising their critical role in the country’s war production capabilities. More recently, the Syrian Civil War saw various factions vying for control of the Tabqa Dam, which supplies significant power and irrigation resources to the region.

Current Conflict Zones and Hydropower Projects

Several regions with ongoing interstate armed conflicts host significant hydropower projects. Understanding these contexts is crucial for industry stakeholders.

South Asia: The India-Pakistan Water Dispute

The Indus River, shared by India and Pakistan, has been a focal point of tension since the countries’ independence in 1947. The Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, brokered by the World Bank, has largely governed water sharing. However, disputes over new hydropower projects in India, such as the Kishanganga and Ratle plants, have exacerbated tensions. Both nations have utilised the treaty’s arbitration mechanisms, but the potential for conflict remains.

East Africa: The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

The GERD on the Blue Nile has been a source of tension between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan. Egypt relies heavily on Nile waters and views the dam as a threat to its water security. Despite negotiations mediated by the African Union, the dispute remains unresolved. Ethiopia’s filling of the dam’s reservoir has heightened tensions, with potential implications for regional stability.

Central Asia: Water and Energy Security

In Central Asia, the Fergana Valley and surrounding regions see tensions over water resources, exacerbated by hydropower projects. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, upstream countries with significant hydropower potential, have clashed with downstream Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan over water usage. The Rogun Dam in Tajikistan is a particular flashpoint, with Uzbekistan historically opposing its construction.

Risks to Hydropower Infrastructure in Conflict Zones

Operating in conflict zones introduces a range of risks that can impact the viability and safety of hydropower projects.

Physical Security

Hydropower infrastructure, including dams, power stations, and transmission lines, can become targets for military action or sabotage. Ensuring physical security is paramount, requiring coordination with military and security forces and investment in robust protective measures.

Supply Chain Disruptions

Armed conflict can disrupt supply chains, affecting the availability of materials and equipment necessary for construction and maintenance. This risk necessitates contingency planning and the establishment of alternative supply routes.

Operational Interruptions

Conflict can lead to operational interruptions due to damage, forced shutdowns, or the evacuation of personnel. Developing comprehensive emergency response plans and maintaining a trained rapid response team are essential strategies to mitigate these risks.

Strategies for Mitigation and Management

Effective management of hydropower projects in conflict zones involves several strategic approaches:

Political and Diplomatic Engagement

Active engagement with local, national, and international political entities can help in understanding the geopolitical landscape and negotiating agreements that safeguard hydropower interests. Diplomatic efforts can also facilitate conflict resolution and promote stability.

Community Relations and Social Investment

Building strong relationships with local communities through social investment programmes can enhance the social license to operate and reduce local resistance. Community engagement initiatives might include infrastructure development, education, and health services.

Technology and Innovation

Employing advanced technologies can enhance the resilience of hydropower infrastructure. For example, remote monitoring and control systems can allow for the management of facilities even when on-site personnel are evacuated. Additionally, innovative engineering solutions can improve the durability of structures against potential attacks.

Insurance and Risk Management

Comprehensive insurance policies covering conflict-related risks are essential. These should be part of a broader risk management framework that includes regular risk assessments and the development of mitigation strategies.

Collaboration with International Organisations

Working with international organisations such as the United Nations and the World Bank can provide additional support and resources. These organisations can assist in conflict mediation, provide funding for security measures, and offer platforms for dialogue.

Case Studies

Examining specific case studies can provide valuable insights into managing hydropower projects in conflict zones.

The Mosul Dam in Iraq

The Mosul Dam, Iraq’s largest, faced significant risks during the rise of ISIS. The dam’s potential failure posed catastrophic risks. International collaboration, particularly involving Italian engineering firm Trevi Group and funding from the United States, enabled critical maintenance and the establishment of security protocols, averting disaster.

The Salma Dam in Afghanistan

The Salma Dam, also known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam, faced numerous security challenges during its construction due to ongoing conflict. Indian and Afghan collaboration, alongside robust security measures, enabled its completion. The project highlighted the importance of international cooperation and stringent security practices.

Future Outlook

As global demand for renewable energy continues to grow, the hydropower industry must adapt to the realities of operating in conflict zones. Enhanced security measures, innovative technologies, and robust international cooperation will be key to ensuring the viability and safety of hydropower projects. Moreover, as climate change exacerbates resource scarcity, the potential for conflict over water resources may increase, underscoring the need for proactive and adaptive management strategies.


Hydropower remains a vital component of the global energy mix, offering sustainable and reliable power. However, the industry’s expansion into conflict-prone areas necessitates a deep understanding of the associated risks and the implementation of comprehensive mitigation strategies. By learning from historical precedents and current challenges, and by leveraging technological and diplomatic tools, the hydropower industry can continue to thrive even in the most challenging environments.