Impact of COVID-19 on the Project

The global pandemic of COVID-19 struck at a time when the construction works of MTHP were at full swing. With spreading pandemic, gradual decline in the construction progress of Middle Tamor Hydropower Project was inevitable. For effective control of the fatal pandemic from spreading, China locked down its territory from January 23, 2020. As a consequence, the Main Civil Contractor of the Project, which is a Chinese company (Zhejiang First Hydro), could not import required machineries, accessories for repair and maintenance as well as various construction materials from China since January 2020. The situation further worsened when the Government of Nepal imposed a nationwide lockdown from 24 March 2020 with its several extensions. The Lockdown hindered mobility causing massive decline in material supply. The limited stock and disrupted supply chain due to halt in transportation and aviation industry caused sharp decline in work pace. Despite the continuous facilitations by the Employer, a smooth and uninterrupted construction activities could not be sustained at a desirable level due to limited supplies and procurements.

Significant decrease in the availability of vehicles and personnel for transportation of construction materials due to fear and public health concerns created limited supplies and often suspended by the suppliers. Similarly, the explosive supply for the tunnel work was suspended for 25 days from 20 March 2020 to 15 April 2020 due to the pandemic-related customs clearance restrictions. Besides, the government’s decision to mobilize Nepal Army to cope with pandemic caused unavailability to provide security service to transport explosives from the customs point to the site. Also, the procured materials from Chinese market (No. 28 batch order) were detained in Calcutta port for a significant time due to the lockdown. A number of construction equipment remained idle due to lack of spares to be procured from India and China. The situation was further exacerbated by the fact that some Chinese workers of Zhejiang First Hydro, who had gone home to celebrate the Spring Festival, could not return from China that caused shortage of skilled human resource at site. Similarly, due to the halt in international flights, the EM contractor could not mobilize its resources to the site as per the schedule.

The peak monsoon amid COVID-19 pandemic was a bigger threat to the construction schedule of the Project. The dry season works were pushed further back to the monsoon. The construction planning at headworks (intake, undersluice and floodwalls), tunnel and powerhouse is now not in a condition to meet the original plan due to the COVID-19 influence. The delayed progress in headworks (intake and undersluice area) brought about a requirement of reintroducing cofferdams to accomplish the remaining dry season works. The remaking of cofferdam and engagement of workforce for the accomplishment of unaccomplished work will cause additional delay and costs to the Project.

To make the matter further complicated, the Chinese workers mobilized at the site by the Main Civil Contractor were concerned by ever spreading COVID-19 in Nepal and desired to go back to China for vaccination. As a consequence, the work fronts at the almost-completed intake and undersluice sites as well as settling basins have been postponed until the return of the vaccinated Chinese workers. It has greatly affected the work progress at site. The Main Civil Contractor has employed Nepali subcontractors to compensate for the Chinese resources and the limited resources thus arranged have been relocated to the construction of powerhouse and headrace tunnel from the outlet section.  

As a consequence, the civil works master schedule is pushed to the next season. The electromechanical work along with the process of importing of equipment undoubtedly is certain to lengthen the construction schedule. A number of initiatives towards the acceleration of the construction works are to be taken, when the situation normalizes.

Implications on Planned Work Progress and Expected Delays

The Contractor’s schedule shall be discussed and revised when the pandemic situation recedes. As there shall be a need for grouting works on the undersluice region in the next season by re-coffering the river, about 2 months’ delay for re-work in the intake and undersluice which may lead to delay in completing the construction of weir and stilling basin in the remaining dry period (until mid-June 2021). Due unavailability of explosive a delay in HRT excavation by a month is expected. Delay in mobilization of EM contractor due to halt in international flights has pose a threat in cross work/ interface works of powerhouse foundation and super structure. First layer excavation and initial support on settling basin #01 and #02 have been delayed.

As of the current situation as explained above, a period of approximately 6 months’ delay from the Required Commercial Operation Date (RCOD) of 17 July 2022 is expected due to the effect of COVID-19 global pandemic. This delay has been foreseen with respect to the halt in construction activities in different work front due to limited material supply, push back of construction schedule of powerhouse, difficulties on mobilization of electro-mechanical contractor and other indirect impacts of COVID-19. During the lock down, only few work fronts remained active with partial to complete influence of COVID-19. Therefore, it looks certain that the overall completion demands time extension beyond the RCOD by at least six months.

However, the process has already been initiated to bring the vaccinated Chinese workers back to the site. The permission to bring new batch of Chinese technical staff from Zhejiang has already been obtained from the Government of Nepal. With the re-entry of properly vaccinated Chinese workers, introduction of Nepali subcontractors for tunnelling and concreting, and the prospect of availability of vaccine against the Corona Virus in Nepal itself give us a confidence that all work fronts will be active soon.

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