Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Nepal’s Water Resource and “New Nepal”

Certain people equate water resource with hydropower, as if there is no other use of the water resource. The constant refrain of this category of people is that all the water flowing down the river “is waste of resource.” They forget that, for example, building a hydropower project at a particular site will preclude new irrigation works in the upstream areas (in order to ensure fixed quantum of water for the hydropower generation) as well as in the dewatered areas. Similarly, as both the hydropower and water sport like rafting compete for the use of particular sites, each is mutually exclusive to the other. Besides, there are many sources to generate energy from. But, to date no alternative to water has been found – for drinking, sanitation, religious and irrigation purposes.

In this background, best use of water resource needs to be decided after seriously contemplating the matter. Before laying out the vision for new Nepal from the perspective of water resource, this paper will make an attempt to describe what the existing Nepal is like.

Existing Nepal
The state of existing Nepal needs to be analyzed from a number of perspectives like, environment and health, forest, education, agriculture, tourism, transport and industry.

Environment and Health
Describing how healthy people in present Nepal are is not an easy job as the concept is beyond quantification. Healthiness of people depend on how frequently people fall sick, how much is spent on medicine, time and money spent in hospices, quantum of absenteeism from work due to sickness and similar other factors which are not easy to quantify. However, life expectancy at birth is a good indicator to assess the quality of people’s health. Under a study conducted by the then Ministry of Population and Environment, the life expectancy was determined at 58.9 years.[1] Compared to 73.6 years of life expectancy in Japan, life expectancy in Nepal is very low. As this number is the average life expectancy of people throughout Nepal, the same will be quite low for rural Nepal – less than 50 years in places like Mugu, Humla, etc. – while in the cities the life expectancy will be a little higher than the national average – above 60 years.

The health of the rural populace is adversely affected by indoor pollution (due to the use of firewood, animal/agro residue for cooking and kerosene lamp for lighting), lack of clean drinking water and sanitation, etc. On the other hand rural people also don’t have access to quality health services for lack of electricity – most of the modern healthcare equipment needs electricity to operate. Whereas the city people too don’t fare well because of high level of outdoor pollution from fossil fuel burning vehicles, low quality of piped drinking water, lack of sewage treatment, etc.

From the environmental perspective it is clear that rural Nepal suffers from indoor pollution while urban Nepal is ravaged by vehicular pollution in the outdoors. Similarly, the overall environment is getting degraded due to the large scale deforestation mainly for firewood.

The other facet of indoor pollution which is caused by the extensive use firewood as the source of energy in the rural areas is the indiscriminate deforestation. In Nepal 76.1 percent of the population used firewood as a source for energy in FY 2006/7[2]. It is also obvious that this scale of deforestation results in washing out of topsoil, landslide, etc. thereby adversely impacting the overall environment of the country. The equation could be changed by increasing electricity consumption in the country, which today stands at 2.5%[3] manifesting very low consumption of electricity in the country – 69.289 kWh per capita per annum[4] which is quite low compared to European countries like Norway which consume more than 24,000 kWh per capita per annum.

It is the privilege of the city children to have access to modern education facilities like information, communication technology. The rural kids don’t have access to these modern mediums of education and information, again due to unavailability of electricity in the rural areas.

Actually rural children do not even get time to study at home for lack of proper lighting. If they do, they will be wrecking their eyes due to dim light from kerosene lamp. On top of that they are exposed to respiratory and other diseases from the smoke of the kerosene lamp (on top of the indoor pollution from the kitchen). However, it should not be forgotten that the children whose parents can afford the “luxury” of kerosene lamps are lucky. There are areas in Nepal where people burn strips of pine wood (called “diyalo” in Nepali) for lighting purposes which smoke a lot more than the kerosene lamp and make the children, aspiring to be educated, fall sick.

It is no secret that agricultural production in Nepal could have been better – with multiple cropping, increased production of cash crop etc. but for lack of irrigation facilities. The main crop depends on unreliable monsoon rains and suffers due to vagaries of the weather. After one crop most of the land is left fallow. The problem is compounded due to unavailability of fertilizers in the timely fashion and their being too costly. Due to lack of proper cold storage facility (which can be ascribed to paucity of cost effective electricity) the farmer are forced to sell their produce at cheap prices.

Although tourism is the major foreign currency earner of the country, it is not faring too well compared to even the smaller provinces of Sikkim or Goa in India.

Transportation and Industry
Bulk of the transportation system in the country is heavily dependent on imported fossil fuel that drains hard currency from the country while polluting the environment. Save for Manakamana cable car, there is no other medium of transport using Nepal’s hydropower. Trolley bus in the Kathmandu valley is about to come to a stop again and ropeway service from Hetauda is lying in disrepair.

The case of the industry is also similar to that of transport sector. The industries are suffering due to unreliable electricity supply and are not able to operate at full capacity. Most of them use imported fossil fuel as the main source of energy which pollutes the environment and also drains precious convertible foreign exchange. The cost of production of industries in Nepal is also high as they are dependent on costlier fossil fuel.

New Nepal
With the prudent use of its water resource, Nepal can go through a metamorphosis and a real new Nepal could emerge.

Environment and Health
In the new Nepal people will not fall sick, will not be forced to spend unnecessarily on medicine, nor will have to spend time and money in hospices unduly. The quantum of absenteeism from work due to sickness will be almost negligible. The life expectancy of both rural and urban Nepal will be comparable to that of countries like Japan. The life expectancy of people in rural areas, actually, will be higher than that of city-folks due to the quantum of natural exercise related to their work and lifestyle.

People will definitely wonder how such a revolutionary change will take place in the new Nepal. Because, in the new Nepal the entire country will be fully electrified – thanks to hydropower. Things like indoor pollution will be a thing of past as nobody will use firewood, animal and agro residue for cooking. Electric cookers will be extensively used for cooking purposes throughout the country. This will substantially reduce deforestation which will have salubrious impact on the environment including reduction in washing out of topsoil, landslide, etc. The environmental degradation caused by chimneys of the factories using fossil fuels will cease.

Further, the populace will get piped quality water in their homes which could be used for drinking directly from the tap – no problem of clean water and sanitation, no need to filter or boil. The health will also significantly improve due to absence of tail pipe emission – with the electrification of bulk of the transport services. Throughout the country modern healthcare facility will become available.

With no cooking done with firewood, indiscriminate deforestation will come to a stop. The forest cover of the country will increase dramatically. Non-timber forest products will not be exported in its raw form. Using the electricity only finished products or semi-finished non-timber forest products will be exported to the cities or foreign countries.

Education will not be the privilege of children of rich and urban populace any more. Information communication technology will be all pervading and ubiquitous. Rural children will not need to study under the light of kerosene light or strips of pine wood and will not be wrecking their eyes or health. Even rural children will get to study or play for longer hours due to availability of electricity.

With the prudent use of water resources for irrigation purposes the command area under irrigation will cover over 90% of the arable land of Nepal and people will be using water efficient irrigation technology round the year and will be planting multiple crops in a year and benefiting from the cultivation of cash crop in the off season. After electricity becomes available in every nook and cranny of the country, the farmers will also be using electricity to lift water from rivers at the lower reaches to cultivate farms in the upper reaches or will beneficially use groundwater for farming.

Level of mechanization of farming will reach a new high and economic activities in the rural areas will increase by bounds. As animal reside and agro residue will not be burnt for domestic purposes, these will be used to generate energy as well as organic fertilizer. About 10% farmers will start organic farming and reap the benefit of export market for organic produce. Besides, with the increase in per capita generation and consumption of electricity in the country quality fertilizers will be produced in Nepal itself and will become cost effective as well available as and when necessary.

People in the rural areas will stop selling agricultural produce in its raw form. As cost effective electricity will become available in the villages, agro-processing industries will be established and will start exporting finished or semi-finished products to the cities or even aboard. The farmers will put the agro produce in cold storage and get better market price by selling at right time. Thanks to these, the standard of living, spurred by the increase in per capita rural income, will drastically improve. Emigration from the rural areas to the cities or abroad will become history. Revenue from remittance, unfortunately, will decrease as economic activities in the rural Nepal will increase and people will be gainfully employed in the countryside itself. This will also reduce disintegration of families, which is taking place in alarmingly large numbers due to foreign employment of the family members.

Over and above the foreign tourists, even the domestic middle class will start enjoying water sports like rafting. All lakes and river network in the country will become accessible to the tourists, both domestic and foreign. Tourists will be afforded modern amenities throughout the country due to availability of electricity.

Transportation and Industry
There will not be any means of transport in the country that will belch thick black smoke. Electric trains will be running in the national highways like East West Highway and the Himalayan east west highway that is currently in the drawing board. In all north south highways too electric trains will be providing services clean and efficient services. No new roads will be built which uses fossil fuel burning vehicles both for passengers and cargo. In the terrains which pose difficulty with regards to construction of railway track, cable cars and ropeways will be providing environment friendly service. Mountains and hills with lush forest will not be ravaged to build road to provide transport services. In such areas too cable cars will be erected. This will save the countryside from landslides which is also caused by the extensive use of explosives during construction of the roads. Some of the major rivers will be used for navigation purposes and cost of transportation will decrease substantially in these areas.

Within cities, trolley bus service will be the norm in the trunk roads and ring roads (where the roads are wide). In the narrow roads and in the core city areas, only electric vehicles (both cars and bikes) and other non polluting modes of transport (like bicycle) will be allowed to ply. Fossil fuel import into Nepal will drastically shrink. People using fossil fuel driven cars will be paying penal taxes for polluting the environment.

Industries also will stop using fossil fuel like furnace oil as a source of energy for the production. The prices of finished products will substantially go down as the industries will be paying substantially low price for electric energy compared to fossil fuel. The industrial workers will also become healthier in the absence of fossil fuel generated pollution. Besides, new industries to produce fertilizers, cement, aluminum, etc. will be set up in the country due to availability of electricity cost effectively which will generate employment at a large scale.

It is indeed possible to bring a new Nepal into existence with the prudent use of Nepal’s water resources. What is needed is a vision and a nationalistic perspective. Besides, concerted efforts of all concerned is also imperative. All the stakeholders will have to work in tandem with their eyes firmly on this vision.

Published in the Civil Service Journal 2007

[1] Ministry of Population and environment (1998). Population Projection for Nepal, 1996-2016, Kathmandu, Nepal.
[2] Ministry of Finance (2007). Economic Survey 2006/7, Kathmandu, Nepal.
[3] Ministry of Finance (2007). Economic Survey 2006/7, Kathmandu, Nepal.
[4] Source: www.NationMaster.com

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