Friday, March 2, 2012


- with particular reference to issues related to hydropower generation

The Interim Legislature-Parliament of Nepal amended Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2007 for the first time in March 2007 to adopt federal system by inserting word “federal” in Article 138 (1). This entails demolishing centralized and unitary system and spinning off of various geographic areas into a number of constituent units (states or provinces). With the planned restructuring of the State as such, division of natural resources, including water resources, amongst the constituent units, gained importance and prominence. Nepal is famed for its hydro resource which entails utilization of water resource and an in-depth look at it is imperative from the federal perspective. This ranges from how to address the issue in the future Constitution to technical issues related to how to ensure optimum exploitation of hydropower potential as a potential site could lie in more than one constituent unit. Prior to dealing with specifics of water governance in “Federal” Nepal with particular reference to issues related to hydropower generation a few terms needs to be defined.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines water as “the liquid that descends from the clouds as rain, forms streams, lakes, and seas, and is a major constituent of all living matter and that when pure is an odorless, tasteless, very slightly compressible liquid oxide of hydrogen H2O which appears bluish in thick layers, freezes at 0° C and boils at 100° C, has a maximum density at 4° C and a high specific heat, is feebly ionized to hydrogen and hydroxyl ions, and is a poor conductor of electricity and a good solvent.” People don’t think of it in such an elaborate form when they drink it to quench their thirst; neither while putting it to various other uses for human beings, animals and plants.

Some consider water a common good while it gets treated all over the world as social and economic good. 1992 Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development has propounded a principle (No. 4) saying that “Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good.” It goes on to say that “Within this principle, it is vital to recognize first the basic right of all human beings to have access to clean water and sanitation at an affordable price. Past failure to recognize the economic value of water has led to wasteful and environmentally damaging uses of the resource. Managing water as an economic good is an important way of achieving efficient and equitable use, and of encouraging conservation and protection of water resources.”
Water use is often distinguished between consumptive use and non-consumptive use. Consumptive use relates to the water which cannot be used again, because it is lost to the atmosphere (for example “evapotranspiration” by plants, animals and humans, and evaporation from open water bodies) or polluted to such an extent that it cannot be used again further in the hydrological cycle. Whereas water uses from which water can be used again elsewhere in the hydrological cycle (for example through reuse of return flows or recharge of groundwater) is deemed non-consumptive use.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) defines water governance as “the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises the mechanisms, processes and institutions, through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences.” Whereas according to Rogers and Hall (2003) water governance “refers to the range of political, organizational and administrative processes through which communities articulate their interests, their input is absorbed, decisions are made and implemented, and decision makers are held accountable in the development and management of water resources and delivery of water services.”

UNDP and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have identified four dimensions of water governance: social, economic, political and environmental. The social dimension manifests equitable use of water resources. Apart from being unevenly distributed in time and space, water is also unevenly distributed among various socio-economic strata of society in both rural and urban settlements. How water quality and quantity and related services are allocated and distributed have direct impacts on people’s health as well as on their livelihood opportunities. Australia’s average per person water consumption was 493 liters per day while in USA it was 575 liters daily in 2008 while China's daily per capita consumption in 2006 was 86 liters. The weighed daily water use per inhabitant in urban Kathmandu is estimated at 73 liters only (Joshi et al 2003). From this one could fairly easily estimate that weighed daily water use per inhabitant in rural areas will be much lower.
The economic dimension draws attention to the efficient use of water resources and the role of water in overall economic growth. Prospects for aggressive poverty reduction and economic growth remain highly dependent on water and other natural resources. Studies have illustrated that per capita incomes and the quality of governance are strongly positively correlated across countries. Better governance exerts a powerful effect on per capita incomes.
The political empowerment dimension involves granting water stakeholders and citizens at large equal democratic opportunities to influence and monitor political processes and outcomes. At both national and international levels, marginalized citizens, such as indigenous people, women, slum dwellers, etc., are rarely recognized as legitimate stakeholders in water related decision-making, and typically lack voices, institutions and capacities for promoting their water interests to the outside world. Empowering women, as well as other socially, economically and politically weak groups, is critical to achieving more focused and effective water management and actions to ensure greater equity.

The last dimension is one of environmental sustainability which shows that improved governance allows for enhanced sustainable use of water resources and ecosystem integrity. The sufficient flow of quality water is critical to maintaining ecosystem functions and services and sustaining groundwater aquifers, wetlands, and other wildlife habitats. A worrisome sign is that water quality appears to have declined worldwide in most regions with intensive agriculture and large urban and industrial areas. With the reduction and pollution of natural habitats, the diversity of freshwater flora and fauna is becoming increasingly threatened. Poor people’s livelihood opportunities, in particular, depend directly upon sustained access to natural resources, including water – especially since they tend to live in marginalized areas that are prone to pollution, droughts and floods. The essential role of water for maintaining a healthy environment is being increasingly emphasized in the change of attitudes towards wetlands, which is an encouraging sign.
In many countries water governance is in a state of confusion: in some countries there is a total lack of water institutions, and others display fragmented institutional structures or conflicting decision-making structures. In many places conflicting upstream and downstream interests regarding riparian rights and access to water resources are pressing issues that need immediate attention; in many other cases there are strong tendencies to divert public resources for personal gain, or unpredictability in the use of laws and regulations and licensing practices impede markets and voluntary action and encourage corruption. In many developing countries the modality of public private partnership is being used for private profit at public cost.

Effective water governance is imperative due to increasing demand, scarcity of fresh water and corruption. In Nepal Middle Marshyangdi Hydropower Project implementation, for example, is a poignant example of corruption in a specific subsector of water resource. The impunity manifest in lack of any punitive action against the responsible has added insult to injury. It has become well accepted that integrated water resource management could go a long way in the effective water governance, except for the moral hazard.

It is obvious from the title of this study that its focus is on hydropower generation and that too in “federal” Nepal. Moreover, it is mainly based on available secondary data, studies, reports and information available in the public domain as well as unstructured interviews with key informants.

Chapter 1 of the report submitted to Forum of Federations, part of which was published by FoF

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