DR. KAMAL RAJ DHUNGEL
In my early childhood, my tutor once said on the richness of Nepal: “Our country is rich in water resources.” There is a perennial flow of water in 6,000 rivers and rivulets. The water of these rivers either originate in the Himalayan region or flow down from Tibet. The abundance of water resources makes us rich and proud. Today, the widespread variation in the use of water is something to ponder over. This variability particularly makes water and its uses more important, and that also puts water in the set of scarce commodities. Despite being
an essential commodity to nurture the ecosystem and to sustain life without
which living creatures on earth find it impossible to survive, it is a scarce one. As a result of high demand,
water is in short supply and is a sought after commodity in the world.
Nepal has an adequate stock of water, but this stock is yet to be utilized to the fullest possible extent. The potential sector for development of this stock is drinking water (primary), irrigation and hydro-power (secondary). These sectors need just and proper development to uplift the socio-economic condition of the people. Scarce but untapped water if utilized rationally would change the whole socio-economic equation to the welfare
and prosperity of the people. But, its development could not take place for various reasons. Broken or stunted policies to harness this stock have depressed the overall development of the economy.
Narrow patriotic feelings, vested interest of the political parties or a particular group, and omnipresent but obscure and unfolding political instability, among other things, are the bottlenecks to step up utilization of our immense water resources. Slow development of this sector has paralyzed other inter-related development sectors which has severely hurt the socio-economic progress of the people of Nepal. If the status quo continues, the progress chart path would become more vulnerable.
The pre-requisite of the availability of smart, active and healthy human resources depends on the provision of safe drinking water. The urban centers, particularly Kathmandu Valley, is in short supply of this. Every household of Kathmandu valley is spending a significant portion of their income in meeting their daily requirement of safe drinking water. Such expenditures are recurring over the years, as the source of alternatives seem temporary in nature.
A far-sighted policy for utilizing untapped water resources would facilitate to mobilize these recurring expenditures for permanent provision of safe drinking water. The policy conducive to mobilizing domestic resources that can foster economic and human development is lacking. This can capitalize on the concept of the public-private partnership, which ensures channelizing the scarce resources in the productive sector.
Monsoon-based agriculture suffers both from the low production and productivity. Returns are declining over the years, indicating the trend of decreasing
returns. This makes the
agriculture sector unattractive, which is the major sector providing livelihood to over 70% of the population. Untapped water resources of the numerous river
and rivulets if utilized in
irrigation could increase
the production and productivity making the sector more attractive.
The irrigation provision can be extended by mobilizing local resources. Public-private partnership would be a suitable model to harness the water resources for irrigation. It ensures sustainability of the irrigation projects which are constructed under this model.
Hydro-power is the most promising sector for utilizing water resources. Small hydro-power projects are best suited for meeting the daily requirement of rural people. Construction of small hydro-power projects in villages of Nepal could increase economic activities. This in turn creates more employment opportunities for the rural people.
An investment in such projects in local areas not only illuminates the entire village but also mitigates the problem of environmental degradation. Public-private partnership is the best suited model in mobilizing scattered resources to
harness untapped water
There is an additional benefit from such projects
if they are designed to generate electricity with provision of irrigation. If policies are conducive for the construction of multipurpose projects, the economic progress really would start from the villages.
So far as the large hydro-power projects are concerned, both entry and exit is difficult. If things as imagined today materialized, Nepal would have progressed as the neighboring countries have done remarkably.
What were the impediments for Nepal? Why is the country unable to harness the available water resources to generate electricity (a growth engine of Nepalese economy) required for meeting the growing demand? Why are we inviting FDI for its development? These are the relevant questions when dealing with the large hydro-power projects. Willingness is, of course, there in us for the construction of large hydro-projects. That calls for attracting foreign investment for power projects n a big way.