Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Experts suggest relook in water, energy policy

Experts emphasised on need to review and reinforce the energy and water cooperation in South Asia.
Addressing a workshop jointly organised by South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) and Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET)-Nepal, ‘Rethinking water and energy cooperation’, here in Kathmandu today, they suggested for a review of existing cooperation modalities to share benefit for improved and quality lives of people of regional or sub-regional level through effective utilisation of water. Discussing on political, economic and ecological dimensions of water cooperation in South Asia region, they also stressed on need to review Nepal’s water and energy policies.
Presenting a thematic paper, executive director at ISET-Nepal Ajaya Dixit said that the impact of climate change is already visible in Nepal’s water resources. Citing International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), he said that between 1977 and 2010, Nepal’s icecaps have receded by 29 per cent.
Likewise, water reserve in springs in mid-hills has depleted, and at the same time, rivers have deteriorated into sewerage channels. Water-related disasters of recent times – such as western Nepal’s 2014 flood caused by three days of torrential rains and the 2008 Koshi flood – show the erratic nature of the rivers.
Dixit stressed that our focus on river conservation has mostly centred on the Himalayan rivers. But bilateral and multilateral platforms need to consider water-sharing and management issues of rivers originating from the Mahabharata and Chure as well.
Commenting on Dixit’s presentation, former deputy-managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and chief executive of Kabeli Energy Sher Singh Bhat pointed out that the major problem in Nepal’s hydrological management is lack of intra-sector and inter-sector coordination. As an example, he pointed out that licensing authorities grant clearances for projects without considering effects of upper stream projects on lower stream and vice versa and also how some hydropower projects could possibly adversely impact irrigation.
Vice president of Independent Power Producers’ Association (IPPAN) Kumar Pandey, on the occasion, opined that government sorely lacks policies for effective utilisation of water resources while developing multipurpose projects; hydropower, irrigation benefits, tourism activities (rafting).
Likewise, chairman of SAWTEE Posh Raj Pandey said Nepal’s inability to properly manage its water resources and energy potential has left it not only in power deficit situation but with a large trade deficit too. Nepal’s increased dependency on India would translate to soaring payments deficit in this fiscal due to increased power purchase, he added.
Pandey also urged the government to insert electricity import cost in trade deficit figures.
The current trade deficit figures published by Nepal Rastra Bank exclude the electricity import cost. Nepal's electricity import increased by 28.36 per cent to 1,758.41 GWh in the last fiscal year compared to the previous fiscal year.
Though the sixth periodic plan had introduced the idea of exporting electricity back in the 1980s, the possibility of beginning power export in the near future appears slim. Rather, power import is increasing at an alarming rate in recent years.
The participants, on the occasion, said that the idea itself is flawed as importing energy from Nepal was neither a priority for India in 1980s, nor now.
“Almost all the policies of the past five decades in water and energy cooperation have failed and they should be revisited,” according to a senior journalist and an advisor to former President Ram Baran Yadav Rajendra Dahal. "We have not seen any indication that India will buy Nepal's energy. The southern neighbour is only eying on water resources."
Dahal's view goes against country's policy documents which envisage narrowing down the bulging trade deficit with India by exporting electricity. Indian leaders and diplomats often claim that Nepal can narrow down the widening trade deficit by exporting energy to the southern neighbour.
When talks of building Arun III project was doing rounds in the 1980s, those who were in favour of building the plant had argued that export of even half of the energy generated by Arun III could put the country in a trade surplus situation, Dahal said, adding that Nepal has managed to end load-shedding at present by increasing energy imports from India. "Thus, our focus should be on becoming self-sufficient in electricity."
Stating that the country was facing resource crunch to develop big hydropower projects, Dahal also said that the country needs to attract foreign investments in hydropower sector.
The participants, on the occasion, also suggested strengthening institutional capacity of organisations like NEA to streamline hydropower generation and distribution.
They also lamented that water discourse in Nepal has always been limited to energy generation and as a result other potential usage of rivers such as for navigation, fisheries and even for keeping ecological balance have been ignored.

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