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Tuesday, May 12

HOW many hydropower dams in Nepal? And HOW much electricity do they generate?

"When I visited Nepal 10 years ago the situation was bad and in 2012 the signs of pollution where even worse. Many people in Nepal do have access to so called drinking water. Problem is that it isn’t safe to drink, as tourists are told. Even if it's called drinking water most of the time it is quite contaminated."
-- Hans Knikman, May 2013, Serious Water Pollution in Nepal

Fig. 1: The Bagmati river in Kathmandu, Nepal, with its severe pollution.
The May 5 report from Circle of Blue doesn't say how many hydropower dams there are in total are in Nepal, just that "at least" 14 hydropower dams were damaged by the earthquake.   Wikipedia doesn't have a specific entry for dams but counts 10  "hydroelectric power stations."  The count seems to be outdated but moving along here's the kicker from the COB report:
The Nepal Electric Authority said that the country’s generating capacity from hydropower — which supplies almost all of the country’s electricity — has fallen from more than 500 megawatts to 354 megawatts, a loss of 150 megawatts since the earthquake. Nepal is importing 210 megawatts from India, which brings total generating capacity to 564 megawatts.
That is an acutely small level of electrical-generating capacity in a nation of 28 million residents. In 2012, utilities in Texas — a U.S. state of comparable population — generated more than 28,000 megawatts of electrical capacity, according to the Energy Information Administration, a unit of the federal Department of Energy.
One of Nepal’s installations, the 10-megawatt Sunkoshi Hydropower Project, sustained serious damage for the second year in a row. In June 2014, a landslide hit the installation. Repairs will take months, according to the Nepal Electric Authority.
Set aside the population stats; the country is the size of a postage stamp next to Texas.  Nepal is 56,827 square miles. Texas is 268,827 sq mi.

So how did they even fit 14 hydropower dams into Nepal? And what for, when the dams generate such measly amounts of megawatts -- when they're not out of commission from landslides and earthquakes?

Oh but Nepal must be electrified because if it's not electrified how can it develop?  Listen to this Nepali dam engineer yap in 2013 about the obstacles to Nepal's bright hydropower potential:
There are numerous barriers constraining hydropower development in Nepal. A lack of political stability, good governance and law and order issues are important factors hindering progress and economic growth. Frequent changes of ministers and the government, lack of inter-governmental agency co-ordination, prolonged processes and procedures for environmental clearances from the government, and a long list of inordinate local demands have been posing a major threat to hydropower development in Nepal.
He sounds like he's reading verbatim from a World Bank country report.  Although he does allow there are a few other obstacles:
Environmentally, the Himalayan geology is young and fragile; hence, there is the risk of earthquakes and landslides. Controlling sediments in the hydro projects is also a challenge. Most of the Nepali rivers have little discharge in the dry season but become wild in the monsoon season. The effects of climate change in Nepal are visible and there may be little snow cover in the glaciers and Himalayas in the next 50 years. In some cases, the risk of glacier lake outburst flood may be a major threat to hydropower development.
Now you listen to Pundita, Sri Jeewan P Thanju. You've bought a development model that was lifted from the one used to reconstruct and develop Europe after World War Two. It's the IBRD model, which was tweaked when the IDA was created to develop the 'least' developed countries.  

So you need to ask yourself, 'Is Nepal Europe?' 

Wake up.  You've bought a development model that has no place in a region where geology rules to such an unyielding extent.  

Or what do you want?  For Nepal to look like downtown Beijing?  They're choking on their own industrial excrement -- in a megacity they built up straight in the path of massive dust storms rolling off the Gobi desert.  Meanwhile, the Chinese are trying to scrounge water from everywhere they can, including Nepal.  

So is that what you want for Nepal?  To be modern like Beijing?

Excuse me, every intelligent idea the Chinese ever thought up was by candlelight.  By the way, the American Revolution was plotted and fought by candlelight.  Abraham Lincoln studied Euclid by candlelight, and Euclid himself did geometry by candlelight.  

And stop and think:  what would have happened if the Buddha had said, 'No hydropower-generated electricity to study by, no Dhamma!' 

As matter of fact, modern peoples stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants, and not one of those giants studied by electrical light.   

But Nepalis don't even need to study by candlelight today or kerosene lamps because there are cheap, safe, off-the-grid solar powered lanterns. Contact Solar Sisters for advice on how to distribute the lanterns in Nepal.          

However, what Nepal's peoples need more than electricity right now is drinking water that isn't poison because all the electricity in the world will not help a brain-damaged person think straight.  

And don't tell me I'm lecturing from an American high horse; recently I aimed the same lecture  at my fellow Americans because there are areas of my own country where the drinking water is poison. I also pointed out recently that there are Americans who are suffering from the same kind of malnutrition-fueled brain damage found in the poorest countries.

For dealing with malnutrition, Nepali leaders need to study Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej's New Theory of Land Management (created in the 1970s), which lays out how Thai villagers can be self-sufficient in food production and water management. 

Of course Thailand isn't Nepal but the basic model can be adapted for Nepal --and it makes a lot more sense for Nepal than the IBRD model.  

For cleaning up Nepal's drinking water, there are plenty of low-tech solutions -- some very old, some cutting-edge modern. All they require mostly is a determined effort and hard labor -- things Nepalis excel at.  

For this moment, Nepal's government and ngo aid workers should contact the people who make Argonaut Villager and get those water purification units into Nepali villages.  Here's how the Villagers work.  


Yet for the longer near term all reconstruction and development in Nepal must be based on first developing safe drinking water.  You don't need to electrify the country to accomplish that development goal.
Start from there.  

Stop fooling around with yet more hydropower dams in Nepal unless you'd stake the life of your children that depth charges to blast mountain rock aren't going to rattle a geological fault. 

And in the same of sanity, don't rebuild stone and wood housing in rural Nepal that was destroyed in the two most recent major earthquakes, the most recent happening today. Put up Mongolian gers, also known as yurts, which are EARTHQUAKE PROOF.  I repeat THEY ARE EARTHQUAKE PROOF.


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