The New Oil

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japesc08
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The New Oil

The one thing that slipped my mind as I planned my research in Nepal: power cuts. In comparison to my last visit, there is a schedule for the daily power cuts. They of course are not the same everyday but at least they do not cut out whenever the Nepal Electric Authority feels like it. But it got me thinking, how does the country that has the second highest water resources in the world have a power issue?

As of a week ago, the Nepal Electric Authority instated a 69 hour a week power cut system during one of the coldest months in Nepal. So cold that people have to fundraise or gather clothes for the Terai to stay warm in this winter as many die.311 For many Nepalis, these power cuts are manageable but as I am attempting to do schoolwork and living with other students, I realize how unmanageable and difficult it is for students to try and modernize in this system. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is the most affected by the power cuts considering half of the country is not even connected to the power grid and this city has the highest density of people, businesses and schools.

There are a multitude of reasons behind why Nepal has to have power cuts. There has been very little investment in power because of Maoist conflict from 1996 to 2006, the Koshi flood of 2008, unable political shifts in the Nepali government, and foreign investment. The most interesting is the fact that Nepal must import their own hydroelectric power from India. This reminds me of the many conversations over Nile treaties while I studied abroad in Kenya. Who is defending the rights of water? Like The Nile, the waters from the Himalayas are taken advantage of by India as they are more stable as a state than Nepal.

Recently there have been talks about the creation of dams, like Pancheswor and Sapta Koshi high dam projects, and the future water projects yet this instability worries India. This relates to one of the major points of my project: structure. If Nepal had more control over their water, they could expand their infrastructure and develop further but due to international constraints, it is very difficult. India will not fully negotiate due to the lack of economic liberalization in effect in Nepal. In order for a treaty to pass, the government must pass the treaty by 2/3 majority vote. I do not blame India for stalling the agreement due to this vote but the lack of local control over the power is becoming problematic for the developmental future of Nepal, and the future is only looking bleaker and bleaker and water becomes more of a commodity.

In the end, Jeneen Interlandi strongly finishes my point:

'Markets don’t care about the environment,' says Olson. 'And they don’t care about human rights. They care about profit.”

A. Paige V.
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Re: The New Oil

Hey Jordan,

Really enjoy reading your posts from abroad. Similiar energy questions came to me when I did my IDS in Jinja, Uganda, the "source of the Nile" and the source of energy for the entire nation. There are two huge hydropower dams and a third being built, yet the dams produce far less energy than was promised and electricity supply is low and unpredictable. Power cuts are starting in Uganda now, like Nepal. What stood out to me the most about this was how human productivity is governed by the provision of electricity and internet access. How can developing places like Uganda and Nepal make progress when their citizens simply can't work? Only once the basic needs like electricity are widely accessible can people in places like Nepal and Uganda develop their businesses and communities. Marx says man is governed by the means and modes of production, and by the people who own them. Are we the tools of our tools, as Thoreau believed? 

japesc08
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Re: The New Oil

Paige,

I had no idea that Uganda was undergoing these shifts already. I agree with all your above statements. It is very difficult for these countries to actually "develop" or follow such goals as the Millenium Development goals when they do not have power. Power does not dictate life but as they try to encourage education, innovation, and the etc., this creates a huge challenge. If global firms control the modes of production in the developing world, the people are at the hands of the firms. My question is how do the people/nations stand up to such firms? Nepal is honestly at the mercy of India due to their dependence on oil, food, water from India. How do they fight back? Uganda is dependent on foreign aid and investment, how could they become independent?

caduceus
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Re: The New Oil

Just think, here in the US we have rolling black outs from time to time in extremely warm and extremely cold months.  The Northeast US seems to do pretty good when you don't factor in storms.  Nepal's situation is a bit more drastic and certainly more than a "blip" to a routine. We've had 100 years or so to work on it too.  Like you said, Nepal is still adjusting to its rough string of government history.

I heard on the local news last week about an elderly woman who had donated $10,000 to pay off past due water bills in Wilmington.  ( see: "water for christmas" )  That"s less than 2 hours from where I'm stationed, talk about reality check.

I also did a quick "google"that came back with some information on a plan by the Nepal Electric Authority to end these types of black outs in 5 years, sounds like a tall order, especially with all "google" talking about companies backing out of big power projects, but it looks like organization and structure are there where it wasn't before, like you stated.

I'm reminded of a popular quote "if there's no bridge, build one".  More power produced will mean more power sold, especially when people are freezing to death, in that case the grim reality is they are selling life... and most will buy...if they can afford it.  Someone will see producing power will mean big money, as long as the country stays stable.  Give people a means to supporth themselves and their family and they usually take it.

Also with the recent shift of foreign policy with concerns more towards Asia (minus the Iran conundrum and what seems like a violent revolt to come in Syria) nations like Nepal will be in the spot light, especially with China being "right there" you'll certainly see more money from the west to keep it democratic, and my guess that will spur more investment and market potential with India.

Not to mention, anyone who likes the outdoors wouldn't mind a vacation that wakes up looking at Everest everyday.

Wish you continued safe travels and have enjoyed reading about the "planes, trains, and automobiles" and the stories of each of your trip thus far....I have a feeling should I visit that part of the world in the next 4 years it will be under much different circumstances and different company.

___________________________

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