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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Nepalis struggle in the shadow of dam
Children of indigenous people
A school is one of the few proposals to have materialised
Proposals to limit the impact of the building of Nepal's largest hydropower project in the Kaligandaki river, in the mid-west of the country, have failed, according to researchers.

A number of schemes were proposed in order to reduce the damage the dam would cause to both the area's indigenous people and the environment.

They include new houses, economic compensation, and safeguards for fish stocks.

But now the dam has been constructed, very few of these proposals have seen the light of day, critics say.

"Even if you look at the Asian Development Bank's own policies towards indigenous peoples, what these people are supposed to get is land, construction of their houses, facilities, and also resettlement and a permanent income source for them," Gopal Siwakoti of the Water and Energy Users' Federation in Nepal told BBC World Service's One Planet programme

"Since they are displaced from their traditional income, which is fishing, they are supposed to be given an alternatives. If you apply these standards, they haven't received anything."

Double impact

Mr Siwakoti added that the building of the dam had had a double impact - not only had the jobs promised not materialised, but the community was unable to return to their original source of income because of the environmental effect of the dam.

"Their main tradition is fishing. Now, there are no fishes around, and they can't fish anymore", he said.

Kaligandaki river dam
People really expect too much
Janak Lal Karmacharya, Nepal Electricity Authority
Although the massive construction project had initially brought in money, these jobs have now mainly gone.

"They did have a lot of employment during the construction period - but post-construction there is not much a sustained economy," explained Kavati Rai, a postgraduate student studying the effects of dam building on communities.

"We have nice and wonderful policies and institutions and laws, but it really does not get translated at the local level when it comes down.

"Kaligandaki is one of the first where indigenous groups have been impacted, so they are learning slowly."

One villager confirmed Ms Rai's findings.

"We knew the project was coming, but after a time the roads came in - we thought that we might be able to get employment with the project, but more than that we did not know," he said.

Key export

The dam was constructed in 2000 as part of the government's efforts to tap the vast hydropower potential in the country.

Though Nepal is without much infrastructure, it has high hopes of using the potential hydroelectric power as a key export.

But the scheme was controversial because of the effect it would have on both the indigenous people and the environment.

Trout
Trout in the river are particularly under threat
"There are religious sites, cultural sites, and also small villages and towns which are dependent on the water flowing from the Kaligandaki," Mr Siwakoti said.

"There was a huge debate over how much water was going to be released, so the project agreed that a certain amount of water would be released all the time.

"What we understand now is that when there is not a sufficient amount of water to go to the tunnel, they completely block the water and the whole river is dry.

"It has created a serious problem."

And as well as the river drying up, Mr Sewakoti said the area has also suffered the problem of excess water too.

"What we have seen is that they have not made any arrangements for floods at all," he argued.

"We have floods, and we have soil erosion from both sides of the rivers."

Plans to ensure the continued existence of fish in the river had simply not gone through, he added.

Flooding in the South Asia region
The region is particularly prone to environmental damage from flooding
"The project planned that they would make an arrangement so that fish that flowed down would be taken up - but they never implemented it.

"They have not been able to maintain the life and the lifecycle of the fisheries industry."

But the builders of the dam stressed that they had done all they were told to do by the government.

"According to the contract, we had first of all to give priority for engagement of the water to the people," Fabrizio Calvi, the project leader for the Italian engineering company which built the dam, told One Planet.

He added that those who were displaced by the dam had to be given work and training.

"We had to build new houses for them, including a school and a library.

"Then - being an international company - we thought it was wise also to give them medical assistance. We had an internal hospital that was meant for our workers - at the end of the project we left them all our equipment and provided money for medical assistance for at least one year."

Pushed out

But he added that the Nepalese Government had not gone through with a plan to provide a doctor to be trained by the Italians, who would stay after the project was complete.

"The Nepalese decided that that area was not among their priorities," Mr Calvi said.

"Therefore they declined the offer and the scheme has been abandoned."

A further problem has been that however well-intentioned the schemes, the indigenous people who lived on fishing have been pushed out by the development - and have now been pushed out again by better-educated groups from the towns who see a way to turn what is happening at the dam into a profit.

Displaced indigenous people near the Kaligandaki dam
The indigenous people have now been pushed further out
Where once were indigenous people making the best of a beautiful landscape teeming with wildlife, now a town of hastily-constructed houses has sprung up.

Ironically, the new stone building the indigenous people have been rehoused in do not have electricity - although they made way for a hydroelectric dam.

But the owners of the dam blamed the complaints on unrealistic expectations.

"People really expect too much," said Managing Director Janak Lal Karmacharya of the Nepal Electricity Authority, which owns the dam.

"When they cannot meet that expectation, they feel frustrated, and they complain."


SEE ALSO:
Nepal facing glacier 'catastrophe'
21 Jan 03  |  Science/Nature
Dams stir water arguments
17 Mar 03  |  Science/Nature
Waters rise behind massive dam
01 Jun 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Nepal angered by Indian dam
31 Jul 01  |  South Asia


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