Who’s got the power?

Nepal, June 21, 2011

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    Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps  </span>
    A young skeptic. Photo: Bija Gutoff/Mercy Corps

You’re serving a customer or running a machine and the power quits. This is a regular occurrence in Nepal. If you’re well-off, you pay to have a generator installed in your business and home so you’re not dependent on the electric grid. But if you’re poor, the outages are more than inconvenient — they cut into productivity no matter what you’re doing to improve your lot.

Load-sharing and power shortages are common in many parts of the developing world. But Nepal is different because it’s got the resources to generate plenty of its own hydropower. So when you hear that the government is funding the new Upper Karnali Hydropower Project (UKHP), you think, well yeah, that’s a good idea.

But oh, wait a minute. Today the Maoist element in the government says it’s going to protest the building of this new plant that seems so patently needed.

Why? The Maoists say the decision to award the construction contract to an Indian company harms the interests of local people, and that the government barged ahead without parliamentary approval.

It’s one of the biggest hydro projects underway in Nepal right now, and it has been touted as the lowest-budget project of its kind anywhere in the world. But the Maoists aren’t moved by the cost argument. They say they’ll raise the necessary funds and build it themselves.

So it goes here. Meanwhile the lights stay off for hours at a time. It’s just one example of the complex challenges Nepal faces. Getting all parties to work together toward a shared goal is essential to lighting up the country’s economy — and progress that benefits the poor.