Dammed if you do…

Action Asia - - NEPAL -

In the late 19th cen­tury, Western ge­og­ra­phers were in­tent on find­ing the ex­act sources and cour­ses of the ma­jor rivers of Asia. Ti­bet, how­ever, was off-limits for ex­plo­ration. Ti­betans claimed that four ma­jor rivers de­rived from Mt Kailash – a peak sa­cred to Ti­betan Bud­dhists, Bon ad­her­ents, Hin­dus and Jains. This was dis­missed as myth un­til, decades later, the Bri­tish dis­cov­ered that the Tsangpo (Brahma­pu­tra), In­dus, Sut­lej and Kar­nali – all arose within 100 kilo­me­tres of Kailash. At the time, the Bri­tish had no craft fit to ex­plore th­ese huge rivers as they gushed through tow­er­ing gorges. The irony is that to­day we can ex­plore th­ese rivers by raft and kayak, but the rivers them­selves are un­der siege – by those want­ing to build dams. In April 2018, Ul­ti­mate Des­cents plans a month-long sci­en­tific ex­pe­di­tion on the Kar­nali from its source at Mt Kailash all the way to where it flows into In­dia’s most sa­cred river, the Ganges. That’s if prepara­tory site-work for megadams al­lows, for In­dian com­pany GMR has a con­tro­ver­sial pro­posal to build a megadam at Daab, just above the usual put-in point for raft­ing trips. The dam would di­vert all the wa­ter through a two-kilo­me­tre tun­nel where it would drive tur­bines to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity. This de­sign would com­pletely drain a loop of around 70 kilo­me­tres of the Kar­nali, and all lo­cals would have to be re­lo­cated. At least 75% of the 900-MW of power gen­er­ated would be ex­ported to In­dia. Be­low the take-out point at Chisopani, there are fur­ther plans for a gar­gan­tuan 10-GW project – far larger than any dam in In­dia it­self. Chi­nese dam-build­ing con­sor­tiums also have their eyes on Nepal. On the West Seti, a key Kar­nali trib­u­tary, there’s a pro­posal to build a 750-MW dam. China’s Three Gorges Cor­po­ra­tion has a 75% stake in this project. The Nepali Gov­ern­ment deals with such dam builders are of­ten shrouded in se­crecy –such as the Us$2.6bn agree­ment made with Chi­nese com­pany Ge­zouba in May 2017 for a 1,200-MW dam on the Budi Gan­daki River, which rises near Mt Manaslu. Lo­cals are rarely con­sulted about th­ese pro­jects, and very lit­tle en­vi­ron­ment im­pact as­sess­ment is done.

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