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Colorado College

Publication Date

Spring 2006

Program Name

Nepal: Culture and Development


The theme of this paper is; “What else would you do with 500 million dollars?” In a country as small and diverse as Nepal, with many immediate needs, are large scale projects really the answer at the present time? The stage that this paper will be set in is the 1990’s during the democracy and the beginning of the Maoist insurgency. Also, happening during this time was the pursuit of several large-scale projects like the Mahakali Treaty and the Melamchi Water Delivery Project. These both involved projects that would potentially bring large benefits but were also fraught with uncertainties relating to the large costs, long time period, and the question of whether, and when, the benefits would actually be realized. Nepal at the time was reeling from three decades of stagnation that had not exactly been preceded by prosperity. The people were ready for instant change in their livelihoods. What they received instead, were undelivered promises of prosperity from an abundance of large-projects that ten years down the road have not even happened.

Nepal is a country deeply rooted in Hinduism and the caste system. Although the caste system, and the discrimination that results from it, has been the root of many of the recent political movements, including the democracy movement of 1990, not much has actually been done to remedy the situation. Lower caste dalits , and other marginalized people, still face the biggest obstacles getting access to basic needs and resources, like clean water.* These groups saw their hopes that were born with the 1990’s democracy quickly disappear in the face of corruption, inadequate representation, and inaction.

Nepal also is a country that for many outsiders is rich in water resources. Foreign banks and investors have been enticed by studies that revealed that the hydropower capacity of Nepal totaled 83,000 megawatts, of which very little is developed. The reality in the country though is another story. Waterborne diseases are one of the biggest causes of sickness in the country and many rural villagers have to walk six hours over steep, dangerous terrain to get a bucket of drinking water. On average, villagers in rural Nepal spend one hour a day, just getting water. Even in Kathmandu, the water supply is inadequate to meet the demand, and highly contaminated by disease causing organisms. Many citizens of the Kathmandu Valley are frequently sick and spend significant sums of rupees (2,000-15,000) yearly on medicine. “Improper use of or poor access to water resources can and does adversely affect the diet and livelihoods of the poor.” Despite being “rich” in water resources, water, or the lack thereof, is actually a major cause of poverty in Nepal.

The objective of this paper is not to decide whether large-scale projects are good or bad. It is to address the relationship between urban water and poverty in Kathmandu and assess whether or not the Melamchi water project was the best solution to the problem. Since studying the relationship between water, poverty, and conflict all over Nepal is too large of a scope for a month, this paper focuses on the Kathmandu Valley and the Melamchi project. A lot of the issues that are faced in Kathmandu are faced all over the country to different extremes, and the failure of Melamchi to come on-line in a timely and affordable fashion mimics almost all large-scale projects in Nepal. This paper uses water as a lens to explore the grassroots support for the Maoist conflict in the beginning and theorizes that if, instead of pursuing long-term, large-scale projects, the government had focused on basic needs like water and equal access for everyone, people would have had less of a cause to join the Maoist revolution.


Economics | Growth and Development | Public Policy


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