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The World Commission On Dams

Nepalese Committee on Large Dams

Nepalese Committee on Large Dams

7 February 2001

National Background

Although Nepal has a potential storage and regulating capacity of about 70 billion m3 of water out of the total annual yield potential of 230 billion m3, it has only one reservoir having a total storage capacity of 83 million m3 (Kulekhani Reservoir). Nepal has not yet started constructing dams and the experience in the construction, operation and maintenance of dams is at its infancy. Over the last three decades or so, Nepal has conducted studies on large dams, which includes 6,400 MW Pancheshwar and 10,800 MW Karnaki multipurpose projects; and there are numerous other storage projects identified as technically and economically feasible. At present, the population coverage of electricity supply is about 15 percent and a large part of the rural population is out of reach of the boon of the modern technology. Nepal has merely developed a few hundred megawatts of hydropower out of the total potential of 83,000 MW. The development of water resources in Nepal has following aspects :

  1. Nepal does not have any other means of sizable energy supply, which can be taken as an alternative to the hydroelectricity. All fossil fuels are imported commodities.
  2. About 90 percent of the energy needs are met with sources of organic origin, which largely includes fuel wood and biomass. With increased energy needs as the population grows, the depleting forest resources are being stressed to the detriment of the environment. The only way to reverse this situation is to develop hydropower.
  3. The nature of the monsoon rain in the area is highly seasonal characterized by more than 80 percent of the annual rain occurring during the four months of June, July, August and September, and the remaining months falling short of the demand to meet the crop water requirement. All the hydropower projects built in Nepal except the Kulekhani Project are run-off-river type projects. The generation capacity is high during the monsoon season with spill energy but is insufficient to meet the demand during the lean flow season. This situation essentially calls for storage projects to regulate water and meet the peaking energy demand. The need for such regulation will escalate to meet the demands of the growing population for more food and electrical energy.
  4. With more than 40 percent of the population below the poverty line, Nepalís economy is highly dependant on agriculture, the primary occupation of some 85% of its population. Increased agricultural production backed up by reliable year round irrigation facility is, therefore, essential to poverty alleviation and employment generation. In the context of the highly seasonal nature of rainfall and the variability of available water in time and space, this is only possible with dams.
  5. Having been deprived of natural resources of significant economic growth potential other than water, Nepal has viewed the development of its hydropower potential as the only means of attaining economic prosperity through overall development and the export of surplus hydro energy to neighbouring countries.
  6. When we look the water resources development in sub-regional context, the development of dams in Nepal is seen as the only means to provide water for consumptive uses, clean energy and flood control.

Therefore, it is but natural that Nepal look into any issues related to water resources development with interest. In the meantime, Nepal has also been keen enough to pave ways to encourage hydropower development. The enactments of the Water Resources ACT 1992? Hydropower Development Policy 1992, Electricity Act 1992, and Environment Protection Act, 1997 are the milestones in this direction. They have encouraged foreign investment in hydropower development in recent years.

The Environment Protection Act of Nepal and its regulation require a thorough study of most of the aspects indicated by the WCD report for a storage project. Nepal has already begun the processes of public hearings, systematic environmental studies, ranking and screening of projects based on economic, social and environmental factors and developing the ones, which pass through the rigorous screening.

1. The WCD Report in General

  1. In general, the guidelines should be in the form of a framework, within which the national interest could be accommodated. It should be recognized that the procedures for developing any project, more or so a dam project with multi-dimensional aspects, are specific to each country. Each country needs to consider its specific conditions, laws and priorities. The guidelines, in order to be acceptable, must accommodate these aspects. The present guidelines are too rigid and too specific.
  2. The approach proposed does not seem to be achievable. It is very complex, extremely costly to implement and therefore unlikely to be accepted by most developing countries as well as the IFIs. In fact, with the very complex needs and options assessment required, no wonder if the guidelines may be seen as the perfect way to assure that no more dams are built.

2. Specific Comments

  • The Needs Assessment is very open-ended since level of consultation is not clearly defined. The cost involved to put this system at place is tremendous.
  • Comprehensive options assessment is extremely cumbersome and time-consuming exercise. This could be taken care of during master plan for a particular river basin rather than for a particular project. It is not clear at what stage the options assessment should stop and real project preparation should start.
  • How can the proposal of free, prior and informed consent by indigenous peoples and tribal groups be implemented in a country such as Nepal, where they live cheek by jowl with "ordinary people". How can it be weighted against the preference of other people in the affected areas?
  • In trans-boundary rivers, notifying Riparian States on proposed is feasible. However, agreeing with Riparian States on common procedures for impact assessment as well as notifying them of options are not feasible and therefore not acceptable.
  • The creation of a stakeholder forum and intervention by dispute resolution mechanism in case of disagreement with developers to follow the development of a project continuously will lead to interminable discussions.
  • Multi-step negotiations between all stakeholders with mediation step and review by experts panel about the potential impact on ecosystem and the population may stall any new development project.
  • It is not understood how license conditions should make provisions for re-planning studies for a group of projects and for changes in operating conditions for a project. Who should compensate a developer for losses incurred due to change in operating conditions?
  • Integrity pacts have yet to be applied to a dam project and this requirement will delay the development process.
  • In order to assess the implementability of the guidelines a reality test should be carried out on couple of projects in countries with different development stages.


The WCD report states "the report is not intended as a blueprint. It is recommended that it be used as the starting point for discussions, debates, Ö". In the same line it is believed that the report has started a wide debate on dams, which would consolidate our philosophy on development based on dams in the future. Such a report and its recommendations cannot be adopted as guidelines in the present form till the debate takes some definitive shape.

There was a workshop held in 10 January 2001 organized jointly by the Nepal Chapter of ICID, Nepal Chapter of ICOLD, Jalsrot Vikas Sanstha and Nepal Hydropower Association, which was participated by more than 60 eminent persons. There was a general consensus on the workshop that WCD guidelines in the present form cannot be implemented, especially in the context of a LDC like Nepal


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