From the early industrial revolution to date, energy is becoming one of the most important ingredients of social and economic progress. In those days, coal played a vital role for meeting the energy needs of the residential as well as industrial sector. Electricity generation had primarily been based on coal. In course of time, scientists have developed various technologies. Hydro-power generation is one of them. From the beginning of the nineteenth century, modern technology facilitated generating electricity from the flowing water. Since then, most of the world’s surface water is being transformed into electricity. More than 45 thousands dams are in operation worldwide in over 140 countries and around 33 thousands of these are large dams. They mainly serve to store water for irrigation, drinking and industrial use or to provide flood protection. Approximately 25 per cent of the large dams have hydro-power as their main use or are used for hydro-power generation as a part of a multipurpose structure.
After the Second World War, liquid fuel is becoming the simplest, cheap and versatile source of energy. Rapid and miraculous socio-economic progress that the world is enjoying today is the sole or partial effect of liquid fuel. At the beginning of 1970s, the world was hit by the first oil embargo. The price of oil has been abruptly rising indicating a symptom of an era of the end of cheap oil. The other part of the story is that scientists have found and warned that the rampant use of fossil fuel would create greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere causing climate change. This creates awareness amongst the word leaders about the likely emergence of climate change caused by rampant use of fossil fuel. Since then, the world has put efforts to develop new technology for alternative sources of energy. Nuclear, solar, bio-mass, wind along with water are the sources of energy as the outcome of this effort. Among them, water is the most reliable, environmentally benign and renewable source of electricity.
“Wealth is not without its advantages,” John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote, “and the case to the contrary, although it has often been made, has never proved widely persuasive.” Despite the obvious advantages of wealth, nations do a poor job of keeping count of their own. They may boast about their abundant natural resources, their skilled workforce and their world-class infrastructure.
This has almost been true as Nepal looks back over the use of its abundant water resource. This abundance, a free gift of nature, constitutes a real natural wealth featured by a marketable commodity. This wealth remains idle. Idle wealth does produce anything and in turn makes no significant contribution to the welfare of the people.
Water is the jewelry of the rivers. Jewelry if put in the box would not produce any additional output in an economy. Mobilization is necessary to get more value addition from the wealth that has been kept in the box. Flowing water in the rivers if not in used is only a beauty to perceive. Nepal is decorated by about 6,000 rivers and rivulets. They have immense use to make the country prosperous. From the time immemorial to date they remain idle. True, the flowing water in these rivers does not contribute any kind of value addition and instead flooding may destroy other existing property. The implication is that it may cost more without any benefit.
It is a renewable source but become a scarce commodity because of its diverse use. Citizens are thirsty with plenty of water flowing over their own courtyard. Accumulation of this wealth neither guarantees delivering welfare nor has a significant impact on the living standard of the great majority of the people. For instance, this passive wealth did not make our ancestors, including us, happy. If we hesitate over the use of this wealth it would hold back progress and not make it possible to increase material well being and to deliver happiness to the generations to come. Nepalese are often speaking about the utilization of this unutilized wealth. It is because this wealth if utilized rationally would be a boon for the progress of the country. Its timely and rational use can boost welfare of the people. Nepalese can become rich, prosperous and healthy. The longer the gap between its uses the greater is the loss indicating a risk of shortfall on socio-economic development and in turn the deficit of material wellbeing of the people in general. This wealth needs transformation. Water must be transformed, among other things, into electricity.
Countries of the world are trying to shift from the coal and liquid fuel-based electricity generation to the renewable energy source base because of obvious reasons. The South Asian countries are in need of dependable and reliable energy to accelerate their socio-economic progress. The immense hydro-power potential of the entire Himalayan region could be the best option. Nepal possesses a significant portion of this potentiality which mostly remains as unused wealth. This wealth if used rationally would help to foster economic growth and correct trade deficit in the short as well as the long run.
Published in The Himalayan times, August 1st, 2012.
DR. KAMAL RAJ DHUNGEL