Reflections from the field: Federalism in Nepal

25 May

For the last few days I was in the field, visiting various municipalities of Province 1 in Nepal. We mostly visited the Terai districts (Morang and Jhapa) and parts of mid-hill district of Udaypur. I have been visiting Terai regularly since 2015 when we started the solar pump irrigation project in Saptari district. However, this is the first time that I visited after federalism came into effect vide the Constitution promulgated in September 2015. Nepal’s current Constitution is progressive and inclusive in almost all respects, though there are controversies around citizenship rules that doesn’t allow women to pass on Nepali citizenship to her children. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about here, check this opinion piece for knowing more on the citizenship controversy.

What’s the new federal structure? Under the new Constitution, there are three levels of government – Central, Provincial and Local (urban and rural municipalities). One might say, well, that’s the same as in India – but wait, it’s not, because unlike India, local governments are way more powerful than the Provincial Governments. As almost everyone will agree, a Mayor of a Municipality is in many ways more powerful than the Chief Minister of a state. I can’t say I understand the new power structure and dynamics way too well yet, but as the new federal structure unfolds, my researcher’s eyes would remain riveted on the developments.

What I already saw in the field was fascinating enough. First, is the sheer hope, positivity and empowerment among these Mayors. Earlier, when we visited Village Development Committees (the lowest unit of government then), we found a lot of enthusiasm for projects on solar pumps or work on spring revival and the willingness to participate as a beneficiary. However, what’s new now is also the capacity to say that, “your program is relevant for us, please bring it to our municipality and we will make budgetary provisions, including cost sharing arrangements”. Given that the major responsibility for development program planning and implementation is with the local governments now, they are getting injected with funds directly from the Central Government, as well as from the Provincial Governments. In addition, they can raise their own taxes too. They are also hiring experts and consultants on relevant areas of priority, for instance, in one Municipality, they had hired an agricultural engineer, in another, they were discussing the need for a renewable energy expert. During the course of our discussions, I could see two gaps emerging – one that of technical capacity – not all the central and provincial ministries had staff at the local level. Some like agriculture, and animal husbandry staff were well represented at the local level, while none from irrigation or renewable energy were. Second, we saw a lot of duplication of efforts – for instance, everyone we talked to, from the Central agency, down to the local agency, wanted to install solar pumps for irrigation, but were doing so either independently, or trying to build up coalitions, which were taking time to fructify.

Having said that, the kind of decentralisation path that Nepal has embarked upon is phenomenal – I am not aware of any other developing country in our part of the world, with this level of decentralised decision making where local elected representatives are making the rules. Rules, especially around coordination among the provincial and local governments are still emerging and this fluidity and flexibility offers enormous scope for understanding and streamlining decision making processes. I hope that scores of other researchers are just as fascinated as I am and will embark on policy relevant research that can inform this decentralised mode of governance.

Good time to a rural Nepali now when their voices can be heard at the local level, and when decisions can be taken at the local level too.

 

 

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A comprehensive political ecology reading list

2 Dec

A great reading list on political ecology. I am hoping to read many of these papers in the coming few weeks.

ENTITLE blog - a collaborative writing project on Political Ecology

By Julian Bloomer*

Looking for a compilation of important texts in political ecology? Julian Bloomer shares his comprehensive reading list, following a brief introduction to how it came about.

View original post 15,786 more words

Some thoughts on solar powered irrigation pumps in South Asia

8 Nov

Future Earth network recently published my blog on SPIPs. Here is the link

http://futureearth.org/blog/2018-jul-20/water-energy-food-nexus-are-solar-powered-irrigation-pumps-answer-south-asia

 

Back after a long hiatus

8 Nov

I haven’t been quite up to date with my blog posts in the last few years. And I intend to change it now. Thanks to all my readers who have taken the time to write, or talk to me and in the process encouraged me to resume my blog. I hope to write on issues of water-energy and food, as always. I also hope to post a lot more scientific papers on climate change and water in my role as coordinating lead author of water chapter in IPCC AR6. Keep reading and sending  me your feedback.

The political economy of metering agricultural tube wells in West Bengal, India — published in Water International

20 Oct

Unmetered electricity supply to agriculture has given rise to a unique and invidious water–energy–food nexus in India. Metering of agricultural consumers has been suggested as a way to break the nexus, but most states have not been able to meter farmers due to their opposition . The only exception is the state of West Bengal. Using primary data from a household survey conducted in 2010 when the metering process was still underway, this paper argues that farmers’ support for metering in West Bengal can be explained in terms of the economics of groundwater use and politics surrounding agriculture and groundwater in the state.

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/vteTtT5esSdnEDQNVhAG/full

 

A blog based on our paper, posted by WLE of the CGIAR

11 Aug

http://wle.cgiar.org/blogs/2014/08/11/successful-decentralized-water-management-bangladesh/

The paper on which this blog is based, was published in Water Alternatives, Vol (7), Issue (2), June 2014.  Here is the link to the full paper, which I believe, is freely downloadable. If any of you have problems downloading the paper, let me know and I will be happy to send you a pdf copy.

Energy scarcity, and not delayed monsoon, is to blame for late paddy transplantation in Nepal

13 Jul

This year, monsoon has played truant. According to the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, rainfall deficit in the western and far western region of Nepal for the month of June is around 50%, while the Indian Meteorological Department estimates rainfall deficit in India at ­­­43%. Scientists reckon that El Nino effect is to blame. El Nino is the weather phenomena caused by the warming of the sea surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean. It occurs irregularly every two to seven years and is associated with weaker monsoon. 2002 and 2009 were El Nino years during which monsoon rainfall was below normal, causing drought and decline in crop production in many parts of South Asia. South Asia Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF), which prepares monsoon outlook for South Asia every year, indicated that this year monsoon is likely to be below normal.

Poor monsoon is terrible news for our region’s agriculture given the limited irrigation facilities and heavy reliance on rain-fed farming. The slow pace of paddy transplantation in Nepal is making headlines, while the price rise and hoarding is making news in India. If monsoon rains do not catch up soon, it will have serious implications on food security, food prices and overall economic growth in the region. There is not much we could have done about the delayed monsoon, but were there ways in which its negative impact on agriculture could have been reduced?

Farmers need energy and irrigation infrastructure to grow food for the country

Yes, negative impacts on agriculture could have been partly averted by concerted investments in irrigation and energy infrastructure, both in the hills and in the Terai. By irrigation, we do not necessarily mean large scale surface irrigation costing millions of dollars, but even small scale irrigation using groundwater could have worked miracles at this time. Indeed there are roughly 120,000 farmer-owned shallow tubewells dotting the Terai and farmers use them for life saving irrigation and for growing high-value crops like vegetables. But they all run on diesel and given the high cost of diesel, it does not make a lot of economic sense for farmers to transplant paddy using diesel pumps. Instead, farmers choose to wait for the arrival of monsoon and by doing so, risk severe reduction in yields. Delayed transplantation affects not only paddy production, but also impacts the rest of the cropping cycle. What is happening right now in Nepal is starkly reminiscent of what happened in Bihar during the 2009 drought. Bihar, like much of Nepal, has poor irrigation infrastructure. It had a deficit rainfall of 40% that year and the area sown with paddy plummeted by 50%, leading to severe loss in farmers’ income. However, in Punjab, with similar rainfall deficit, there was hardly any decline in cropped area simply because farmers had access to irrigation – both through canals and electricity operated groundwater pumps.

In places like the Terai, where groundwater is available in plenty and at very shallow depths, it is indeed distressing to see fields left fallow due to late arrival of monsoon, or for that matter, fields left fallow during the summer season, when a second or a third crop could have been easily grown. Similar is the case in the mid hills, where perennial rivers flow at valley bottoms, but water cannot be lifted from the rivers to irrigate fields on hill slopes.

Energy scarcity and not water scarcity is the real issue

The Terai and the mid hills do not really face a physical scarcity of water per se, even when monsoons fail once in a while, like it may this year. Water is available, either a few feet below the ground in abundantly recharged aquifers, or flowing through the river valleys. Yet, farmers cannot use this plentiful water because they lack access to affordable and reliable sources of energy to lift that water. While the impact of power shortage on urban residents and industries is much discussed, farmers’ plight due to energy scarcity rarely makes headlines.

Just imagine for a moment that most of those 120,000 or so shallow tubewells in the Terai were connected to the electricity grid or solar panels and were getting reliable electricity supply for at least six hours a day. Or that there were several hundreds of small electricity or solar powered lift irrigation systems in the mid hills of Nepal. Then, would farmers still postpone paddy transplantation owing to the delay in monsoon? They most likely would not, because electricity is far more affordable than diesel and the cost of keeping land fallow are much higher.

This very important link between water, energy and agriculture is not well understood. True, the electricity being generated now is not enough for the population in general, not just farmers, but rarely is agricultural electricity deemed important enough to make it to policy documents and future electricity demand forecasts. This needs to change immediately if we want our farmers to cope with the vagaries of monsoon.

Give solar pumps a chance

Nepal is now making its long-term hydropower plans. This is the right time to think about other renewable sources of energy that can be developed and deployed quickly for the benefit of farmers. One such option is solar powered pumps. In the past decade, costs of solar panels have come down sharply, and it is now possible to install 1 HP solar pumps for a little over Rs. 200,000 and no further recurring costs. Higher capacity pumps are also available in the market, albeit at higher prices. These pumps are suitable for one-acre farms and for providing irrigation during the most critical period in paddy transplantation.

Thus, while worrying about the late arrival of monsoon is completely justified, let us not forget that most of the negative consequences of such delay could have been largely avoided if farmers had access to energy.

International Conference on Sustainability in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus in Bonn

20 May

I am attending the International Conference on Sustainability in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus in Bonn, Germany. This is being organized by the Global Water System’s project. It is an interesting conference in many ways – first, and perhaps most importantly, it brings together relevant people from all the three sectors and facilitates a dialogue among them and second, papers presented in this two day conference have been chosen with much care. My friend Anik Bhaduri, who is the Executive Officer of GWSP told me that only 23% or so of the total abstracts that were submitted were finally chosen, thereby ensuring high quality of the papers that are being presented today and tomorrow.

There was a parallel session this morning that I really liked and learnt a lot from. It was on hydropower—an area of our research interest. There were four papers in this session. Conference program is here and the session I refer to is A01.

The first was on power and politics of hydropower in Xayaburi project in Lower Mekong and was presented by Oliver Hensengerth of Northumbria University. While dam development in the Upper Mekong (China) has been happening for the last three decades or so, the onslaught of dam development in Lower Mekong is of somewhat recent origin and Xayaburi, in Loas PDR is the first of the 11 or so proposed dams to be actually constructed. In doing so, Laos PDR decided to eschew the route of financing through conventional western donors and also decided not to seek the consensus of the Mekong River Commission (MRC). Instead, this dam is being financed by private bank in Thailand. This, according to the author, has led to hydro-hegemony has left the regional organization of MRC in a limbo. He also termed the decision of Lao PDR to go ahead with this project as a decision influenced by the urban ‘elites’. That left me wondering why hydropower and promise of electricity could not be beneficial for the rural poor and I was told that all the power so generated will either to exported to Thailand, or go to the capital city of Vietianne. So, the basic issue is not of dam building per se, but it is of benefit sharing. This made me think of Nepal. I have been told by several people (but I need to double check this) that districts where dams in Nepal are located, are also given 24 hours of cheap electricity. That seems like a good model to me and I wondered if would Lao PDR not do something similar, given that their rural demand is likely to be very small indeed.

The next two papers were on hydropower and politics among Turkey, Syria and Iran over the Euphrates and Tigris (by Aysegul Kibaroglu of Okan University, Turkey) and between Turkey and Georgia over hydropower in river Coruh (by Waltina Scheumann of German Development Institute). Both papers were similar in that they talked about windows of opportunity that got taken up to solve issues that had otherwise eluded these nations for years, if not decades. For instance, Turkey and Syria seized an opportunity in 2000 (not clear how this opportunity arose, as I did not ask) and decided to build a joint dam on Asi/Orontos River. They also made sure that protocols were signed and work on the joint dam was in progress, but this has been halted since 2011 when the Syrian crisis broke. In the case of Turkey and Georgia, that window of opportunity presented itself in the form of signing Turkish Georgia cross border electricity trade agreement in May 2013. Signing of this agreement shifted the focus from areas of tension (impact of sediments on sand beaches in Georgia) to that of cooperation around revenues generated from electricity trade. Georgia is the net exporter of power and it gains sufficiently in the process to overlook its previous concerns regarding beach sedimentation. These two were clear cases of expanding the concept of water sharing to include benefit sharing. Again I thought of our region and I believe, a similar regional power trading agreement between India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh will go a long way in easing tensions that surround water sharing.

The final paper by Sussane Schmeier was on why certain river basins organizations (RBOs) do a better job on negotiations around hydropower than others. And the answer, quite intuitively, lay in the scope, the mission and the decision making powers and abilities of these RBOs. Overall, I found this session very interesting and useful, given our own interest in working on hydropower from a mountain perspective.

In another session, my colleague, Dr. Golam Rasul, Theme Leader of Livelihoods, presented our joint paper on the role of Himalayas in water-food-energy nexus. He highlighted the central role of the mountains in regulating so many of the services (water, energy, ecosystems to name a few) that are valued downstream and pointed out how mountains are missing from the nexus discussions. I thought he did a good job in getting across the message to the audience that mountains are important and any nexus dialogue has to include the voices of the mountain people.

Papers aside, what I like best about this conference is that I got to meet so many of my water colleagues. It is such a treat to meet old friend and colleagues and to reminiscence of times spent together. My presentation on managing the water energy and food nexus in India is today. I will talk how different states in India have gone about differently in managing this nexus. Looks like I had blogged on this last year here.

Papers on minor irrigation, groundwater and arsenic

17 Apr

I thought it was timely to provide links to some of my recently published papers. I had blogged about them at one point or the other. In May 2013, EPW published our paper on Minor Irrigation Census. Link to that paper is given below. A few months later, a rejoinder to our paper was also published in EPW, and instead of responding to that by writing another rejoinder to a rejoinder, we thought that we will let our readers judge for themselves. Here are the two papers.

Major Insights from India’s Minor Irrigation Censuses: 1986-87 to 2006-07

Analysis of India’s Minor Irrigation Statistics

I had also blogged about this EPW paper here and here.

We also published a paper on poor state of irrigation statistics in India. In many ways, I call it an accidental paper because, while working on the MI Census paper, my colleague Stuti also started looking up various other sources of data on wells and tubewells and to our surprise (or may be, I should not have been surprised), we found that there is a huge discrepancy in groundwater irrigation statistics. This paper was published in International Journal of Water Resources Development (IJWRD) and here is the link.

Poor state of irrigation statistics in India: the case of pumps, wells and tubewells

I had blogged about this paper here.

Finally, my favorite paper of the lot. It’s on what can we do to reduce the negative impacts of irrigating with arsenic rich groundwater on crop, soil and human health. It was published in Agricultural Water Management early this year. Link to this paper is given below and  I had blogged about it here.

Irrigating with arsenic contaminated groundwater in West Bengal and Bangladesh: A review of interventions for mitigating adverse health and crop outcomes

I will be happy to share author copies of these papers should you need it, just drop me a line. Now that the weekend is almost here, happy weekend all.

Nepal Hydropower: What’s next?

16 Apr

Small hoardings highlighting interesting facts about Nepal welcomes all passengers when they arrive at Kathmandu Airport. Two that I notice every time I come in, I suppose because they are directly related to my work are; Nepal has most number of 6000 m plus peaks in the world and that its water resources endowments are second only to Brazil. It is then not surprising that Nepal also has a huge hydropower potential – a potential estimated at nearly 40,000 MW. Yet the reality is that only 700 MW of that potential has been realized so far. What stops Nepal from developing its potential? And what needs to be done to translate that ‘potential’ into ‘reality’? To answer these questions, an international financial institution (IFI) had organized a forum in Nepal in March.

While I have worked on electricity sector in India and have a fairly good understanding of the reform process there, my understanding of hydropower in Nepal was quite limited. But such was the richness of discussions at this forum that I feel confident about writing this blog. Chances are that I will get a few things wrong, but as a British philosopher named Carveth Read (1848-1931) said “It is better to be vaguely right than exactly wrong”. And that is what I am trying to attempt here.

The discussion at this forum veered around the question: Can Nepal transform itself from an energy deficient country to the engine powering rest of South Asia? Right from the beginning, it was apparent that there was a distinct shift in focus in discussions, say from the 1990s, when much of the debate was about whether Nepal should or should not develop hydropower, followed by the Arun III debacle in mid 1990s. Now, the discussions were most focused on when and how to develop hydropower, instead of whether to develop it or not. Most delegates seemed to think that given its rich hydro-power potential, this was indeed possible. But there was also the understanding that solutions will have to be different keeping different time horizons in mind.

In the short term horizon of next two to three years, the best way forward for Nepal seemed to invest in at least two cross border 400 kVA transmission lines that will enable it to import power from India. This could be done either through power purchase agreement with India or any of its state governments, or through the privately run spot electricity market. There are two such private electricity exchanges in India – Indian Energy Exchange and Power Exchange India Limited, both set up in 2008. Both these are regulated by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission. In 2012-13, the Indian Energy Exchange traded 2200 MU of energy in day ahead market at an average market price of INR 3.4 per unit (IEX Annual Report 2012-13) and it has been declining since then. Many seemed to think that it was the right time to invest in these transmission networks, which for the time being could be used for importing power from India, but at a later date, might as well be used for exporting power to India and also possibly to other countries in the region, such as Bangladesh and Myanmar. Today, roughly 18% of total energy supplied by the national grid in Nepal is imported from India and GoN also has a power sales agreement with the Power Trading Corporation of India (NEA, 2012). However, in the long run, it is more likely that Nepal will export power to its neighbor, than import from it and investment in transmission lines will serve both these short term objective of power import and long term objective of power export.

Long term solutions have both demand and supply facets. On the demand side is the question about quantum of electricity that Nepal can produce that will be absorbed both by domestic and regional market, given that domestic demand for power is unlikely to be more than 2000 MW or so. The Nepal Electricity Authority has been pushing for guaranteed power purchase agreement (PPAs) with producers, but the modalities of the same are still to be worked out. This is because of risk assessment by Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and its attempt to create PPAs that can account for any eventuality in the next three or so decades. Most participants in the forum were however of the view that PPA process needs to be expedited and completed within the next 6 months, if not a year. In addition, officials from power ministries from neighboring countries underlined the energy ‘hungriness’ of economies surrounding Nepal and assured that power produced in Nepal will find a ready market in among its neighbors. Bangladesh cited the example of successful power purchase agreement with India which has been working smoothly for the last few years. In Bihar, energy needs will grow from 2200 MW currently to 10,000 plus MW in 2020 and that the only thing holding back development in Bihar was its energy scarcity. It was also mentioned that there are multiple avenues of selling power to India – it could be through federal level agreements, or through direct agreement with any state government, or through private power exchanges. Given the maturity of electricity sector in India post 1990s debacle when the sector was first opened for private investments, it is likely that power trading between Nepal and India can take the form of both traditional power purchase agreements between sovereign states, or resort to purchase from private operators, or come up with an optimum mix of both. What will be useful in this process is joint mechanism between power Ministries in Nepal and India. Right now, there are no such joint mechanisms and all agreements have to be worked through Ministry of External Affairs.

On the supply side is the question of investments. Here again, it seemed that as soon as Nepal put regulatory frameworks in order and responded to the concerns of the investors, the IFIs, including the World Bank, the IFC, and the ADB are ready to invest USD 6 billion plus in the hydropower sector. Based on international experience of inviting development assistance for power generation, it was highlighted that concerns of lenders and developers have to be prioritized over risk related concerns of the government and that the government needs to come up with nimble and responsive regulatory mechanisms that encourage, rather than stifle investment in the sector. In this regard, the need to unbundle NEA was emphasized, but it was not seen as the main stumbling block.

So, to sum up, the immediate solution seems to be investment in transmission line for importing power from India, but in the long run, political will is needed to give a push to Nepal’s electricity sector and with a new government in place, willingness for such a push was quite evident. It did seem from this discussion that the international community was looking towards Nepal to transform itself into an energy storehouse for the region.

(The views expressed in this blog are entirely personal).