Accepted paper:

Becoming a hydropower nation: Nepal's promised dams


Matthäus Rest (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History)

Paper short abstract:

For decades, the citizens of Nepal have been been promised an economic boom due to large scale hydropower exports. But instead, the hours of load shedding have increased. Looking at the long delayed Arun-3 dam project, I will investigate the power of an unfulifilled promise.

Paper long abstract:

While only half of Nepal's inhabitants are connected to the national electricity grid, for many years they have been told they are the citizens of a Hydropower Nation-to-be: every schoolchild knows the fantastic hydro potential of 83,000 MW by heart. Politicians of all major parties habitually claim that the country will turn into the Switzerland of Asia through electricity export. So far, however, only 800 MW have been installed and those connected to the grid suffer from up to 14 hours of 'load shedding' every day. Based on previous work on the suspension of the Arun-3 project, my paper will address how people around an unbuilt dam have coped with 25 years of uncertainty and the unfulfilled promise of becoming connected to modern infrastructures. In November 2014, the Nepalese government signed a contract with an Indian state-owned company to resume construction. The involvement of the powerful southern neighbour is further complicating the relationship many people in the Arun valley and throughout the country have had with Arun-3.

The promise of hydropower adds a new set of power potentials to a landscape that is considered inherently powerful by the people who dwell in it. Through an engagement with stories of place-making and marginalisation, I will ask what new forms of power relations and resource extractions become possible between peripheries and centres while a radically alternative landscape is emerging on a regional level: a massively dammed up Himalaya.

panel P06
Energy citizenships and prospects for low carbon democracy