Accepted paper:

Spectres of water pipes: Kathmandu's imagination of a future without water scarcity


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

Paper short abstract:

Kathmandu’s Melamchi Water Supply Project is a spectral infrastructure. 40 years in the making, it is unclear whether this river diversion scheme will ever be completed. Still, it is exacerbating the city’s water scarcity in a state that at times seems as spectral as its infrastructure projects.

Paper long abstract:

Since the early 1970s, the residents of Kathmandu have been visited by a fantastic spectre: the Melamchi Water Supply Project. This scheme is a plan to divert the water of a river to the city in order to cure it from a chronic water shortage. Time and again, however, this spectre has proven impalpable, despite frequent announcements by the government and the ADB. One important outcome of this spectral infrastructure is a severe lack of funding for the maintenance of the existing water network; even official sources estimate 60% of leakage. Combined with the exponential growth of the city since the Maoist insurgency in 1996, this leads to a progressive privatization of water and water infrastructure. As people are provided with water of low quality for only two hours every other day during dry season, they have to store large quantities of it in rooftop tanks. At the same time, private providers of water supply a growing number of households. My paper will argue that the lack of water poses a growing threat to political authority in Kathmandu as can be seen by daily protests in front of the headquarters of the city's water authorities. However, the fact that the state is as elusive as its unbuilt infrastructures leaves those protesting without a clear target: due to the Maoist uprising and the still uncompleted peace process Kathmandu has not had a mayor since 2002 while the newly established Republic of Nepal is still missing a constitution.

panel P028
Infrastructure and imagination: Anthropocene landscapes, urban deep-ecology, cybernetic dreams and future-archaeologies