Nepal declares power emergency, 14-hour daily outage likely

December 26th, 2008 - 1:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Dec 26 (IANS) While the rest of the world steps up festivities to welcome the new year, Nepal faces a dismal future with its Maoist government announcing a power emergency.Already enduring a 10-hour power outage daily, Nepal will see the blackout rise to 14-16 hours from Monday as its main power-producing river has begun drying up and the nation faces its worst ever energy crisis.

The council of ministers Thursday declared a national power emergency, which will cause the government’s popularity to dip further and deliver a hard blow to industries, tourism, education and healthcare services.

Enriched with mighty Himalayan rivers, Nepal has the potential to generate 83,000 MW of clean hydro energy. But in reality, about one percent of this has been realised. Politics, corruption and instability strangled the growth of the hydro power sector, which could transform the economy of one of the poorest nations in Asia.

At present, the main storage power producer is the Kulekhani river that generates 140 MW. However, with a lean monsoon this year, the water level in the reservoir is fast shrinking.

One option is to import power from India. In September, India’s Power Trading Corporation signed an agreement to supply additional power to tide over the crisis.

However, the transmission lines between south Nepal and India were damaged during floods in August and despite posturing to rebuild the damaged infrastructure on a war-footing, the government has failed to repair the lines so far.

At the end of four months of his tenure, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and his main allies, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, still remain locked in fights both inside their parties and among themselves over posts.

As a result, key issues like power, law and order and writing a new constitution have been neglected.

Nepal is estimated to suffer a loss of about Nepali Rs.45 billion ($700 million) due to the power crisis that has caused dozens of industries to close.

Faced with growing public anger, the Prachanda government this month announced it would commission thermal plants to generate power till the crisis is over.

However, energy experts have pointed out that the cost of power generated by such plants would be astronomically high. With Nepal’s record of kickbacks and corruption, the addition is likely to create another economic crisis.

Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai unveiled an ambitious budget this year that promised to generate 10,000 MW of power by the next decade.

However, so far, the new ministers have remained engaged in going abroad and attending seminars.

The prime minister himself, who chose to ignore a flood in south Nepal and flew to Beijing to watch the Olympic finale less that a week after assuming office, is now scheduled to go on another trip abroad.

Though Nepal has a power minister, Prachanda himself will tour Scandinavia, ostensibly to study wind power. Why can’t he do it on Google? an irate newspaper asked Friday.

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