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Project October 1, 2013

Nepal: Water Rights on the Koshi River


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A man finds a spot to bathe along the banks of the Sapta Kosi River in Baha Chhetra. Image by Steve Matzker. Nepal, 2013.

As the economic power and the populations of many countries grow, issues over water rights will increase. Historically unstable regions, such as the Indian subcontinent, are vying for sources of electricity. This energy demand will not only affect the power players but those caught in the middle. Nepal is one such country.

A poor nation in which only 27 percent of citizens have access to proper sanitation and daily blackouts last for 16-hour intervals, Nepal is set to emerge as the hydropower center of Asia. Along with other countries, multinational corporations and international investment banks, Nepal is exploring opportunities to provide for its own power needs as well as those of its neighbors – opportunities that come with conflict, and winners and losers.

For Nepal hydropower holds the promise of immense wealth and political power, but this is tempered by dams that displace villages and cropland. One point of conflict lies between Nepal and the Indian border state of Bihar. It is here, where the Koshi River flows, that water rights issues come into play.

Since 1954, when the Koshi Agreement was signed between the two countries to manage flooding, talks between the Indian and Nepalese governments have stalled and grievances have gone unaddressed.

As a result, a dam neglected for decades by both countries and a failed partnership for a second dam led to the catastrophic flood of 2008, which cost 250 lives, destroyed 300,000 homes and 800,000 acres of cropland, and displaced over 3 million individuals.

Talks of a second dam have resurfaced, this time for economic reasons. The people of Bihar stand to gain access to power and flood reduction, but downstream, the Nepalese stand to lose homes, crop land and fisheries.

In this project Steve Matzker and Jennifer Gonzalez visually explore the story of water rights issues and those who are affected by them – focusing on the economic, health, and environmental impacts on the Nepalese people in the Koshi River Basin.



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