For a country roughly 1/67th the size of the US, Nepal packs a big punch, in natural resources at least. It has one of the largest water resources in the world, second only to Brazil, and the water runoff from the Himalayas flows down for miles as rivers and waterfalls, eventually turning into a water source for rivers in India, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. For Nepal this extensive natural resource provides them with what would be perceived to many as an obvious source of renewable energy. And for the most part this is true; however Nepal’s strategic location as the faucet for South Asia means it must balance its diplomatic interests by ensuring they do not dry up their neighbour’s riverbeds with the creation of energy plants while ensuring the country can provide enough energy to meet the growing demand of its population. Moreover, it must balance its response to the country’s energy demand while ensuring its modernisation does not drive away one of Nepal’s largest incomes: tourism.
A quick look at Nepal and it is easy to see why travellers flock to the country. It’s capital, Kathmandu, has the densest collection of UNESCO World Heritage sites with seven large monuments packed within a 15km radius. Large tracks of the Himalayas are protected as conservation areas, wildlife or hunting reserves, or national parks, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars it makes just in mountaineers attempting to summit Everest each year is a sizeable bolster to its economy and workforce. In addition to this, thousands of trekkers, rafters and climbers use Nepal’s mountains as an expansive playground for extreme sports (myself included). On top of all of this, it also boasts Chitwan National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage site, the only place in the world where visitors can have the chance of spotting a Bengal tiger as well as a rhinoceros.
One of the most popular treks in Nepal is to Poon Hill, in the Annapurna Conservation Area. My group and I walked for five days from Laxmi to Ghudruk, and it was apparent even within that short space of time there was an abundance of life wherever we went. Electric blue butterflies the size of your hand fluttered on oversized blooming hibiscus flowers, rocks resembling blocks of silver sparkled in the light of water run-off from the proliferate amount of waterfalls in the area; and the villages, each unique to their particular mountainous region, with cultures and religions pre-dating Buddhism, appeared as though they had been preserved to an extent from the mass development and encroachment of modern life that was pervasive in Kathmandu.
However it is just these people that the balance of development of renewable energy resources, conservation and tourism affect most. For many of these villages that reside in the Himalayas, electricity is offered for only limited hours a day. Alternative natural resources like timber or other wood for burning in stoves is limited due to conservation restrictions, meaning that the restricted allowance they are given is mostly used for tourists. Other amenities such as hot showers cost extra or are simply unavailable.
For people that constantly invite tourists into their homes and spend their available resources on them, do they not deserve some of the basic amenities that people worldwide expect to use on a daily basis? But on the other hand, would visitors still flock to this region if it was kitted out with extensive hot shower units, tumble dryers and stoves, at the sacrifice of the Annapurna Conservation Area’s natural beauty?
Obviously the answer lies in between utilising the natural renewable energy resources in the area in a way that doesn’t detract or harm the local ecosystem of the region, but exactly how feasible is this? Should Nepal wait until innovations in renewable energy make it possible to do this, or will the waiting cause the country to miss its opportunity to take advantage of its status as an emerging market and grow into a world power others can take as an example? More importantly, how long will the Nepalese people be excluded from the basic amenities that other countries take for granted on a daily basis, and how will this affect their future?
What are your thoughts and ideas?