Melamchi Project: A Spectacle of Nepal's Flawed Development Model

Published On: August 27, 2023 08:05 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal


In the annals of Nepal's development endeavors, the Melamchi Water Supply Project stands as an embodiment of a flawed approach that has left citizens disillusioned and communities parched. Over the past three decades, this project has been marred by a litany of setbacks, failures, and mismanagement, leaving Kathmanduites still grappling with the uncertainty of uninterrupted water supply. With an expenditure surpassing Rs 52 billion and counting, it is a sobering moment to reflect on what has transpired, and to question why the government must address this debacle with urgency and transparency. During its inception, the Melamchi project was hailed as a beacon of hope for solving the water crisis that has long plagued the Kathmandu Valley. Yet, the dream of a consistent water supply remains elusive, even as the government insists on further investments amounting to billions. Such a sorry state of affairs calls for a thorough investigation, starting from the project's nascent stages, to identify those responsible for the protracted delays and the current predicament of a population bereft of adequate drinking water in the Kathmandu Valley.

The Melamchi Water Supply Project was conceived to quench the valley's thirst three decades ago, but its convoluted journey has raised pertinent questions about the government's ability to execute large-scale infrastructure projects. It is imperative to scrutinize the project's feasibility before embarking on such endeavors. Was an Environment Impact Assessment conducted prior to its commencement? Were the challenges of the project, such as the risk of floods during the rainy season, properly accounted for? The taxpayer's right to know the answers to these questions cannot be understated, especially as it is essential in preventing a recurrence of the 'Melamchi syndrome' in future development initiatives. The recent shutdown of the Melamchi Water Supply Project due to the threat of floods serves as a stark reminder of its vulnerability to natural disasters. Even in the face of abundant rainfall causing rivers to swell and drainage systems to overflow in the Kathmandu Valley, the residents are grappling with a distressing scarcity of safe drinking water. This paradoxical reality underscores the mismanagement that has plagued the project and calls for a reevaluation of the government's priorities. Currently, the Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL) manages to supply a mere fraction of the valley's water requirements. With a demand of 470 million liters of drinking water daily, KUKL's supply hovers around 220 million liters even during the rainy season.

The saga of the Melamchi project spans three decades, punctuated by intermittent progress and sustained setbacks. Floods and landslides have repeatedly wreaked havoc on the project, leaving the headworks area particularly vulnerable. While the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) geological study recommended a shift in the headworks location for a more viable solution, the government's indecisiveness continues to haunt the project. The lack of resolve to implement the ADB's suggestions illustrates a governance deficit that compromises effective development. Furthermore, transparency is key to restoring faith in the system. The government must be forthright about the allocation of funds, the decisions taken, and the reasons for the chronic delays. Citizens deserve to know why the project was launched without comprehensive preparation and whether vested interests have played a role in its prolonged stagnation. 

Looking forward, there is a need for a comprehensive reevaluation of Nepal's development approach. The Melamchi project serves as a cautionary tale, a stark reminder that grand ambitions must be coupled with meticulous planning, an accountable governance, and adaptability to unforeseen challenges. The government must restore public trust by taking swift action to address the Melamchi water crisis and ensuring that citizens' welfare is a cornerstone of future development endeavors. As this project encapsulates a legacy of misguided development that has left the Kathmandu Valley parched and disillusioned, it is time for the government to launch a thorough investigation into the project's chronicle, identify those responsible, and offer transparent answers to the citizens. This endeavor is not only a means to rectify the present water crisis but also a crucial step in preventing the recurrence of such ill-fated ventures in the future. Nepal's development narrative must evolve into one of transparency, accountability, and meticulous planning, for the betterment of its citizens and the posterity of the nation.


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