Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Microhydro: a positive spin on things

Check out the NYTime's coverage of small hydro plants in Nepal.

"Teachers there said that before the village had electricity, only about half the students passed their final high school examinations. Now, 80 percent pass. Children spend less time on household chores, like gathering firewood, and more time studying, the computer teacher, Kamal Paudel, said."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ting's Tea Lounge & Hotel: A wonderful place to stay in Kathmandu

For anyone traveling to Kathmandu I recommend staying in Ting's Tea Lounge.  This place is outrageously serene with good food, very nice rooms, and cozy hang out spots.  A++.

Tings Lounge Hotel: The Front House
Ting's guest rooms.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Furthering Mutual Understanding and Measuring The Price of Empire: Senator Fulbright's Message

As my Fulbright grant comes to an end I find it appropriate to reflect on Senator J. William Fulbright's philosophy and goals.  The mission of the Arkansas Senator's eponymous program is to "further mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other nations" so as to "bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs, and thereby to increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship."
Senator Fulbright.
His lofty goals were grounded in robust support for mutilateralism and the UN, his pushback against McCarthyism, and more infamously his support of racial segregation.  One of his more famous speeches is titled, 'The Price of Empire' (also the title of a book he later published) and was delivered to the American Bar Association in Hawaii in the summer of 1967 set to the backdrop of race riots in American cities.  Some excerpts from his speech are below.  The connections he draws between values and government budget decisions seem particularly relevant today.
         Priorities are reflected in the things we spend money on. Far from being a dry accounting of bookkeepers, a nation’s budget is full of moral implications; it tells what a society cares about and what it does not care about; it tells what its values are. 
         Here are a few statistics on America’s values: Since 1946 we have spent over $1,578 billion through our regular national budget. Of this amount over $904 billion, or 57.29 percent of the total, have gone for military power. By contrast, less than $96 billion, or 6.08 percent, were spent on “social functions” including education, health, labor and welfare programs, housing and community development. The Administration’s budget for fiscal year 1968 calls for almost $76 billion to be spent on the military and only $15 billion for “social functions.”
         I would not say that we have shown ourselves to value weapons five or ten times as much as we value domestic social needs, as the figures suggest; certainly much of our military spending has been necessitated by genuine requirements of national security. I think, however, that we have embraced the necessity with excessive ethusiasm, that the Congress has been all too willing to provide unlimited sums for the military and not really very reluctant at all to offset these costs to a very small degree by cutting away funds for the poverty program and urban renewal, for rent supplements for the poor and even for a program to help protect slum children from being bitten by rats. Twenty million dollars a year to eliminate rats—about one one- hundredth of the monthly cost of the war in Vietnam— would not eliminate slum riots but, as Tom Wicker has written, “It would only suggest that somebody cared.” The discrepancy of attitudes tells at least as much about our national values as the discrepancy of dollars.  
And in conclusion Fulbright says,
         Some years ago Archibald MacLeish characterized the American people as follows: “Races didn’t bother the Americans. They were something a lot better than any race. They were a People. They were the first self-constituted, self-declared, self-created People in the history of the world. And their manners were their own business. And so were their politics. And so, but ten times so, were their souls.” Now the possession of their souls is being challenged by the false and dangerous dream of an imperial destiny. It may be that the challenge will succeed, that America will succumb to becoming a traditional empire and will reign for a time over what must surely be a moral if not a physical wasteland, and then, like the great empires of the past, will decline or fall. Or it may be that the effort to create so grotesque an anachronism will go up in flames of nuclear holocaust. 
         But if I had to bet my money on what is going to happen, I would bet on this younger generation—this generation who reject the inhumanity of war in a poor and distant land, who reject the poverty and sham in their own country, this generation who are telling their elders what their elders ought to have known, that the price of empire is America’s soul and that price is too high. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It Takes More than Energy: Renewable Energy Development

16 hour per day blackouts are common during the winter months in Nepal because of power shortages.  Rivers run lower during the winter directly resulting in dramatic drops in hydropower output.  Nepal has 40,000 MW of economically feasible hydropower potential but, according to IPPAN (Independent Power Producers Association of Nepal), only 600 MW of hydropower has been developed (less than 2% of the total potential).  The Three Gorges Dam in China has a capacity 30 times greater than this amount.  

A small hydro project (source).

Image source.

As the political situation has settled since the end of the conflict in the mid 2000's, economic stability has been creeping in resulting in renewed interest in developing hydropower resources.  Projects are moving along but there has been resistance, particularly from people who live near the new projects.  Buildings at the Upper Karnali Hydropower Project were torched recently and the government is mulling sending in the army to guard the project.  

People speak of the innumerable benefits of renewable energy across the globe but when it comes to implementing new projects there are always significant hurdles.  There are NIMBY issues (think about how long it took to get the Cape Cod wind farm off the water), compensation negotiations, and environmental risks to name a few.   I came across an interesting blog post by an Ian Axford Fellow, Ian Boisvert, based in New Zealand who is 'investigating ways to reduce undue legal barriers to siting New Zealand's marine renewable energy generators (wind, wave, and tidal).'  He had an interesting post about  the realities of building a tidal turbine project in New Zealand.  An excerpt from his post says, 
'A global pattern of protest is emerging against renewable energy. Whether they are onshore wind developments in the UK, solar projects in California, or tidal turbines in New Zealand, activists are trying to stop the projects. Certainly, environmentalists opposing solar projects must understand that renewable electricity offsets negative externalities caused by fossil fuel electricity. Then why the angst? Some responsibility must fall to project developers whose first job should be to manage perceptions of their project.'
Perceptions matter and as the global economy recovers and many stalled projects come back online it is crucial for developers to look at their projects holistically.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nepal's Political Mess as Seen by The Economist

Nepal's political mess got big coverage by The Economist this week.  The caretaker government (the Constituent Assembly, CA) granted itself its third term extension last week yet it seems no closer to promulgating a permanent constitution.  It appears that the CA met for a total of 95 minutes over the past year.  I hesitate to say people on the street are agitating but it seems some are at least considering lighting a fire under the politicians.

The takeaway: progress is elusive but things could be worse.  Things could also be better.

'The Parliament at work' from The Economist.

Nepal's changing state: Altitude sickness: Nepalis grow impatient, as their leaders fiddle (June 2, 2011)
"A GAGGLE of protesters in Kathmandu, Nepal’s fume-filled capital, want a Himalayan summer to follow the Arab spring. Organised via Facebook, young and dapper professionals meet outside the Magic Beans coffee house to clap, call for a constitution and condemn the wretched performance of their country’s leaders. “Our politics is a kind of a disease,” one of them grumbles."

Aid and corruption in Nepal: Low road through the Himalayas (May 21, 2011)
"THE old Padam Road, on the way from the regional centre of Birgunj, was resurfaced only last year, but you would not know it to look. Rutted and worn away in parts it seems like it has not been maintained in decades. An old man by the roadside, who laboured to build it from scratch during his youth, offered a few choice oaths to describe the resurfacing contractor, who was paid for this mess with funds earmarked for local development."

UN Mission in Nepal: So long, good luck (January 14, 2011)
"FOUR years after it was established to support the country's peace process, the United Nations mission in Nepal, UNMIN, is packing up and shipping out this weekend. From January 15th, it leaves Nepal's deadlocked peace process dangling in a chill breeze."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

It's not every day you meet a living goddess (and her mother)

After completing a wonderful English language training at a school in Patan (southern Kathmandu) some other teachers and I were offered the chance to meet the Kumari.  Kumari is followed by many people in the Valley is believed to be a living goddess.  There are, in fact, 3 Kumaris.  Each Kathmandu, Baktapur, and Patan has there own Kumari.  The Kumari is chosen from among a few families at a young age and is sequestered in her home (see picture below) except on a few very special occasions each year.  Her diety-ness is maintained until her first menstruation when a new Kumari is found.  On this particular day, we met the former Kumari, the former Kumari's mother, the current Kumari, and the current Kumari's mother (and her former roommate).  

The role of the Kumari and society's expectations of her have changed significantly in the past few generations of goddesses.  The former Kumari is shy but speaks fluent English and is currently employed at her former school as an accountant.  The current Kumari gets private lessons from visiting teachers based on the same curriculum as her more earthy peers.  Much has been written about the subject and I recommend From Goddess to Immortal written by a former Kathmandu Kumari, Rashmila Shakya. 

Giving a donation in exchange for puja (red rice paste on the forehead).
Kumari's have to do their homework too; the Kumari's computer.
In case you aren't in the know.
The Kumari's compound.