Landlocked Nepal’s Access To Sea: Significance of Kosi High Dam

Access to sea has always been regarded to have great economic as well as political significance even for those countries that are not landlocked, like our country Nepal.

Nov. 27, 2017, 2:30 p.m.

As echoed by many of our countrymen, the Kosi high dam would  be extremely harmful  to  the economy of our mid hill region where this dam impounding a vast  reservoir would have to be built. Despite serious negative impact of  the Kosi high dam on our economy and environment, our country must not walk away from  the plan to  implement this project because this is the most suitable project to provide our landlocked country direct deep waterway access to sea  if implemented based on 1997 Kosi study agreement signed between Nepal and India. Needless to  say this dam project inclusive of a navigation canal  extending from Chatra in Nepal to Ganges  would have enormous economic as well as political significance for our landlocked country.

Vital Significance of  Access to Sea

Access to sea has always  been regarded to have great economic as well as political significance even for those  countries that are not landlocked, like our country Nepal.  The most recent glaring example is the Israel's struggle to get access to the Red Sea.

Egypt's  denial  of access to  the Strait  of Tiran which controls  Israel's  entrance  to  Red Sea featured prominently in the events which led to two major Arab-Israel  Conflicts that could  have ended up into World  War. This happened in 1956 and again in 1967.  It should be noted  that the Israel  had gone into all out war against the combined forces of Arab countries even risking its own existence despite the fact  that the  ship traffic destined for Israel  at Eilat passing through Strait of Tirana  was relatively low  compared to  Israel's  two large seaports on the Mediterranean.

Landlocked Nepal and Underdevlopment

All  those  involved  in  the  economic  development  of  Nepal   agree   that  poverty,  backwardness  and  under-development  have  resulted,  to  a  great  extent,  from  our  country  being  landlocked.   However, Nepal is not the only landlocked country in the world.   Even developed countries like Switzerland and Austria are landlocked.  Those countries   are able to overcome this difficult hurdle.  They have succeeded  in  opening    inland   waterways  suited  for  operation  of   large  river  vessels  that   are providing   them  unhindered  access  to  the  sea.  Those countries have  big   river  harbours  to  handle  incoming  and  outgoing  goods  transported  by  waterways without any worry as to  the  nature of cargoes, maximum  allowable  size  of  the  goods etc  in  transit.   After all, water-borne transportation is  the cheapest mode of transportation.  It  would  not  be  an  exaggeration  to  say  that  those  landlocked countries  have  overcome their  geography constraints.  Now-a-days  the  coastal  river  carriers  (CRC vessels)  can  directly  link  those  countries  to  the  near by  sea  ports  of  the  rest  of  the Europe.

Kosi Navigation Canal

According to 1997 Kosi Study Agreement  signed between Nepal and India, detailed study of  the Kosi high dam would be carried out along with the detailed study of  a navigation canal  linking  Chatra with the Ganges that would provide our country direct waterway access to sea.   The proposed canal would also be used as main irrigation canal as well as for generation of electricity. A very similar example is the use of canal drawing water from the Upper Rheine River for navigation and power generation. According to 1919 Versailles Treaty the Rheine River was diverted providing Switzerland direct deep waterway access to sea.

Switzerland's  Access to Sea

The Rheine between  Basle in Switzerland  and Iffezheim  is almost entirely canalised. On a stretch of 180 kilometres , there are 10 dams , provided with hydropower stations  and locks. Between Basle and Breisach,  the old river bed carries hardly any water; almost all water is diverted through the Grand Canal d'Alsace  on the French side  to ensure safe shipping and hydropower generation around the clock. Only when there is a large supply of water, then the old river bed  receives more water than the canal. France gained the right to do this based  on the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.  The right applies to the segment between Basle and Neuburgweier / Lauterbourg, where the Rhine forms the border between France and Germany.   

History of Navigation  Canals in China and Europe

As the oldest and longest man-made canal in the world, the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal is 1,794 kilometers  long with a history of over 2,500 years, and it starts at Beijing in the north and ends at Hangzhou in the south, running through Tianjin, Hebei Province, Shandong Province, Jiangsu Province and Zhejiang Province along its way. The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal links five great rivers, the Hai River, the Huai River, the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and the Qiantang River.   

In  Europe  the  canal  navigation  era  started  towards  the  end  of the  17th  century.  France  took  the  lead,  integrating  its   national  waterway  system  further  by  forging  the  missing  links.  In  the  north,  the  Saint-Quentin  Canal,  with a  3.5  mile  tunnel, opened  in  1810,  linking  the  North  Sea  and  the  Schelds  and  Lys  systems  with  the  English  Channel  via  the  Somme  and  with  Paris  and  Le  Havre  via  the  Oise  and  Seine. The Rhine- Rhone Canal, opened in 1834, provided a direct north-to-south route.  The Sambre-Oise Canal linked the French canal system with  the Belgian network  via the Meuse. 

In  Germany in the  late  17th  and  early  18th  centuries  the  three  great  rivers,  the  Elb, Oder, and  Weser, were  linked  by   canals.  The Ludwig  Canal,  forming part of  the  Rhine-Main-Danube  route, was  opened  in 1840.  A  nationwide  Russian  canal system  connecting  the  Baltic  and  Caspian seas  via  the  Neva  and  Volga  rivers  became  navigable  in  1718. In  the  19th  century  Russia  made  connections  between  the  heads of  navigation  of  its great  rivers,  the  Volga,  Dnepr, Don,  Dvina, and  Ob.

 The  Most  Recently Built  Navigation  Canal

An example of the most recent navigation canal is the 171 km Main-Danube Canal in Germany completed very recently in 1990s. The canal winds through some of the most challenging, scenic, and environmentally sensitive landscape of Germany. The Altmuhl Valley traversed by the canal is one of the most beautiful and environmentally fragile area in Bavaria. It is this factor that lies behind a long and often passionate opposition to this project. However, Germany did not listen to the environmentalists opposing the canal scheme who regarded the canal as the end of the Altmuhl valley. Stair step locks on the Main River lift barge traffic to Bamburg, the northern entry point to the canal. From there, 11 locks raise ships to the highest point on any commercial waterway in Europe, about 180 m above Bamburg. Five more locks then lower vessels to Kelheim, the southern terminus of the canal. The waterway will accommodate huge Euro-barges carrying up to 2,425 tons of bulk cargo, the equivalent of 78 truck trailers!


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