From Sagarmatha To Sagar: Nepal’s Access to Sea

It would not be practical to use the channel of our main rivers for the development of large scale navigation because of steep gradient and heavy withdrawal of water for irrigation throughout the lengthy non-monsoon season rendering a long stretch of the river downstream already built barrages virtually dry. However, we can follow the example of the Switzerland, where a multi-purpose canal has been built to develop inland navigation in upper reach of the Rheine river, which is not suitable for the development of commercially viable large scale navigation.

April 22, 2018, 4:34 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL.11, No.19, April 20, 2018 (Baishakh 07,2075) Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

SAGARMATHA-SAGAR waterway providing Nepal access to sea utilizing the Kosi route was one of the two main highlights of our Prime-minister’s recent  official visit to India.   A fully-fledged economically attractive waterway adequate in capacity for operation of very large river barges comparable to those plying in Rheine, Danube and the US rivers would be extremely important to provide our landlocked country direct access to sea.   Needless to say that the proposed waterway would have equally great political significance to our landlocked country.

It would not be practical to use the channel of our main rivers for the development of large scale navigation because of steep gradient and heavy withdrawal of water for irrigation throughout the lengthy non-monsoon season rendering a long stretch of the river downstream already built barrages virtually dry.   However, we can follow the example of the Switzerland, where a multi-purpose canal has been built to develop inland navigation in upper reach of the Rheine river, which is not suitable for the development of commercially viable large scale navigation.

Kosi Canal Waterway

According to 1997 Kosi Study Agreement  signed between Nepal and Indian Government represented by the Chairman, Water Commission, and the Secretary Bihar Government,  a 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 be used as main irrigation canal as well as for generation of electricity. As stated above, a very similar example is the use of the multipurpose canal drawing water from the Upper Rheine River for hydropower generation along with navigation to provide the Switzerland direct deep waterway access to sea.

Switzerland’s Access to Sea

The Rhine between Basle in Switzerland and Iffezheim is almost entirely canalized. On a stretch of 180 kilometers, 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 will receive more water than the canal. France gained the right to do this in 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.  

 Kosi High Dam Project

As echoed by many of our countrymen, the Kosi high dam and other dams like  the Burhigandaki, Karnali high dams would  be extremely harmful  to  the economy  and environment of our mid hill region where these dams  impounding  vast  reservoirs are proposed  to be built. Despite serious negative impact of  the Kosi high dam on our hill economy and environment,   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 would have enormous economic as well as political significance for our landlocked country.

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 unlike 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 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.

Most Awful Hydropower Policy

On one hand a detailed study of the Kosi High Dam project is being carried out by our Government following the decision of the 1997 Kosi study agreement, surprisingly on the other hand our Government has recently announced its decision to implement the Dudh-Kosi and Lower Arun hydropower projects despite the fact that both the hydropower stations of these two projects would be completely submerged if a viable Kosi High Dam Project is implemented. Furthermore, the implementation of Dudh-Kosi  project would  lead to substantial decrease in dry season Sun-Kosi  river flow at Kurule intake of the Sun-Kosi-Kamla diversion project resulting in considerable  reduction in power generation and irrigable area  irrespective of the fact whether the Kosi High Dam Project is implemented or not. 

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