A predictable side-effect of the World Commission on Dams’ (WCD) first public hearing in December 1998 has been to renew Bangladeshi pressure on Nepal to dam the upper tributaries of the Ganges.

Bangladesh suffers from annual floods of 20-59% of its land area from the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. Yet because their headwaters are in other countries, notably Nepal, it has little control over them.

For its part, Nepal is reluctant to embark on large dam projects even though it could install up to 48,000MW capacity that would earn valuable foreign exchange. It also wants compensation for the ‘free’ flood control, irrigation and navigation benefits that would accrue to Bangladesh from the projects.

Of a first set of four possible large dams in Nepal only the 750MW US$1.1B West Seti project is likely to go ahead any time soon. Once developer Snowy Mountain Engineering Corp (SMEC) of Australia finalises the power purchase agreements with the various Indian state electricity boards, the 195m concrete-faced dam will be built in part to test a Nepali-Indian power trade agreement.

The other possible projects include the 315m 6500MW Pancheswor dam across the Mahakali river; the 270m 10,800MW Chispani dam across the Karnali river; and the 240m 3300MW Kosi dam across the Kosi river. Negotiations between India and Nepal on various aspects of all three projects are continuing.

Latest indicative costs for these projects are US$3B, US$5B and US$4.6B, respectively.