Nepal: Involuntary Resettlement

Nalgad Hydropower Project, Public Consultation, Dalli Village, Jayarkort Dt., 27 February 2017

The paper is concerned with how involuntary resettlement in Nepal has come about in an interplay between, on the one hand, the evolution of international regulations regarding how to work with environmental and social aspects of large infrastructural investment operations, and, on the other hand, domestic capabilities, values, and priorities. Internationally, this process came to be codified in the process of environmental impact assessment (EIA), which is adopted in Nepal.

The paper had three goals: (1) Present the history of involuntary resettlement, (2) Assess the role of the government and public sector, and (3) Create a body of facts and lessons learned that can provide guidance to future cases of involuntary resettlement. Such guidance will be useful in three specific areas: (1) Community participation and governance, (2) Establishing acceptable levels and types of compensation for lost productive resources, and (3) Resettlement when little or no land is available.

The annual conferences of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) provided a useful occasion and platform for presenting a paper on IR in Nepal. It was presented at the IAIA 2021 virtual conference in May 2021. Due to IAIA requirements, the paper is rather short. At the present time I am revising it, with a final version to be submitted ultimo June 2021. Input into this revision includes an ongoing discussion of the paper on academia.edu.

The paper's rationale and aim was to address how IR in Nepal came about in an interplay between, on the one hand, the evolution of international regulations regarding how to work with environmental and social aspects of large infrastructural investment operations, and, on the other hand, domestic capabilities, values, and priorities. It had three goals: (1) Present the history of IR, (2) Assess the role of the government and public sector, and (3) Create a body of facts and lessons learned that can provide guidance to future cases of involuntary resettlement. Such information and guidance will be useful in three specific areas: (1) Building community participation and governance, (2) Establishing acceptable levels and types of compensation for lost productive resources, and (3) Displacement when little or no land is available.

As it turned out, the reality was somewhat different. Among completed/operating projects there were almost no IR, as most of these projects are of the run-of-river type. As a result, there were few experiences to generalize from. There will be IR in connection with future projects, following a gradual move away from run-of-river type projects, as well as building larger power plants that include reservoirs that will have more or less pronounced social consequences. Furthermore, there are so far few examples of actual displacement. One reason for this is likely that there is very little available land on which to resettle displaced people. Related reason re that resettlement is time consuming, complicated, and fraught with problems. As a result, in most projects there is - or will be - no IR. Cases of actual displacement are as a rule voluntary. A phrase found in several project documents is the following: "resettlement was minimized", which oftentimes is the sole reference to IR in these reports. Upon receiving compensation for lost resources and means of livelihood, people in general opt to stay on, if at all possible or feasible. Alternatively they purchase land elsewhere, often next to family members, even if it means moving away. It follows that the term IR - in the narrow sense of displacement - seems to be less appropriate in the context of Nepal. However, IR understood to encompass the activities of land valuation and assessment, and compensation, remains crucial.

A number of important issues and criticism could only listed very briefly. They relate to the very substantial increase in hydropower development in scope as well as scale. Furthermore, there are concerns related to climate change, environmental and social risk management, hydro development being based in outdated views and models, large projects versus small projects, and the importance of alternative energy sources.

One issue stands out as perhaps the most important, as it prevented reaching key goals with the paper. This concerns the availability of relevant data. I contacted presumably key public sector organizations repeatedly to request data on IR, including compensation and relocation. One informant argued that it was necessary to have an inside contact to get at such data. At the same time, while there are copious amounts of regularly updated data on any and all engineering, financial, and technical variables, it is not clear if data on social variables connected with hydropower projects are collected at all.

This lacunae of data causes problems for analysis of the overall sector, as well as for appropriate monitoring and evaluation. There is clearly a need for continuing and expanding this research of the hydropower sector in Nepal.

Lars T. Soeftestad


Notes
(1) The paper was presented at the annual virtual conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA), 18-21 May 2021 (link in Sources below).
(2) Citation: Soeftestad, Lars, et al. 2021. "Involuntary resettlement in Nepal: A portfolio review". Paper presented at the virtual conference of International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA), 18-21 May 2021.
(3) The paper's coauthors are: Steve Gorzula, Consultant, Supras Limited, USA, and Rajan Kumar Shrestha, Environmental Specialist, Environment and Resource Management Consultants (ERMC) Limited, Nepal.
(4) There is currently (June 2021) an online discussion of the paper on academia. edu (link in Sources below).
(5) Following the conference (and parallel with the online discussion on academia.edu), I wrote a LInkedIn Pulse article titled "Involuntary resettlement in Nepao: A personal quest", based on the present article. As the title hints, it is a personal reflection on my work on involuntary resettlement in general, and in Nepal in particular. It will hopefully shed light on the body of work presented in the IAIA paper (link in Sources below).
(6) Image credit: Supras Limited. This was a public consultation meeting as part of the EIA process for the proposed Nalgad Hydropower Project (Dalli village, Jayarkot Dt., 27 February 2017). The women standing in the center is a Dalit. She was critical at what she argued was discriminatory treatment of her group.
(7) Relevant Devblog articles: "Hydropower projects: EIA scoping", at: https://devblog.no/en/article/hydropower-projects-eia-scoping | "Nepal: Discussion on involuntary resettlement" at: https://devblog.no/en/article/nepal-discussion-involuntary-resettlement
(8) Permalink: https://devblog.no/en/article/nepal-involuntary-resettlement
(9) This article was published 26 May 2021. It was revised 29 July 2021.

Sources
Soeftestad, Lars, et al. 2021. "Involuntary resettlement in Nepal: A portfolio review", at: https://supras.academia.edu/Lars/Draft/ (a discussion of the paper is currently, that is, June 2021, ongoing at: https://www.academia.edu/s/f004bab436
Soeftestad, Lars. 2021. "Inv
oluntary resettlement in Nepal: A personal quest", at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/involuntary-resettlement-nepal-personal-quest-lars-soeftestad/

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