Ph.D. Research in Nepal – Part 1: Packing for Nepal

Camera. Check.

GPS. Check.

Digital voice recorder. Check.

Computer, notebook, books, extra batteries, all packed!

I am packing my bags to travel to Nepal for my Ph.D. fieldwork. I will be in Nepal for most of 2017, working to understand how hydropower development is affecting river flows and the farmers who depend on them.

This journey began over three years ago. In January 2014, I placed my Ph.D. applications in the mail, left my job as a water resources consultant, and headed to Nepal. I had never been before, but as someone who is infatuated with water, the allure of glaciated peaks, monsoonal rains, and mountain rivers put Nepal at the top of my list.

After 32 hours of travelling through airports and on airplanes, the Himalayan Peaks were visible from my window seat and their grandeur did not disappoint.

I spent my first week exploring the city streets and cultural sites of Kathmandu and then a month hiking, or as they say in Nepal, trekking. The beauty was captivating.  I would spend hours sipping chai and watching the clouds roll over the mountain tops and the light dance across the landscape, chants from Buddhist monks and bells ringing from the livestock sounding in the distance. Hiking from one village to the next I made new friends and when I wandered astray I was welcomed into the homes of strangers. I knew I wanted to return to these mountains, these rivers, these communities.

Now, three years later I am packing my bags to return to Nepal. I pack my same camera and hiking shoes as before but now I add my computer as well as a GPS for mapping and digital voice recorders for interviews. This trip will be very different.

I embrace my best friend and then my partner at the airport, fighting tears in anticipation for how much I will miss them. But as I sling my backpack over my shoulders and embark for airport security I am also filled with enthusiasm – an eagerness for the adventure to come.

Rashmi, my friend and colleague, will meet me at the airport. She and I have worked together over the past two summers in Uttarakhand, India, as part of a CGIAR funded project entitled, The irrigation-hydropower nexus in the Ganges Headwaters, and we are excited to continue to work together on a similar research project in Nepal.

We will be investigating both challenges and opportunities associated with hydropower development in the mountains of Nepal. Because of the topography, hydropower in the mountains relies on water diversions to generate electricity. There is a small dam that diverts a large portion of the river into a side channel or underground tunnel for several miles before being used to generate electricity. While hydropower is ‘non-consumptive,’ meaning the water is returned to the natural channel for other uses, villages near these hydropower projects, particularly those in between the diversion dam and the power house, generally have less access to water for irrigation.

In these rural, mountain villages these impacts can be profound. Our research, which takes a social-ecological systems approach to examine both human and natural systems in these river basins, aims to understand how hydropower is impacting water and food security for farmers. We recognize that there will be both positive and negative impacts. In addition to working Nepal’s farmer managed irrigation systems, we will also be meeting with hydropower developers and policy and decision-makers to find stakeholder-driven strategies that can help support more sustainable and equitable development of hydropower in these mountain river basins.

Arica Crootof is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona and a Research Associate at the Udall Center for Public Policy. In addition to her IWSN support, her Ph.D. research is funded by the U.S. Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security program.