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Wash down

December 26, 2008

It rained today. Probably for less than an hour but in great pelting splashes that greened Kathmandu’s infrequent trees so that they threw off their camouflage of leaden dust and shimmered, suddenly verdant. For a while everything seemed quieter, cleaner. The air, sieved of its choking filth was breathable and terracotta tiles glinted like amber.

It stopped of course and walking back through alleyways sloppy with black muck, and dodging knee-high splashes from every passing car and skidding bike, the recent rainfall lost its lustre somewhat. I’m drying out my clothes and shoes now.

The brief rain – the first I’ve seen in the past 2 weeks – won’t be enough to fill any reservoirs. The government has just increased the national power cuts to 14 hours a day, although unofficially, it is often far more than that. A national power emergency has been declared because the country’s hydropower output is too low and what it imports from India (about half its needs) doesn’t make up the shortfall.

Water in the reservoirs is too low – much of it comes from snowmelt and there hasn’t been much snow this year, which is something that will only get worse according to climate model predictions. But 10 years of conflict have crippled the infrastructure, planned reservoirs and hydrostations are still to be built and the mass migrations to the cities by people displaced by years of violence have led to concentrated power demands that are currently unsustainable. It could get worse: it now seems very likely that the ruling Maoist party will split.

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