Viewpoint - Reflecting on the chasm between water punditry and water politics

Dipak Gyawali
Pragya (Academician), Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, Chairman, Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, and former Minister of Water Resources; dipakgyawali@ntc.net.np

ABSTRACT: When water academia meets real-time water politics, the latter does not necessarily bow deferentially and listen respectfully. When the former attempts to bring what may be thought of as rational reforms, powerful vested interests, their public façade and stated positions notwithstanding, rise in reaction and are able to scuttle such efforts. Since all politics is both local and short-term, entrenched vested interests are often able to distort the public discourse by appealing to 'development', the new theology of our times, even if it is mal-development they are really advocating. This is a personal account of an academic activist and his almost three decades of battling what could be called demons or windmills, depending on which side of the fence one views these events from. It has lessons for academics in general who long for 'policy relevance' for their work ('enter the kitchen only if you can handle the political heat') and for vested interests that have any semblance of social conscience and sense of legacy left in them ('you can't have lasting good politics with short-term bad science').

KEYWORDS: Hydropower, irrigation, water policy and politics, transboundary water, foreign aid, development agencies