Rafting in Panama and Nepal Threatened by Hydro-Power

Mention this article, and receive a 10% discount on whitewater rafting in Panama. Many people following whitewater rafting in Panama know that the sport has been drastically changed by the development of several hydroelectric projects along Panama’s best whitewater rafting rivers. It seems that rafting companies in Panama are not alone in this fight. Outfitters in the small country of Nepal are also fighting for their existence as well.

The Bhote Koshi river originates in Tibet and slices through the mighty Himalayas, creating gorges as it flows into Nepal in a succession of World Class rapids. Long considered one of the best rivers in the world for whitewater rafting, the Bhote Koshi attracts thrill-seekers from all corners of the Earth. A surge in tourism since the end of a 10-year civil war in 2006 has made rafting a lucrative industry and an important contributor to tourism in the poor east Asian country. Unfortunately, many sections of Nepal’s best rivers could affected as the central government plans a large expansion in hydro power in the face of power shortages that can last up to sixteen hours a day.

Experts in the field of hydro-electric power generation say Nepal’s mountain rivers could be generating 83,000 megawatts of power, which doesn’t seem like much until one considers that the nation currently generates less than 700 megawatts. This major shortage in power has virtually crippled industry and dissuaded foreign investment, highlighted by the fact that vital infrastructure development ground to a halt following the Maoist insurgency that began in 1996.

Currently, Nepal has 23 hydro-power plants and 36 have been approved for construction or are already being built. One large plant currently under construction on the Bhote Koshi river will ultimately choke the fast flow of water for rafters. Many of the World’s best rafters and kayakers have expressed horror at the threat to their sport.

5 major resorts and 21 rafting companies are now operating along the banks of the Bhote Koshi and more than 100,000 tourists a year raft the river and hundreds of jobs are provided by these companies and resorts. Business leaders have asked the government consider the rafting industry when planning locations for hydro-power projects, but the hydroelectric industry insists power generation should take priority over tourism. The company behind the Bhote Koshi project claims it would lose nearly half of its capacity and all its profits if they were to construct the dams further away from rafting hotspots.

Whitewater rafting was initiated in Nepal in the mid 70s and was quickly embraced by tourism businesses who now offer vacation packages for up to 12 days in length. A large Indian developer is building a 900 megawatt hydro plant which many believe will severely curtail rafting on the Karnali, reducing its appeal to foreign tourists who may go elsewhere in search of rafting vacations.

How important is rafting to the economy in Nepal? Tourism contributes more than $1 billion to the economy and rafting attracts more than 20 percent of foreign tourists, counted at nearly 720,000 in 2011.

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