Just to make sure we don’t go the whole day without anything being posted to Samizdata at all (even if it is a holiday in both the US and the UK) might I direct people to this stunning panoramic view from the top of Mt Everest. (Quicktime required). I do so simply because it is beautiful. (via James Russell).
I have not been to the top of Everest myself, but I have seen a similar view from the top of Mt Lobuje East, which is about five kilometres away in horizontal terms, and two and a half kilometres lower in elevation. This was high enough to see the same astonishing view of moutains to the horizon in all directions, although a few peaks were level with or above me, whereas from Everest everything is down. Seeing this view was one of the great experiences of my life.
In recent decades, Nepal has had a population explosion. One consequence of this has been deforestation. People need energy of some sort for cooking and heating. Traditionally, the mountain peoples of the Himalayas have chopped down trees for firewood. With relatively sparse populations, this has been sustainable, but with the denser populations of recent decades people have had to go further and further afield to find firewood, and a larger and larger proportion of their trees have been chopped down. This has led to obvious environmental problems of erosion, and it clearly isn’t sustainable if people are chopping trees down faster than the trees are growing back. Plus, a lifestle consisting of walking large distances, chopping down the vegetation, and then walking home with a large amount of firewood tied to your back is not especially pleasant.
More importantly, it is unnecessary. This is the mightiest mountain range in the world. Its energy resources, in terms of hydro-electric potential, are gigantic. At the present level of economic development, the population is not going to consume enormous amounts of electricity even if it is available, but infrastructure needs to be built. By rich world standards, the cost of building the small scale electric generators needed is not enormous, and there is actually enough potential aid from developed countries to pay for a lot of what is needed. The Austrians in particular seem keen on helping what they see as another mountain nation. (Even if this aid was not there, the climbing fees charged by the government to westerners visiting the Himalayas would be ample anyway). Once electrical infrastructure is installed, there is in any event little difficulty in getting even very poor people to pay for it, as the improvements in lifestyle due to it are enormous.
Some areas of the Himalayas have received electricity in this way. If you visit Khumjung or the nearby market town of Namche Bazar on the main route to Everest, electrical infrastructure has been installed, people are relieved of a lot of backbreaking work, lifestyles are much better, and there is a massive program of reforestation underway nearby. (People are willing to put a lot of effort into this if their other problems are solved. If on the other hand the choice is chopping down more trees or freezing to death or being unable to cook their food, people generally choose to chop down trees).
However, there has been difficulty extending electricity outside a few areas. The reason for this is not financial , but bureacratic. Nepal is ruled by a disfunctional government based in the Kathmandu valley. When climbers pay climbing fees, the money goes to the government, and is never seen in the mountains that the climbers are paying to visit. When Austrian agencies set up programs to install hydro-electric plants in the mountains, the government in Kathmandu wants a cut of any money spent, and erects enormous bureacratic obstacles to the Austrians actually doing anything, however much they want to and the people they are actually trying to help want them to do it. Here is a situation where the installation of some relatively simple technology improves people’s lives dramatically, and solves environmental problems to boot. But the inertia of the country’s government and the country’s bureacracy just gets in the way. The government does nothing for the people of the mountains, but it retards their development quite a lot.