The indigenous Hyolmo community on the mountains north of Kathmandu has used an international convention to stall a multi-million dollar development project, the Melamchi Water Supply Project, which they say is taking their water without consulting with them. The government wants to supply water from the snow-fed Melamchi river to the water-starved Kathmandu valley. The Hyolmos want the government to take the ILO’s Convention No. 169, which Nepal ratified in 2007, seriously. ILO 169 guarantees the right of indigenous people to participate in decision-making on programmes that have an impact on their lives.
The lack of consultation by the project and its principal donor, the Asian Development Bank, resulted in a series of protests, with community members eventually resorting to padlocking the project’s field office to prevent the work from proceeding. A US$464 million project to provide drinking water to Kathmandu had been stopped in its tracks.
Yet, this is not a story of a project that has failed. It is a story about how an indigenous community succeeded in forcing the government of Nepal to consult with them before implementing a high- profile high-cost project.