Asian Development Bank vows to complete Melamchi project


The Asian Development Bank said it was committed to completing the Melamchi Drinking Water Project which has been a long time in the making, and that it would extend the completion deadline if necessary. Hun Kim, director general (South Asia) of the Manila-based multilateral lending agency, said the bank wanted to complete the project as early as possible, and that the Nepal government alone was not responsible for the delay.

This is the first response from the major donor after a row between the Italian contractor and the Nepal government threw the project into uncertainty in December last year.

“The Asian Development Bank is also partly responsible for the delay,” said Kim, without elaborating. “We can, if necessary, extend the project completion deadline,” he told a press conference at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank’s Board of Governors in Nadi, Fiji, on Wednesday.

The Melamchi Drinking Water Project is one of Nepal’s most talked about national pride projects which has been embroiled in controversy for years over politicisation and corruption.

The much delayed project hit a major setback after Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna, the Italian-based contactor for the project, and the Nepal government engaged in a months-long blame game which culminated in the cancellation of the contract in February.

Backdoor negotiations continued after the termination of the deal, but they made no headway and the project currently lies in a state of limbo. “The project faced delays one after another. But now, we hope this all will be a thing of the past,” said Kim.

In 2000, the Manila-based multilateral lender agreed to fund the project which is designed to supply 170 million litres of water per day to Kathmandu Valley through a 26-km-long tunnel from the Melamchi River in Sindhupalchok district. The project has achieved 95 percent physical progress, and concrete lining remains to be done on 1 km of the tunnel.

Dibesh Sharan, the Asian Development Bank deputy director general for South Asia, said the bank was determined to complete the project at any cost. “The headworks of the project will take some more time to be completed,” he said.

According to the Melamchi Water Supply Development Board which has prepared a bid document to move the project forward, an estimated Rs2.5 billion will be required to complete the remaining portion of the project. Work remains to be done on the tunnel and a diversion weir has to be constructed. Moreover, 23 hydro-mechanical gates at various outlets of the tunnel and ventilation shafts inside the tunnel have to be installed, according to the board.

The stakeholders have been discussing whether the project should be broken into smaller packages by mobilising more contractors to complete it soon.

Work at the Melamchi project has been stopped since mid-December when staffers of the Italian-based main contractor left the site, claiming they were leaving for their respective countries for celebrating Christmas and New Year. After a series of official and unofficial negotiations failed to resolve the financial dispute and bring the contractor back, the government terminated the contract in February.

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