Dr Carsten Klein is the Head of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), Regional Office South Asia. His professional career has had an international dimension. He started working with the German Armed Forces joining the foreign and security policy section of the parliamentary group of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the Bundestag, the German parliament in Berlin. He was also managing the department responsible for the international business of the Federal Employment Agency, the Central Placement Office for Foreigners and Specialists (ZAV). Dr Carsten Klein was in Kathmandu last week to host the Regional Conference on Rivers as Lifeline for South Asia. Following the conference he and other members from the delegation also made a field visit to Kulekhani. He shared his thoughts about the water conference and its importance and his Nepal connection with Nepal Live Today. Excerpts:
Your organization hosted the Regional Conference on Rivers as Lifeline for South Asia in Kathmandu. Why is such a conference meaningful for South Asia in general and Nepal in particular in today’s context?
The water issue is always an issue of high importance because water is the source of life. Without it life and livelihood are not possible. Without water really nobody could survive. But we also see that the water could always become a source of potential conflict. There already are such cases around the world. We strictly have to prevent such conflict nationally here in this country, regionally in South Asia and globally across the whole world. In this region, we have so many rivers flowing, and so many transboundary rivers. We have so many people depending on water from these rivers. If a major conflict occurs, these people are going to be directly affected.
Major rivers come from the mountains. The mountains are in Nepal and its neighboring countries. It is our responsibility to keep them clean, use them for energy and also broaden the possibilities to use them in the best possible way. We had an opportunity to make a field trip to the Kulekhani dam project, the largest man-made dam in Nepal. I was very impressed that the locally elected political representatives and the local decision makers are aware of the fact that they need to preserve this water resource not only for energy but also for the prosperity of the region, including for tourism promotion and economic empowerment of people. I was particularly impressed to see that people there are aware about the harms caused to the lake by pollution. I hope that under the federal setup, the decision makers at the higher level in Nepal understand the importance of water.
What did you observe during the field trip to Kulekhani?
I was impressed to see the work of women. They are watering the fields with that water, creating prosperity in the process. They are engaged in tourism enterprises and other forms of livelihood works. Water has provided an additional source of income for the families as well as the communities. It has given confidence to the women.
What was the major purpose of the conference?
In general the purpose of this conference was to facilitate a platform to discuss the challenges to saving rivers and finding solutions to those challenges from the relevant experts from countries in the region. This is why we invited experts and important people from seven SAARC countries who discussed diplomatic issues, political issues, economic issues and climate change issues. I am pleased to see that the platform which FNF made possible gave the opportunities to learn from each other, to learn about each other and to find networks and projects to discuss and solve the problems.
This was imperative. Like I said, rivers coming from China, Nepal and India are interconnected with other countries in the region. The solution we need therefore is also interconnected. I wish that the political decision makers of these countries get that message and implement what is already decided. Compared to the conflicts on water elsewhere, this region faces no major problem. But the solutions we find today to tackle the potential conflict will be crucial for development, peace, economy and maintaining and organizing for the future a well-functioning ecosystem. In other words, the purpose of this conference was to initiate a larger discourse on the importance of water resources in South Asia and to spread this message to all the countries in the region that they need to work together to preserve this precious water which is closely connected with economy, livelihood, prosperity and many more.
‘The main purpose of the Regional Conference on Rivers as Lifeline for South Asia was to initiate a larger discourse on the importance of water resources in South Asia and to spread the message to all the countries in the region that they need to work together to preserve this precious water.’
This is more important now than ever before because we are in the middle of the United Nations’ water decade. It is crucial to organize platforms where people can meet and find solutions and act accordingly.
Why did you choose Nepal as the venue? Any other country in South Asia could have been used.
We chose Nepal as a venue of the conference because Nepal is an open, modern and tolerant country and gives the possibility for all the major actors from other countries in the region to travel. Besides, Nepal with this magnitude of mighty rivers also faces the question of what will happen to its water in the future because of climate change.
What other areas does your organization work in? How does it support Nepal?
NFN is a political foundation in the sense that it is parliamentarian based and it is financed by German taxpayers. It tries to spread the values of liberal and peaceful world. We work on different issues for that but there are four main areas–human rights, good governance, education, and spreading the idea of a social market economy. In these four fields, we are working on more than 26 projects in all South Asian countries. We are one of several political parliamentarian foundations in Germany based on the constitution and reflect all the parties which are represented in the German parliament. In that sense, we are a completely impartial and neutral foundation. In Nepal, we work in partnership with the Samriddhi Foundation. In Nepal, we try to empower women and younger people, providing them the possibilities to open their own enterprises, for enterprises create prosperity and form a backbone of the economy.
FNF tries to depict a good and professional picture of Nepal. We conduct webinars with experts from Nepal on different interesting topics for audiences in Germany and Europe. Through such programs we try to project a better image of Nepal. For example, in one of those programs, we had a very good conversation on the tourism sector. We discussed future quality based potentials in the tourism sector spreading the positive message of Nepal to the wider world. We discussed the role of women in the modern society of Nepal. We heard from many promising young women politicians entering the parliaments at different levels. In every seminar we hold in Germany, we invite participants from Nepal. Last year we hosted an excellent ‘Born with Pride’ conference on the rights of the LGBTQIA+community in Kathmandu. Nepal is the only country in the region which gives an opportunity to discuss such delicate matters in a broader context. Nepal is a free and open country and this reflects on Nepali society, media and politics. Nepal is not only an excellent touristic destination, not only an interesting space but it is also a very well-functioning democracy which enables us to give space to people to discuss the pressing issues and find solutions.
You spoke positively of Nepal. When did you first come to Nepal and what is your impression?
I come from a humble family in Germany. My parents could not travel outside the country much because they were not rich. But there was a German couple who were very good friends to my parents. They were well off and they traveled a lot. They would come to our flat from time to time and tell us the stories of the places they had been to.
‘You can imagine how happy I was when I got the opportunity to work here in Nepal. I find the country is even nicer, more generous, and people much more friendly than I thought. I always have a very positive recognition of Nepal.’
This was some 45 years ago, when I was seven or eight years old. In those old days there were no mobile phones but there was a projector through which pictures could be displayed on the wall. This couple came to our flat one day and made a presentation of pictures. The first pictures they presented were the pictures from Nepal. Those were pictures of the Himalayas, temples and people. Those pictures so deeply touched me and made indelible impressions in my young mind. They told us that Nepal is a cradle for many things, especially for religious tolerance. Since then I have had this longing to travel to this exquisitely nice, friendly and open country. That was a dream since my childhood.
I also realized way back in those days that the shape of the flag of Nepal was unique and different from other flags. Nepali flag is extraordinary, it is the only flag with a double triangle. All these things really kept the longing burning. So you can imagine how happy I was some forty years later when I got the opportunity to work here in Nepal. I find the country is even nicer, more generous, and people much more friendly than I thought. Therefore I always have a very positive recognition of this country. I find what my parents’ friends said about Nepal true. There is tolerance, openness and friendliness in this country supported by a vast majority of people here.
[Related: Water as lifeline: Residents around Kulekhani power plants hope for better economic prospects]
[Related: Interview | Nepal stands out in South Asia in human rights and liberal values, says Dr Juergen Martens, President of Liberal International]
[Related: ‘Regional Conference on Rivers as Lifeline for South Asia’ discusses challenges facing the region’s rivers]