Towards a Sustainable Nepal #WED2013
Nepal celebrates this World Environment Day with the great responsibility of being Chair of the Least Developed Countries in the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. Joint Secretary Prakash Mathema is Nepal’s representative in that distinguished platform. Recently, I asked him what Nepal could do on the environment front to both make a bold international statement and take real domestic action. Nothing came to his mind, but he suggested “Share your ideas if you have any.”
The list of things Nepal could do as a committed member of a global community on environment conservation is long, but they need to be done as part of Nepal’s international and regional agreements, with outside support.
However, there is another important commitment Nepal needs to live up to: its own constitution which guarantees a Fundamental Right to live in clean environment and whose State Policies (Article 35, Policies 4 and 5) are clear about environment conservation and sustainable natural resources management.
It is time Nepal thinks seriously and acts urgently to truly embrace sustainable development for its own sake. It requires no international agreements but only domestic resolve and today should serve as the occasion for policy resolutions on delivering concrete conservation and sustainable efforts by next year this time.
The following policy actions we suggest are do-able, and their deadlines are past due, so we must make up for lost time.
What is the state of our groundwater resources? We don’t know, and at a time of unprecedented dependency on this resource from urban centers to farmlands, it is critical to find out. The Government of Nepal must study and publish a report on Groundwater levels in Nepal. With policy makers trying to make a push for industrialized agriculture, and Nepal being the fastest urbanizing country in South Asia, groundwater needs an especially closer look and extreme care.
A recent New York Times article about exhausted groundwater resource in some of America’s richest agricultural lands noted that “its virtually impossible to replace groundwater.” Nepal must take the most sustainable approach possible.
Maybe it is time Municipalities be pre-requested to develop groundwater recharge systems by rainwater harvesting and building catchments. If households in those Municipalities agree to install rainwater harvest systems and are willing to be a part of the municipal groundwater recharge program, those households should also be offered subsidy in exchange. There can also be no justification to private companies extracting water and putting entire communities at risk and refusing to acknowledge responsibility.
While air pollution in Nepal grows due to rising private vehicle ownership and brick kilns replace farmlands across the country, international studies continue to link air pollution in cities and urban centers to severe diseases amongst children and adults. Nepal is no exception. On this front, apart from ensuring ample spaces with trees in urban centers, and a larger network of mass transit systems that offer service under certain standards, we need to stop taxing Electric Vehicles (EV). EVs by definition don’t use fossil fuel and if Nepal needs to ride the wave of vehicle ownership, doing so without fossil fuel should be a priority. The argument of losing tax revenue is unsubstantiated but reduced fossil fuel need directly results in reduced trade deficit. A full tax subsidy on EVs is a commitment to the good health of Nepalis and Nepal, and its economy.
Nepal needs to consider transforming its Micro-Hydro sector to Micro-Hybrid; i.e. adding a solar or wind component to the traditional river-only model. This transition gives the financial investment greater protection, is better suited for a changing climate and river flows, and could open up a role for the local community to participate in energy production and distribution by utilizing the community’s open spaces. An example of of a hybrid model working is the modern Pasang Lhamu-Nicolle Niquille Hospital in Lukla which now operates without grid connection. Nepal is the pilot country for the Scaling-up Renewable Energy Program. There could be no better opportunity to nationally scale up the hybrid model.
Forests are at the heart of Nepal’s water, food and energy security. Yet, recent years has seen devastating deforestation across the country. Nowhere is Nepal’s ecological suicide unfolding at a greater pace than the fragile Chure region, mined for everything it has to offer, and deforested to by squatters with political patronage and for its timber. The shocking part of Chure’s continued devastation, particularly in the east, is that there is a national plan for its conservation, and ample directives given by the Parliament.
The call to use the national Army to protect Chure’s natural resources is worth a serious consideration. Any governmental or non-governmental body who argues they can protect Chure without additional intervention comes alarmingly close to maintaining a status quo on the region’s excavation.
The good news on Chure is that because it is a sub-tropical region, conservation experts say vegetation could flourish within two years. Still, continued stealing of the earth from Chure could make that possibility irrelevant soon.
The debate for development versus conservation continues. Nepal has smartly committed to maintaining a 40% forest cover in the country. The new national vision for forests makes clear tree-replacement is a pre-requisite. This needs enforcement. Recently, high-voltage lines built through the Barandabhar corridor in the Chitwan area caused serious habitat fragmentation. An initial demand of 1:25 replacement rate for every tree cut has been drastically reduced to 1:2. Yet, the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), responsible for the re-plantation, hasn’t begun any of it. Which Government body will take the responsibility to enforce NEA’s commitment?
In the last few years, we, the authors, have worked on policy efforts and public awareness on these issues in various capacities. We have regularly written about challenges and suggestions since Environment Day 2009. But now is a time for us, as policy makers, writers, and the public, to develop a new bias. That bias, as Anil Chitrakar recently put it in his book Take the Lead, is a bias for action. Let us give meaning to this year’s World Environment Day by resolving to take real actions. There are already exiting laws and directions by the Parliament to guide take those actions with little or no need for new resources. The issues raised here are by far not the only ones that need attention, but they are actionable examples on issues that have reached crisis level, and also triggers for broader pro-activism. If Nepal begins to address any of them throughout the year, it earns a unique moral high ground and strength to negotiate in the international community. But more than anything else, it helps make for a progressively sustainable Nepal.