Is Nepal at risk of ‘environmental crime’ over new policy allowing large-scale projects in protected areas?



Kumar Paudel, executive director of environmental nonprofit Greenhood Nepal, said the new document increases the risk of commercial exploitation of ecologically sensitive areas, rendering demarcation and protection under current rules meaningless. .

“With this policy, [expansion of] It’s a commercial interest within the reserve,” Paudel said. “If the government promotes commercial development in these sensitive areas, it is prepared to reverse the sacrifices made by generations of conservationists who have worked in Nepal’s conservation and habitat protection sector. I will show you.”

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Nepal is home to a diverse range of natural ecosystems, from the plains of the Terai region to the Himalayas. According to the government-run National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Authority, protected areas in the country make up about 23% of the country’s total land area, with 12 national parks, one wildlife reserve, one game reserve, and six protected areas. It includes 13 buffer zones.

Over the past few decades, Nepal has emerged as a conservation success story. From 1992 to 2016, the country’s forest area nearly doubled from 26 percent to 45 percent, and between 2009 and 2022, the endangered tiger population nearly tripled to 355 individuals. . Meanwhile, the number of vulnerable Okinawa rhinos has soared to 752. In 1965, there were only about 100 people; in 2021, that number will increase.

While poaching still poses a risk to the country’s wildlife, conservationists say climate change and newly approved protocols also pose a threat, with the latter limiting the need for infrastructure construction, including tourist sites in national parks. He said this could lead to confusion and losses. Animal habitat loss and ecosystem imbalance.

One major concern is that provisions in the new policy could encourage the construction of large hydropower projects, resulting in a flood of investment.

Nepal plans to generate 30,000 megawatts of power by 2035, down from its current capacity of 2,800 megawatts, as giant neighbors India and China compete for a slice of the country’s hydropower market. increase twice.

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Last month, Nepal signed a deal to export 10,000 megawatts of electricity to India over the next 10 years.

Conservationists said the new policy would open up rivers in the reserve for hydropower development, which had previously been prohibited, to meet growing electricity demand for domestic and export purposes. .

The new document has provisions for the construction of hydropower plants and other infrastructure, which could lead to increased development in protected areas, conservationists warned. They pointed out that the natural water flow of rivers after passing through future hydropower plants is expected to be significantly reduced within the national park, which will affect the park’s river ecosystem.

Greenhood Nepal said the reason for the rule change was not specified in the document and called on the government to clarify the reason.

The group submitted a letter of objection to the Ministry of Forestry and Environment two weeks after the policy was approved. Greenhood Nepal cited several serious flaws in the policy, arguing that it promotes corporate interests over environmental concerns. These include a lack of procedures to assess the feasibility and environmental impact of projects, and a lack of consideration for the flora and fauna of protected areas.


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“In Nepal, environmental impact assessments are limited to paper and it is an open secret,” Paudel said. “When local residents commit minor crimes within protected areas, they are often punished, but we now appear to be giving commercial companies a free pass to commit environmental crimes.”

Some conservationists are considering challenging the government’s new procedural documents in court.

Advocate Padam Bahadur Shrestha, an environmental law expert and president of the Nepal Environmental Law Association, said he and his team are studying the policy to identify its shortcomings. He added that some of the provisions violate the country’s current laws, including the National Parks and Wildlife Protection Act and constitutional provisions that guarantee “the protection, management and utilization of natural resources.”

Shrestha said the language in the document was used in a way that made it easier to secure land for construction projects, adding that it would be easier for private companies to get construction approvals.

“This policy does more to make it easy for business owners than it does to protect national parks and the environment,” he said. “This is pro-investor rhetoric and contradicts the principles of long-term sustainable development.”

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This is not the first time that an infrastructure project in Nepal has been controversial and raised environmental and ecological concerns.

Earlier this month, local media reported that the government was planning to build a dam in Kathmandu’s Shivapuri National Park, which experts said would impact local biodiversity and wildlife.

The government also intends to build an international airport in the country’s southeast, defying a Supreme Court order to find a “suitable alternative.” The Nijgadh project could also come with huge environmental costs, with an estimated 2.4 million trees likely to be felled in Parsa National Park near the airport.

Shiv Raj Bhatta, senior conservation program advisor at WWF Nepal, said the new procedural document should be subordinated to the country’s environmental laws.

“As a legal hierarchy, [country’s] Laws and regulations that supersede this procedure [document],” he said. “Therefore, it remains to be seen how the provisions of this procedure will align with the law and regulations.”

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