Trees as an urban coordinateAny plan devised to develop the city must have a net positive impact on the quality of life.
As the tree canopy in urban areas has been decreasing every year, walking the streets of Kathmandu has become almost unbearable in the summer sun. Thanks to the unending road expansion drive, the Valley has become a dustbowl. There is concrete everywhere and the lack of greenery has not only become an eyesore but is also proving detrimental to the wellbeing of the residents as the air in Kathmandu has crossed dangerous levels. The slogan ‘clean, green, and healthy Kathmandu’ seems to be a thing of the past. If the slogan is to have any relevance today, it should be altered to dusty, dirty and full of concrete Kathmandu. Amid this wreck, the government, on Saturday, started an ambitious plan of planting 50 million trees in the fiscal year 2019-20 with plantations along the Koteshwor-Kalanki stretch—which saw the felling of trees for road expansion. This is a good initiative, but putting in place a scientific national plan to expand the green cover is imperative if the government actually wants to make the campaign a success.
In 2014, the government, in its annual policies and programmes, had declared the upcoming decade—2014-2023—as the ‘forest decade’ as an effort to bring discernable improvements in urban and rural greenery. The major programmes included promoting private forestry schemes, massive tree plantations on open spaces and fallow lands in villages, towns and municipalities, and the creation of public spaces wherever necessary to boost urban greenery. Now, what we have seen is the exact opposite of what had been promised. Public spaces are shrinking, lands have become barren, concrete roads and tall buildings are seen everywhere, and the greenery makes an appearance only occasionally and in a few places.
There is no denying that urban infrastructure must be developed according to the requirements of the changing times. But in doing so, what cannot be discounted is the harm a narrow idea of ‘development’ can cause to the environment. Trees improve the liveability of our cities and any plan devised to develop the city must have a net positive impact on the quality of life, too. Simply speaking, the more trees in the vicinity, the cooler the environment, and the lesser the need for fans and imported air conditioning as well. Considering the fast-modernisation of the city, they will also contribute to saving electricity.
As the road-widening campaign in Kathmandu continues, measures to figure-in trees into the new road blueprints should be taken. The momentum for compensatory afforestation must be sustained. Planting trees is not a one-day event. Nurturing it requires solid dedication and commitment. The government officials need to display commitment towards ensuring afforestation in the Valley and other places. Further, plantations must be done in a well-planned and scientific manner.