Saving riversThe polluted rivers across Nepal need serious attention
Running rivers have been the main source of water for human civilisation and human beings throughout the ages. They occupy special mention in our religious scriptures as well. In recent times, unfortunately, human activities have heavily polluted holy rivers like Bagmati and Bishnumati among others in Nepal.
Our life-sustaining riverbeds and banks are now steadily turning into dumping-sites threatening their cleanliness and even existence.
In order to act wisely and responsibly towards our life-giving rivers, some campaigners have started the Clean Bagmati Campaign (CBC). Collecting tonnes of garbage from the bank of Bagmati and its surroundings through collective participation of campaigners from different lifestyles is praiseworthy. Notwithstanding the Bagmati Campaign, this article discusses ways to ensure that Bagmati regains its past glory and cleanliness.
The first setback to safeguarding our rivers is that most of us are either too selfish or shortsighted. As a result, rivers have never occupied the place they deserve in urban planning. All river streams in Kathmandu Valley and in the country have suffered from such lack of foresight. Therefore, it would be better if the Clean Bagmati Campaign focused on policymaking and involving the concerned ministries, Pashupati Development Trust, expert engineers and planning commissions in river-friendly urban planning. Villages, municipalities, sub-metropolitan agencies and disadvantaged citizens must also be included in the process of effective planning and implementation.
To begin with, it has now become mandatory to find a new place to cremate dead bodies instead of on the banks of the Bagmati and other rivers. Broadly speaking, we now need to be rational and require a paradigm shift in our mindset to save our rivers and environment. Cremation on the riverbanks not only pollutes water but also air, and it undermines our religious beliefs on water purity. Electric cremation or burial could be a good way out as it could save our forests, water and rivers. Therefore, the Campaign must boldly begin an awareness-raising campaign on this issue too.
Second, social and environmental science curriculum in high schools and colleges should include scientific chapters on the deterioration of Bagmati. Students need to be encouraged to design their own projects on ways to safeguard local rivers, fountains, wells, stone faucets and other sources of water. Inclusion of such topics in coursework can be a very effective way to design curriculum and textbook writing because today’s students are tomorrow’s planners, experts as well as stakeholders. Furthermore, efforts of an individual member or a household could also make a difference. Individuals need to have a clearer and better understanding of their surroundings. This is what Nepali society is lacking today.
Keeping it clean
Most urban individuals or households today are devoid of any sensitivity towards nature and their surrounding-rivers. As a result, people dispose garbage haphazardly. Thus, Bagmati, Bishnumati, stone faucets all over the Valley and other public spaces are all littered with tonnes of garbage in their premises. So the campaigners or volunteers involved in Bagmati Campaign now should start focusing on educating the masses and households in better ways to recycle garbage and the consequences of improper garbage disposal.
Another way of keeping rivers and environment clean would be to plant trees on all riverbanks including Bagmati and Bishnumati. Unsystematic encroachment and road construction on the banks of Bagmati and Bishnumati will have adverse impacts in the near future. So it is not just the rivers but also their banks that need to be beautified by planting trees up to five hundred meters from any road or building. Volunteers, campaigners and representatives of organisations should rethink and plan this sub-campaign to keep Bagmati and other rivers clean.
Many developed nations in Asia or elsewhere around the globe have introduced Corrective Work Order (CWO) to correct their citizens’ misdeeds. The CWO is a new disciplinary measure that, instead of a hefty fine, sets the offender to work in cleaning up the community. Although this might be good for Nepal, it is not very pragmatic. Even if the government starts something like the CWO, it might not be effective as some citizens will be doing all the cleaning, while the rest will be littering their surroundings foiling all attempts at sustainable cleanliness. However, two precious years of weekly Clean Bagmati Campaign have at least drawn the attention of the citizens and the media and highlighted the need to keep Bagmati clean. But our real need here is sustainable cleanliness to safeguard our civilisation.
Rapacha is a researcher and activist based in Okhaldhunga