The environmental issues troubling our countryThe government needs to get its act together and express legitimate concern towards the state of the environment.
Today is World Environment Day; a day for environmentalists and intergovernmental organisations to raise awareness about the need to protect our environment. Since environmental issues are a global problem it is important for every individual to understand their role in the problem as well as the potential solutions. Yet in Nepal, we are still overlooking the issue and its impacts. World Environment Day celebrations in Nepal have been single day events, with no follow-up programmes promoting impactful conservation and sustainable management. The way we depend on the environment has changed, due to the increase in the overall population as well as urbanisation—triggering changes in the land use as compared to ancient times, when people could use resources without causing large scale environmental degradation. However, the dearth of efficient programmes, plans and policies have left the issues largely ignored. For instance, the recently formed Ministry of Forest and Environment has found to be focused more on the forestry sector over the environment. Lack of environmental institutional bodies in line ministries add more challenges in working towards a better environment. Moreover, the recently drafted Environment Protection Bill allows the central or provincial government to appoint any officer as an Environmental Inspector. This is impetuous and disappointing. Until and unless hortatory plans and policies are formed in line with environmental issues that aims to mobilise environmental graduates, and is marked by patent accessibility, this sensitive sector will become feebler in the coming days.
Almost every environmental issue is at its worst condition in the country. The ambient air in urban cities and indoor air pollution in the rural part of Nepal—where inefficient cooking stoves prevail—are responsible for respiratory diseases. Air pollution causes thousands of deaths every year. Global climate change is another issue of concern nowadays, and adaptation to the changing climate is a priority—as is the reduction of greenhouse emissions. Recent reports from an organisation working in climate change show that the carbon dioxide level has crossed 415 ppm in the atmosphere for the first time in human history, and Nepal is in a position to face the brunt of the impact of climate change. In such a scenario, effective policies, manpower and a sizable budget are urgently required to mitigate the effects of climate change; however, no such steps have been taken by the government yet. Although non-governmental organisations are seemingly indulging in environmental conservation activities, such actions are never going to be sufficient without the active participation of the state and the deployment of its considerable resources. Similar is the case with waste management in Nepal. Most regions in the country are devoid of a door-to-door waste collection system. So, people find no alternatives but to resort to the open burning of harmful wastes, which has been a major source of pollution. Even in areas with a waste collection system, the waste is not processed but is dumped at disposal sites. The limited number of landfill sites, which do not recycle the waste, has created havoc in waste management.
The Environment Protection Act 1997 is the governing legislation that currently provisions for environmental protection, conservation and management. But the Act is not amended to keep up with developments in environmental protection. The constitution has clearly mandated the ‘right to live in a clean and healthy environment’ as one of the fundamental rights for all citizens. And it is not easy to have this right fulfilled if each and every part of the environment is not taken into consideration for its proper utilisation and management. Despite being a party to many international conventions and treaties covering the environment, Nepal has not made much progress in this sector because of negligence in adopting and implementing the required actions. We are already far behind in terms of learning lessons from other countries so as to deal with environmental issues.
Nepal needs to take some steps urgently to address this problem. The formation of environment councils in every province in order to supervise and monitor the ongoing activities and the effectiveness of environmental programmes is a must. Furthermore, environment conservation committees should be formed countrywide in institutions such as hospitals, universities, municipalities and even in the varied industries. The institutional committees need to be further subdivided to focus on specific problems and aspects of the environment. For rural areas, indoor air pollution can be prevented by adopting alternative technologies, such as improved cooking stoves. Control measures for water and soil pollution also need to be implemented, and all these can be done within the committees so formed. To achieve sustainability in environmental conservation and management, regular interactions and policy dialogues among concerned stakeholders at the local, sub-national and national level is equally inevitable.
Rijal is an Assistant Professor at the Agriculture and Forestry University, Chitwan.