Conserving terrestrial ecosystemsForests cover 30 percent of the earth’s surface and in addition to providing food security and shelter, forests are also important in combatting climate change, and protecting biodiversity and the homes of the indigenous population. 13 million hectares of forests are being lost every year and the persistent degradation of dry lands has led to the desertification of 3.6 billion hectares.
Published at : August 8, 2017
Updated at : August 8, 2017 08:39
Forests cover 30 percent of the earth’s surface and in addition to providing food security and shelter, forests are also important in combatting climate change, and protecting biodiversity and the homes of the indigenous population. 13 million hectares of forests are being lost every year and the persistent degradation of dry lands has led to the desertification of 3.6 billion hectares.
Nepal has experience in protecting forests of different types. Whereas national parks and wild life reserves are strictly conserved by government agencies such as the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), forests at the local level are handed over to the community for conservation and management. Forest user committees are formed to take over sustainable forest management from the Department of Forests. Elected by the community, these committees operate under certain government guidelines. They are responsible for the management of forest resources, and re-plantation and utilisation of forest land for compatible use. The number of such user committees now exceeds 14,000 and a national network has been formed. Because of the community forest programmes, the forest cover in the hills, inner-Tarai and Tarai have increased tremendously. This has raised the living standards of the rural people, while also fulfilling their daily needs for firewood. It has also contributed to the social, political, and economic organisation and empowerment of the community. Not only have such initiatives expanded forest cover, they have also provided shelter for wildlife. Wild animals such as leopards and bears were rare a few decades ago, but are now growing in number. Even in highly dense urban areas such as Kathmandu Valley, the occurrence of leopards entering residential areas is increasing.
Letting the earth down
Degradation of natural habitats threatens the country’s flora
and fauna. Worldwide, 2.6 billion
people depend directly on agriculture, but 52 percent of the land used
for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation. As of 2008, land degradation
affected 1.5 billion people globally. Arable land loss at present is estimated to be 30 to 35 times higher than the
historical rate. Due to drought
and desertification, each year 12 million hectares are lost; 20 million tonnes of grain could have been grown in this area. 74 percent of the poor are directly affected by land degradation globally.
I feel that degradation of natural habitats is happening mainly due
to haphazard road construction, major hydro-power projects and
rapid urbanisation. Although Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and Initial Environment Examination (IEE) are mandatory in development projects, they are being carried out only to fulfil legal requirements for the approval of projects. Natural habitats are not properly cared for during and after construction work. Construction workers and technicians are not familiar with the sensitivity of the natural habitat, which once destroyed cannot be recovered. The irreversibility of
the natural cycle in certain
situations can cause major damage—not only to flora and fauna, but also to human settlements. I propose the following policies to restore nature:
• River cleaning campaign should be initiated throughout the country based on the lessons learnt from the Bagmati Clean-up Campaign.
• Construction projects in environmentally sensitive areas should be strictly monitored.
• Bio-engineering should be adopted in slope protection during road construction and during rehabilitation of landslide prone areas.
• On barren hills, low lying areas and the roadside along highways, massive coordinated tree plantation should occur.
Your choice matters
Our presence inevitably affects the ecosystems we are a part of, but we can either make choices that promote biodiversity, or devalue it. Some things we can do to help include recycling, eating a locally-based diet that is sustainably sourced, consuming only what we need, and limiting energy usage through efficient heating and cooling systems. We must also be respectful toward wildlife, and only take part in ecotourism opportunities that are responsibly and ethically run. Well-managed and protected areas support healthy ecosystems, which in turn keep people healthy. It is therefore critical to secure the involvement of the local communities in the development and management of these protected areas.
Nepali people are extremely nature friendly, but rapid urbanisation is posing a serious threat to the country’s ecosystems. The following measures can be taken to protect the areas around us:
• Planting trees every year and protecting them till they are grown up.
• Reusing solid waste in such a way that there is less burden on the municipality and government agencies to manage them.
• Protecting water bodies such as rivers, ponds, lakes and wetlands in the neighbourhood.
• Managing pesticides in agriculture.
• Promoting urban agriculture and urban forestry at the community level ,and terrace farming at the household level.
Thapa is a professional architect and urban planner, President of Society of Nepalese Architects (SONA), and former Secretary of Ministry of Urban Development and Ministry of Education; this article is part of the weekly series on SDGs