Environment pollution cause for concern in Bajhang highlandsGarbage left behind by yarsa collectors every year is one of the factors leading to environmental degradation in the highlands.
For the past 18 years, Asauji Bohara, a resident of Dhalaun in Saipal Rural Municipality, has been going to the highlands to pick yarsagumba, the caterpillar fungus (Cordyceps sinensis).
This year, the 41-year-old, also an executive member of the rural municipality, went to the highlands to inspect the area, since the collection of yarsagumba has been banned in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
Her visit to the highlands in mid-May left her baffled by the sight of garbage and litter scattered across the area.
“I visited the Aaulagad area. It is littered with plastic, glass bottles and rags, among others. People seem to have consumed liquor and discarded the bottles in the highlands,” said Bohara.
Aaulagad, one of the areas where the precious herb is found, is also the base camp of Saipal Mountain.
Not only Aaulagad, Majha, Pharalkhet, Kalapani, Raidhugi, Syangwan Dotale, Ingaldar, Dahachaur, Kalanga, Khopa and Nilakhti among other areas of Saipal Rural Municipality are littered with garbage left behind by yarsa collectors, said Bohara.
Every year, thousands of yarsa collectors reach the highlands in Bajhang in search of yarsagumba.
Environmental pollution in the highlands of other local units in the district, such as Surma, Masta and Talkot rural municipalities and Bangul and Jayaprithvi municipalities, is also increasing at an alarming rate, say local people.
“The highland areas in Jaljala, Danfechuli, Tapoban, Danda, Thade, Jarsi and Goldhunga, among others, have started to fill up with garbage. Yarsa collectors have been negligent in collecting their garbage and bringing it back with them,” said Lakhan Bohara, a resident in Surma Rural Municipality.
The local authorities have also not done much to control environmental pollution in the highlands of the district, said Bohara.
“None of the authorities has taken initiatives to control littering in the highland areas. Heaps of garbage have been piling up over the years. This is a serious matter,” he said.
Sunita Bohara, a resident of Saipal, said, “Sharp broken glasses are found littered everywhere in the highland areas, making it difficult to walk around. Every day, one to two individuals sustain injuries because of broken glasses.”
Some yarsa collectors also say that the unchecked littering in the highlands has led to a decrease in yarsa yield.
“The amount of yarsagumba I collect has decreased over the years,” said Milan Dhami, a yarsa collector from Dhalaun in Saipal Rural Municipality. “Some of the collectors do not bring back the garbage they generate over the months they live in the highlands collecting herbs. This has led to environmental degradation and a decrease in yarsa yield.”
A study conducted by ICIMOD, an organisation working on mountain-specific conservation issues among others, two years ago showed that every yarsa collector produces around 5.2 kilos of garbage during the herb picking season. In total, over 10,00,000 quintals of garbage have been deposited in the highland areas of Bajhang district so far, the study showed.
The study, which was particularly carried out in Saipal, showed that every year over 15,000 individuals climb the highlands to pick yarsagumba. In the last 15 years, over 11,700 quintals of garbage have been deposited in the highland areas of Saipal, the study showed.
Gyan Bahadur Bohara, an individual working with Sahara Nepal, a social organisation that works on environment conservation in Bajhang, said, “If the littering of garbage is not controlled, the precious medicinal herb will stop growing in the highland areas. The biodiversity of the highland areas has been greatly affected by littering.”
According to Bhusan Tuladhar, an environmentalist, garbage should be managed in a proper way to protect the highland areas.
“The impact of littering in the highland areas is yet to be studied. On the other hand, the concerned authorities should take initiatives to remove or manage garbage in the highlands,” Tuladhar said.