Political stability is necessary for sustainable conservation of nature in Nepal. The major parties need to develop a feeling of ownership over the protection and conservation of natural resources instead of fighting for power and position
Nepal has great diversity of flora and fauna covering various geographical locations from the Tarai jungles to the arctic Himalayan region. Nepal is home to more than 5,000 species of flowering plants, 181 species of mammals, 886 species of birds, 185 species of fish, about 660 species of butterflies and more than 6,000 moths.
More than 23.23 per cent of Nepal’s total area is protected, which includes 12 national parks, one wildlife reserve, one hunting reserve and six conservation areas. The breathtaking beauty of Nepal seen today is only possible due the Nepali people’s continuous commitment and dedication towards conserving and managing all natural biodiversity. While the history of nature conservation in Nepal starts with the Rana regime, the active efforts for the conservation of biodiversity legally started with the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973, which established different protected areas, zoos, and formed strict laws, conventions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local and national authorities, as well as national and international organisations.
Developmental changes in the nature conservation efforts in Nepal have caused a paradigm shift, from strictly species protection to a more participatory approach followed by a revenue sharing concept, with landscape level conservation in the 2000s. This shift, which occurred at an international level, has also allowed for the recognition of local people’s limited rights in terms of using natural resources. However, frequent change of Nepali governments has hampered the country’s development and economic growth, as the power grabbing campaigns of the major parties continue to overshadow the vital issues plaguing the nation’s development. Nepal’s conservation efforts have seen continued support from several international NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Trust for Nature Conservation (ITNC) and local NGOs, such as the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC). This collaboration between international NGOs and local NGOs (I/NGOs), government agencies and local communities has been a key factor in the conservation and development of Nepal’s various natural resources.
The Government of Nepal continues to provide financial aid and technical support for the conservation of endangered species in collaboration with the I/NGOs, conservation organisations and other nature conservation projects. But the country’s efforts over the last few decades have overlooked certain challenges in the sector of nature conservation and protection, which can be overcome through community awareness, good governance and sound collaboration among the multi-stakeholders.
In Nepal, periods of political unrest take a heavy toll on its natural resources and biodiversity, of which the forests tend to be the primary victims. Increased animal poaching and destruction of park infrastructure through rapid deforestation and timber smuggling in important wildlife corridors certainly threaten the effectiveness of biodiversity conservation within the country. Even after writing the constitution, there is no sign of political stability in Nepal. But such issues have never concerned the major parties; what they want is
power so that they may raise their own political standing. The state has consistently failed to give adequate attention to environmental conservation, sustainable economic growth and environmental and democratic governance on account of constantly being locked in political debacles.
However, the new constitution grants new powers to community-based organisations at the local level under the jurisdiction of the local and provincial governments, which may disempower and disincentivise these people at the grass root level.
The most commonly cited risk of failure or under-performance is elite capture and politicisation, where the most powerful members of a given community use either their wealth, social capital or political alliances to consolidate power and authority over decisions regarding resource use, often for their own benefits and at the cost of those less fortunate.
Yet, political stability is the foremost requirement for sustainable conservation of nature in Nepal. These major parties need to develop a feeling of ownership over the protection and conservation of natural resources instead of fighting for power and position. The constitution has granted local levels increased power and authority over policy-making for local conservation area, which should be further enhanced with transparency and accountability in decision making through participation review processes and should have transparent dispute resolution mechanisms.
Participation of communities is far more important than the mere presence of conservation agencies and armed forces. Empowering people, in general, and local communities, in particular, are the optimal solutions, as this enables the people to develop a sense of ‘ownership’ over resources. Provincial governments, local levels and local community groups should establish a collaborative and cooperative relationship amongst each other for further development and conservation of local community resources and other such assets vital to the nation. Our rich natural heritage should not be subjected to destruction due to political unrest.
A version of this article appears in print on August 15, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.