Whose concerns?

  • Environmental agendas must be guided by ground realities

Jun 5, 2014-Ever year, Nepal observes World Environment Day on June 5 with great fanfare. This year, as in the past, the occasion was marked with rallies, exhibitions, workshops, seminars, awareness campaigns, film screenings and the inevitable planting of saplings. As usual, Environment Day celebrations remained a largely Kathmandu-centric affair—out of the 37 World Environment Day celebrations in Nepal listed on the United National Environment Programme website, 27 took place in Kathmandu. Still, all the conferences and awareness raising campaigns on the need for a cleaner, greener, more energy efficient environment seem to have failed in the Capital. Kathmandu remains the most polluted city in the country, whether in terms of air and water quality or solid waste management. On a global scale, the country as a whole fares no better.

According to the recently released Yale University’s 2014 Environment Protection Index, which looks into the performance of countries in terms of protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems, Nepal ranks 139th out of 178 countries. In terms of air quality, Nepal ranks 177th, only better than Bangladesh. The state of air pollution is Kathmandu in particular is even more worrying. A 2012 article in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology found that during peak hours, the level of small particulate matter in Kathmandu measures 20 times the World Health Organisation’s safe upper limit. Particulate matter or particulates are solid particles or liquid droplets found in the air naturally or released in dirt and smoke from factories and vehicles.

This is worrisome. On the face of it, the government seems serious about addressing environmental concerns. Nepal is signatory to at least 21 environment-related conventions. The Environment Protection Act came into effect back in 1997. It requires development projects to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment detailing the change in the environment it might cause and ways to mitigate those changes. And there are a host of government bodies to look into environmental issues, such as the Department of Environment, the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, the Environment Protection Council and even a Climate Change Council.

What seems to be lacking, therefore, are not institutions but strict implementation and monitoring of existing laws. Furthermore, there is a misplaced focus on issues that are not the most pressing environmental concerns. City dwellers battle palpable problems such as dusty roads, heavily polluted air and acute problems in managing household waste every single day. But climate change—often cited as the cause for all environmental problems—they are told, is more important. This is not to say climate change is unimportant but if environmental concerns are to go beyond ritualistic celebrations in Nepal, they need to be based on people’s pressing day-to-day concerns. The environmental agenda should be guided by ground realities, not mimicked ‘as is’ from its international form.

Published: 06-06-2014 09:10

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