Nijgadh airport project will spell disaster, warn conservationists

- CHANDAN KUMAR MANDAL, Kathmandu

Oct 9, 2018-

Massive felling of trees to construct the second international airport in Bara could invite an ecological disaster, conservationists have warned.

Biodiversity expert and former Nepal Planning Commission member Prabhu Budhathoki said the mega project could cause irreplaceable damage to the ecosystem.

“Chopping trees is likely to trigger a new wave of deforestation, similar to the trend that had happened during king Mahendra’s era. Like all other mega projects, this one will also affect the environment and at the receiving end will be poor people,” said Budhathoki.

Sprawling over 8045.79 hectares, the proposed Nijgadh airport would require clearing a forest area of 2.4 million trees.

According to the Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report, nearly 770,000 trees would have to be cut down in the first phase of the project.

The project site, which lies adjacent to Parsa National Park, is a habitat to endangered wildlife and an important biodiversity corridor at the foothills of the already fragile Chure range.

Conservationists fear that the project development could cause an irreparable damage to the region’s ecosystem.

Suraj Shrestha, a natural resources expert, said the government decision to construct the airport at the cost of valuable biodiversity was against Nepal’s international commitment to protect wildlife and ecosystem.

“Nepal has signed various conventions to protect its biodiversity. The government has also come up with a special master plan to conserve Chure region, but in practice, the government is moving against its own commitments,” said Shrestha, warning that the project could dry up water resources in the surrounding areas and cause massive flooding downstream.

The project site is close to rivers like Lalbakaiya and Pasaha and other small rivulets. Construction of airport could spell flooding in nearby areas like Gaur, Gadhimai, Kalaiya and Birgunj.

Bijaya Kumar Singh Danuwar, former member of President Chure-Tarai Madhesh Conservation Development Board, said in case of heavy and continuous rainfall, the airport itself could be besieged by flood.

“Studies have shown that the region where the proposed airport site is located could receive 300 mm of rainfall in 24-hours. If the region witnessed even 200 mm of rainfall throughout the day, it will be enough to inundate the airport,” Danuwar said.

Conservationists have also questioned the government’s plan to strip the forest cover for the proposed airport without conducting the Detailed Project Report (DPR).

“Only the DPR can recommend how many trees should be cut down for the project. We must have another airport because of the congestion in the air and on the land, but we cannot have it at the cost of millions of trees,” said Birendra Kumar Singh, aviation expert and joint secretary, adding that even the International Civil Aviation Organization has prioritised environment protection.

Environmentalist Bhushan Tuladhar suggested the government to either change the project site or decrease the area of the project.

“The government should start afforestation projects rather than axing forest areas without conducting a DPR,” Tuladhar said.

According to the Detailed Feasibility Study, prepared by the Landmark Worldwide Company of South Korea, the first phase of the project development would last ten years, the second phase five years and the third and final phase will last 25 years. The project is expected to cost Rs 121 billion.

 

‘Don’t chop more trees than necessary’

Kathmandu: The Nepali Congress has urged the government not to fell more trees than what is required to build the new airport in Nijgadh. “Our decade-long dream and commitment to develop the airport in Nijgadh should be executed. And for that, the government should ensure the land acquisition without any delay,” the party said in a statement issued after its central working committee meeting on Monday. “But the NC has strong objection to felling more trees than what’s necessary to build the airport.” The party also called on the government to expedite the project execution without any controversies. (PR)

Published: 09-10-2018 07:23

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