Build on sand

  • Thoughtless exploitation of river-based resources will hit water tourism hard.

Apr 23, 2019-

Sunkoshi and Bhotekoshi were once top-draw tourism destinations. The Bhotekoshi is one of the best white-water rafting rivers in Nepal, while the rafting route on the Sunkoshi River is the longest offered in the country. But over the years, the extraction of riverbed materials, the flow of drainage into the rivers and haphazard implementation of various projects have had serious negative impacts on these rivers and, consequently, the water tourism industry. And the damage is not limited to these two rivers. Many areas in the country are facing the illegal extraction of construction materials such as pebbles, stones and sand. The thoughtless exploitation of river-based resources has created many issues for the locals, including environmental hazards along with shrinking opportunities for sustainable revenue generation.

Unchecked sand and gravel mining along riverbeds makes the rivers sink deeper, which aids in faster erosion of the surrounding land. This, along with rapid urbanisation, puts pressure on the surrounding soil to the extent that the very ground beneath settlements can collapse. Holes as deep as 50 feet have been dug on the banks of the Sunkoshi and Indrawati rivers to illegally extract sand and stones. Banks of the Sunkoshi River are now dotted with excavators and tippers to extract and transport riverbed materials. These holes dug by excavators are so deep; experts opine that they have the potential to change the course of rivers deforming them.

Sand mining and crusher firms, as per the law, can extract stones, pebbles, sand and gravel from an area only after conducting an environmental impact assessment. As per the provisions on the Environment Protection Act (1997), riverbed materials cannot be extracted by digging pits deeper than 2 metres (6.56 feet). In its bid to control illegal mining, the government had issued directives to check illegal mining of sand and other aggregates from various rivers of the country. But despite the anti-graft laws in place, local governments and the Parliamentarians have colluded with these firms, making it difficult to curb such activities.  

Granted, these resources may have to be sourced from somewhere, especially given the current construction boom, but firms cannot go overboard and flout government rules. They should also consider the aesthetic and ecological impacts of their actions. Annually, 60 thousand local tourists and 20 thousand international tourists visit the Sunkoshi and Bhotekoshi rivers to indulge in various water-related sports or to just sit by the riverside. Water tourism has also proved to be an important source of revenue for the locals there.

The government long ago announced that it will market next year as ‘Visit Nepal 2020’, where it aims to promote tourism on a large scale—and attract as many as 2 million tourists. However, the authorities have paid scant attention to areas that have been proven to attract a considerable number of tourists. If the government is serious about promoting Nepal as a tourist destination, it should invest more in areas that attract tourists, instead of contributing to its downfall.

Published: 23-04-2019 11:04

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