Friday, 1 May 2015

Environmental Challenges and Human Security Issues in Nepal


As a central unit of the Himalayan orogeny, Nepal possesses the world’s highest mountain and its physical feature, among the most varied of any country in the world, range from the glaciers of Mt. Everest in the (North) Eastern Nepal to warm tropical forests on its southern fringe. Within the 147,181-km2 area of the country, physiographic regions range from tropical forests in the south to the snow and ice covered Himalaya in the north. Nepal has a very diverse environment resulting from its impressive topography. A cross-section of the country reveals that the topography generally progresses from altitudes of less than 100 m in the southern Terai plain, up to more than 8,000 m peaks in the north. Several rivers that originate in the Himalaya cut across these ecological zones, creating many river valleys and some of the most rugged terrains on earth and feed into the Ganges.

Human settlements and economic activities have been built largely around local ecology and topography.  The economy of the whole of Nepal is characterised by a large rural sector based on subsistence agriculture and a small industrial sector centered on manufacturing activities and tourism. Ekholm (1976) observes, ‘…in this land of unexcelled natural beauty live some of the world’s most desperately poor’. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, providing livelihoods for over 80 percent of the population. WWF (2005) calculates the total land used for agricultural operation at 20.2 % of the total geographical area of Nepal. Industrial activity mainly involves the processing of agricultural products including sugarcane, tobacco, jute and grain. Nepal has a comparative advantage with respect to tourism but this sector has seen a declining trend due to protracted political intricacies in the country. Water and hydroelectric potential are the most important natural resources of Nepal.

The Human security in Nepal is largely centered on its fragile physical setup. The geology and geomorphology of Nepal is favorable for several natural challenges. The challenges range from earthquake to various types of mass wasting and floods. Each year floods, landslides, soil erosion, forest fires, epidemics and various other natural and human made disasters cause heavy casualties and destruction of physical property in Nepal thereby wreaking severe human insecurity across the geography of the country. According to Ekholm (1976), Nepal faces one of the world’s most acute national soil erosion problems.

Given its mountainous topography and the fact that the country comes under the spell of the monsoon every summer, various types of natural challenges often disastrous in nature are quite common and frequent. As a central part of the Himalayan geo-system the country is geologically young and seismically very active. The UNDP lists earthquake, floods and flash floods, landslides and drought as the major natural challenges for overall human security of Nepal.

Often the fragile geo-environmental setup of Nepal has been exacerbated, both in terms of intensity and frequency, by increasing unscientific anthropogenic activities. The increase in population and the change in its distribution also mean that the country is now faced with a new set of natural disaster risks.

Ekholm (1976) remarks:

 “There is no better place to begin an examination of deteriorating mountain environments than Nepal…. The façade of romance and beauty remains intact, but behind it are the makings of great human tragedy. Population growth in the context of a traditional agrarian technology is forcing farmers onto steeper slopes; slopes unfit for sustained farming even with the astonishingly elaborate terracing practiced there. The villagers must roam farther and farther from their homes to gather fodder and firewood, thus surrounding most villages with a widening circle of denuded hillsides.  Ground holding trees are disappearing fast among the geologically young, jagged foothills of the Himalaya, which are among the most easily erode-able anywhere. Landslides that destroy lives, homes, and crops occur more and more frequently throughout the Nepalese hills… If Nepal’s borders ended at the base of the Himalayan foothills, the country would by now be in the throes of a total economic and ecological collapse. Luckily, the borders extended farther south to include a strip of relatively unexploited plains known as Terai, an extension of the vast indo-Gangetic plain of Northern India, one of the world’s most productive agricultural areas. ”. (Pp 76- 79)

Nepal has one of the highest population densities in the world with respect to cultivable land. As a result clearance of precious hills forest has been obvious. Forest was cleared for various purposes like extension of agriculture land, fodder for livestock, rural energy, road building and other infrastructure ventures including unplanned urbanisation. Tourism has also contributed to some extent in the degradation of forest resources.  Today Nepal has only about 25 per cent of its total geographical area under forest cover. Such a state of affairs has over the period of time aggravated geo-environmental fragility of Nepal and the situation is worsening with time. Consequently, natural events like landslides, floods/flash floods, top soil erosion, seasonal epidemics and such other processes have amplified in their intensity and frequency. Nepal experienced a strong earthquake in 1988, which killed over 700 people followed by a major one in April 2015 with a reported casualty of over 4000 (so far). Floods and landslides, however, are have been the most destructive disasters in Nepal.

Further, the protracted political instability caused tremendous environmental and human insecurity in Nepal. The conflict popularly called ‘Peoples’ War’ led by the Maoists left more than 12,000 people dead since it started in 1996. It has made the livelihoods of majority of the population in Nepal vulnerable and insecure.

Thus, a wide range of physiological, geological, ecological, meteorological, anthropogenic and strategic factors  significantly contribute to the human (in)security of Nepal.

Major Human Security Challenges of Nepal

Natural Factors
Anthropogenic Factors
Earthquake, Heavy Monsoon, Landslide, Flash Floods, Soil Erosion, Glacial Lake Outburst Floods, Epidemic
Population Growth, Deforestation, Pressure on Agriculture, Conflict and War, Physical Development, Climate Change

1 comment:

Sakarama Somayaji said...

It is good to see a analytical article on the current issue. Dr. Vimal Khawas is one of the serious researchers on the area/issue. Hope the concerned authorities will take not e of the points, solutions mentioned by the author.

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