World Environment Day 2016: Confronting country’s key environmental issues

community forestDeepraj Sanyal / Kathmandu: The World Environment Day (WED) is being marked across the world today amidst various programmes and events highlighting the importance of the environment and its protection.

As mankind continues to make progress with more and more sophisticated knowledge and discoveries along with advancement of technology, he is putting a lot of pressure on the delicate environment. It is the different human activities that are leading to environmental degradation by way of pollution, deforestation, unwise exploitation of natural resources, among others.

There is scientific evidence which shows that the world’s environment is becoming degraded day by day due to mankind’s mad rush for material wealth. The over-exploitation of the natural resources for generating material wealth has spoilt our environment to such a degree that alarm bells have already started ringing.

The World Environment Day is an occasion on which to think about the environment and realize its importance. It is also an occasion to discuss about sustainable ways of protecting the environment by sensitizing the people that it is everyone’s responsibility to protect it. The World Environment Day was first time celebrated in 1973 under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) under the theme ‘Only One Earth’.

The theme of the WED 2016 is – Go Wild for Life. The theme is focused on protecting the wildlife and through this the environment. It found that the booming illegal trade in wildlife products is eroding the Earth’s precious biodiversity, robbing the natural heritage and driving the whole species towards the brink of extinction. The rampant killing of wildlife and smuggling is also undermining economies and ecosystems. This has also fuelled organized crime and feeding corruption and insecurity across the globe.

Key environmental issues of Nepal

As Nepal also joins hands in marking the WED with the rest of the world today, it would be relevant to discuss about the main environmental issues of the country.

In Nepal, various developmental activities over the years have created a number of environmental problems due to the inadequate consideration of the environmental aspects and management of natural resources in a sustainable way. Consideration of the environment in development activities has evolved from the mid 1980s when the then His Majesty’s Government of Nepal endorsed the national conservation strategy.

The environmental campaign was geared up only after the restoration of democracy during the early 1990. The value of environmental management has been realized at different levels as political, developmental and socio-economical particularly since the country’s high-level participation in the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The Government of Nepal has given mandate to the Environmental Protection Council to advise the government on environmental affairs. Realising the need of the integration of the environmental aspects through institutional arrangement in development planning and administration, the government set up the Ministry of Environment and on 22 September 1995.

There are numerous environmental issues in Nepal. But the major ones are water and air pollution, deforestation and overpopulation with their respective negative impact on the environment. Non-timber forests are threatened by deforestation, habitat degradation and unsustainable harvesting. The major threats to some protected areas are grazing all the year around, poaching for high-value products, illegal timber harvesting and unsustainable tourism. The wetland biodiversity is threatened by encroachment of wetland habitat, unsustainable harvesting of wetland resources, industrial pollution agricultural run-off, the introduction of exotic and invasive species into wetland ecosystem, and siltation. The rangeland is suffering from an enormous grazing pressure. The mountain biodiversity is suffering due to the ecological fragility and instability of high mountain environments, deforestation, poor management of natural resources and inappropriate farming practices.

Similarly, the agro-biodiversity is under threat due to use of high yielding varieties, destruction of the natural habitat, overgrazing, land fragmentation, commercialization of agriculture and the extension of modern high-yielding varieties, indiscriminate use of pesticides, population growth and urbanization and changes in farmer’s priorities. More factors for loss of biodiversity are landslide and soil erosion, pollution, fire, overgrazing, introduction of alien species, illegal trade, hunting and smuggling.

It is noted in a report of the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation that sedimentation and discharge of industrial effluents are the main sources of water pollution, and the burning of wood for fuel is a significant source of indoor air pollution and respiratory problems. Vehicular and industrial emissions increasingly have contributed to air pollution in urban areas.

Deforestation and land degradation appear to affect a greater proportion of the population and have the worst consequences for economic growth and people’s livelihood. Forest loss has contributed to floods, soil erosion and declined agricultural output.

A major threat factor to the local environment is the growing population. Among the most pressing issues of environment in Nepal are waste disposal, industrial pollution, wildlife conservation and climate change effects. Land and water use have also emerged as matters of environmental concern in both rural and urban settings in Nepal. In addition to these general issues, others such as landfill availability and air and noise pollution are particularly prevalent in relatively urbanized and industrialized areas of the country. In many instances, the least financially and politically empowered populations find themselves the most affected by environmental issues.

The impact of global warming and climate change has led to the melting of the snow on the Himalayas resulting in retreating of glaciers and the increased risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods. In a mountainous country like Nepal characterized by steep slopes and rugged terrain, the environmental impact of natural disasters is very big. Natural disasters like the Gorkha Earthquake that occurred on 25 April 2015 has shaken the land making it vulnerable to landslides during the rainy season. When landslides occur, they sweep away large areas of hill slopes covered by forests, leading to loss of forests. Similarly, wildfires during the hot dry summer months devour large areas of forests while floods also destroy forests, causing great deal of impact on the local environment.

In Nepal, major environmental issues have emerged from overdependence on the use of natural resources, land degradation, depletion of forest resources, unscientific urban development and discharge of untreated effluents, disposal of solid waste and inadequate integration of the environmental aspects in the development planning and implementation. On this World Environment Day, all the concerned including each citizen should be conscious of the urgent need to protect the environment while speeding up development activities. We should learn to balance environment with development for our as well as the future generation’s wellbeing. RSS

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