Push for Development ‘Threatens’ Nepal's Nature Conservation Efforts

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Push for Development ‘Threatens’ Nepal's Nature Conservation Efforts

Kathmandu: Conservationists have condemned new regulations allowing operation of hydropower projects and hotels in protected areas, arguing they threatened to damage the habitats of tigers and other endangered animals.

According to a news report published by AFP, a fifth of Nepal’s total lands have been designated as protected areas established to forbid infrastructure projects that could damage the environment.

Nepal has been praised worldwide for combating poachers and conserving wildlife, allowing it to bring several animal species back from the brink of local extinction, the report added.

However, the government enacted an ordinance last month allowing it to approve infrastructure projects in national parks, forests and other conservation areas.

"The number of endangered tigers and one-horned rhinos in the country have thrived because of these protected areas as they found a favourable environment," Rampreet Yadav, a wildlife conservationist, told AFP.

"This decision allowing construction of infrastructure will surely impact their habitat."

Yadav, who is also the former chief conservation officer of Chitwan National Park, Nepal's most important conservation area, said the decision was driven by the "vested interests of political leaders".

"We will have nothing to show and give our next generation," he said.

Nepal's protected habitat laws have seen the country triple the local tiger population to 355 since 2010, while the number of one-horned rhinoceros also rose to 752 in 2021 from around a hundred in the 1960s, AFP reported, adding, “It also nearly doubled its forest cover between 1992 and 2016 after rampant logging.”

Nepal has shown a strong commitment to enhancing its hydropower industry following a significant surge in dam construction since the beginning of the century, resulting in an installed capacity exceeding 3,300 megawatts. In January, Nepal inked a deal with India to export 10,000 megawatts of hydroelectricity over the next decade, to meet the energy demands of its power-hungry neighbor. In addition, Bangladesh is also keen to purchase clean energy from Nepal.

Similarly, tourism is also a major source of income for Nepal, which saw a million foreign visitors last year after a post-pandemic bounceback, and investments are being made in hotels and airports to cater to the needs of the travellers.

Environment ministry spokesperson Badri Raj Dhungana told AFP that the new regulations had been introduced to bring a balance between environmental protection and development.

"They will not be constructed in very sensitive areas. We will need a work plan with proper mapping," he said.

But according to AFP, Padma Bahadur Shrestha, a lawyer specialising in litigation aimed at nature protection, said the decision showed the government was set on casting aside environmental concerns in its rush for development.

"It wants to destroy Nepal's biodiversity to make new infrastructure," AFP quoted Shrestha as saying.


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