The view from Nepal

This guest post is from our fellow VSO Nepal volunteers Mel and Steve who work in Mahendranagar, in the far west district of Nepal.

Greetings to all Leicester FoE (Friend of the Earth) members and friends, Malcolm has invited me to write a short piece for the newsletter and, by chance, a few things recently have reminded me of the complexities of environmental issues here in Western Nepal.

Firstly, I helped write an English version of a funding proposal, for a local NGO. This proposal was for funds to conserve the nearby hill range. With my ‘international environmentalist’ perspective on such issues as global warming and globalization, I sometimes forget that, for most people, the immediate environmental concerns are focused on the local environment. People here are noting that farmland is less fertile and flash floods and landslides are more common than a few years ago. It is largely acknowledged that a main cause of this change is the deforestation of the hills, mostly for firewood and timber. Of course, although the outcomes of this deforestation are bad, people still need to cook and build houses.

Similarly, we live next to a nature reserve and the wildlife rangers (whom I sometimes assist) and officials are having to strike a balance between enforcing wildlife regulations and not causing extra suffering for the local villagers. For example, they often overlook grazing and firewood collection within the park.

Another issue, is that we are currently in the grip of a heat-wave. The monsoon rains are late and the temperature has reached the record high of 45oC. There are reports of children fainting in class and, as a result, we just heard today that the schools are closing a week early, for the summer vacation. Interestingly, during the radio announcement about this, global warming was mentioned as the cause. So far, the crops have not suffered too much but if the rains don’t start soon, problems will arise.

Finally, I recently read an article, in a local magazine, about energy needs versus climate change in South Asia, in which the authors tried to address these issues of local and global environment. For example, here in Nepal, most electricity generation is from hydro projects. Whilst producing very little CO2, hydro-electric generation has caused many problems to people in the local areas and, as a consequence, the World Bank no longer funds hydro-electric projects as it once did. Further, as climate change continues to shrink the Himalayan glaciers, the rivers on which hydro-electricity depends, are threatened. In terms of energy generally, most in Nepal comes from Bio-mass which means wood and cow-dung burning. These contribute to deforestation, as mentioned, as well as being energy inefficient. Given the problems in the local environment, neighbouring India is looking to nuclear and coal-fired power-stations to supply its energy.

It seems unreasonable to expect Nepal not to try to generate more electricity since energy consumption is seen to be the key to success of developed countries. Given that Nepalis have, over the last few decades, contributed almost nothing to current climate pollution but suffer disproportionately from the results, I don’t think that we have any right to expect them now to spend money or to lose energy potential in order to combat climate change, when all the ‘developed countries’, that did produce the pollution, are seen doing so little to prevent it themselves. Half of the population of Nepal and India (that’s approx. 600 million people) currently have no access to electricity and they want it.

As they say here in Nepal; ‘Ke garne?’ (What to do?).