By Sanjaya Dhakal
KATHMANDU, Nepal, February 13, 2003 (ENS) - Although seven years
of insurgency have destroyed Nepal's environment, triggering massive
deforestation and a spurt in timber smuggling and rhino poaching,
the cash strapped Nepalese government has slashed this year's environment
budget by 14 percent.
Environment has been put on the back burner
by the government in the fragile Himalayan nation. "Recently,
the government made environment a low priority sector," said
Purushottam Prasad Tiwari, spokesperson at the Ministry of Population
(MOPE). According to him, the government had decided to stop financing
new environment programs, diverting the budget originally earmarked
for environment to worker salaries and other overhead costs.
year's total budget allocation to MOPE is approximately US$670,087
- down by 14 percent from last year. Less than half of the funds
are slotted for environment conservation programs in the region.
The bulk of the funds will be utilized for population control.
Although no formal assessment has been made linking the direct
impact of insurgency on environmental degradation, examples abound.
Apart from deforestation, timber smuggling and poaching of the
endangered one-horned rhino, rampant exploitation of herbal resources
and the diversion of personnel from environment protection to security
operations are some of the fallouts of the prolonged conflict.
In the last couple of years, thousands of officials and workers
of the forest department - rangers, foresters and others - have
ceased patrolling due to the fear of encountering the rebels. Dr.
Tirtha Man Maskey, spokesperson for the Ministry of Forest and
Soil Conservation, said, "It is true that many rangers and
foresters abandoned their fields to migrate to district headquarters
or city areas out of fear."
With most rebel hideouts based
in forests, forest officials were forced to flee, leaving precious
natural resources to their fate. "This
vacuum was fully exploited by smugglers and some unscrupulous local
residents," confessed a forest department official.
of natural resources was unimaginable. According to Maskey, Maoists
have destroyed 271 offices of the forest department
including district level offices, area posts and training centers,
apart from nine offices of national parks. Scores of rangers and
other officials survived physical threats from rebels, while there
was a sharp rise in deforestation in the past two years.
It's only natural that deforestation and rampant axing of forests
has accelerated due to the inability of forest officials to travel
in the field," said Megh Nath Kaphley, a ranger working at
a district office in Nepal's central Lalitpur district, adjoining
the capital Kathmandu. Kaphley expressed his helplessness in guarding
12,000 hectares of forests here.
The situation in remote regions
where the Maoists hold sway is anybody's guess.
Exploiting the lax security, smugglers too have stepped up their
activities," said Kaphley, blaming this on the fact that "the
system of registering complaints and launching investigations has
been severely hampered by the troubled situation."
first week of February, there were reports of massive tree felling
in forests surrounding Durbani in the east Nepal district
of Bara. Matters worsened to the extent that the Maoists themselves
began battling smugglers.
In the remote Dhorpatan hunting reserve
in west Nepal, which straddles three districts, one of which was
the hub of Maoist activities,
rebels destroyed the office, forcing officials to flee to the district
Officials said the activities of smugglers have multiplied
manifold since security forces evacuated the reserve.
reserve is famed for precious herbal resources like Yarsa gumba,
known for its aphrodisiac qualities, among other medicinal
plants. It is also home to endangered animals like the snow leopard,
musk deer and red bear.
It is reported that the celebrated one-horned
rhino, pride of the famous Royal Chitwan National Park in western
Nepal, has fallen
prey to poachers since the Nepal government's declaration of emergency
Reports said the rise in poaching could be blamed on the
reduction in Army forces earlier stationed in the park. But Colonel
Gurung, director of public relations in the Royal Nepalese Army,
said the number of Army posts within the RCNP has dived from 40
to 10. Denying this had resulted in an increase in poaching, he
said, "Eighteen rhinos have died since April/March 2002, but
most died of natural causes, with only nine falling prey to poachers."
to a security official, Maoists are using the impenetrable forest
as cover for training sessions and other activities. "Many
groups of Maoists live in the forests, so they often cut down trees
to light fires, and end up polluting water sources of nearby villages
as well," complained an environmentalist.
The prolonged insurgency
has indirectly impacted the environment as well. According to the
nongovernmental organization Clean Energy
Nepal, Bhushan Tuladhar, the migration from villages to cities
of rural residents who leave their fields uncultivated and barren,
has triggered uncontrolled soil erosion. "These locals were,
in a sense, guardians of the environment, managing and protecting
natural resources," the group says.
(Published in cooperation
with OneWorld South Asia. Visit OneWorld online at: http://www.oneworld.net)