Nepal’s CPEIR wins GSSD 2013 Leadership Award

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The Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo), a UN system-wide global high-profile event, is taking place in Nairobi, Kenya from October 28 till today – November 1. The Expo focuses on ‘Building inclusive green economies-South-South Cooperation for sustainable development and poverty eradication’. This theme aims to facilitate an exchange of country experiences on green economy among Southern countries that have contributed to economic development, decent job creation, and poverty eradication at the global, regional, national and local levels.

Six Solution Exchange Forums has taken place during the Expo. One of them is ‘The UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) which featured prominently through participation of country partners from Burkina Faso, Nepal and Rwanda as panelists at the UNDP Solutions Forum, dissemination of PEI country case studies on south-south exchanges through various channels.

At the closing ceremony of the EXPO, attended by high-level representatives from Governments and UN agencies, the annual South-South Cooperation Awards is presented to individuals and organizations that have been prominent champions of South-South cooperation throughout the world. The Expo confers particular recognition on those solutions that stand out as global in scope, reach, and impact, and exemplary of the most important elements of South-South cooperation – Innovation, Partnership, and Leadership. We had submitted nominations of solutions from the participating PEI countries to UNOSSC.

The great news is that the solution on Government of Nepal’s National Planning Commission (NPC) and Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD) has been selected to receive the GSSD Expo 2013 Annual Leadership Award for South-South Cooperation. This award is a testament to Nepal’s exemplary and innovative work on the Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Review (CPEIR), which was supported by PEI.

Using CPEIR, Nepal has been able to show ways of tracking climate public expenditure and coordinate climate change activities delivered through diverse structure and processes used in the delivery of development finance. 

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Is Jhiku Khola Dying?

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Is Jhiku Khola Dying?

While western Nepal was flooded repeatedly following the catastrophic events in Uttarakhanda in India in 2013, rest of the Nepal received a bit late but above average monsoon. Barring some places in eastern Terai, where the monsoon arrived quite late and dumped all its share of rain within a short duration, this year’s monsoon by farmers’ account was satisfactory in central and eastern Nepal. However, Jhiku Khola in Panchkhal which has ceased to flow in winter since past 8 years did not have flowing water even in the middle of the monsoon. This picture taken on August 16, 2013 shows that Jhiku Khola is dying.

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Shrinking Oasis in the Mountain

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Oasis in the Mountain

The picture shows a mountain village in Nawalparasi district of western Nepal. The only source of water for this village consists of two springs: an upper spring and a lower spring. These two wet areas are surrounded by trees, whereas the entire upper area is devoid of any forests. The springs flow not because there are trees around it, but the trees have survived because there is water available in the springs. Recharge area of these springs have been demarcated. What is to be noted is that a road has been constructed on the ridge area that cut through the recharge area of upper spring. The road has diverted runoff during rainfall to a different place from the upper part of the recharge area. This is perhaps why most of the springs in the mountains have declined or died after the construction of networks of roads throughout the hills in the last two decades.

Until next

Madhukar

Contaminated Milky Way

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 A healthy life and proper diet is what people work hard for day and night. But if you get to drink milk that has coliform count up to 2400 in a millilitre, I guess that’s not really happening, eh? Recent news about the presence of coliform in the milk should be taken as a wakeup call to examine if there are other wrongs associated with this knotty field of dairy industry, where thousands of farmers, a number of middle men, and some profit hungry entrepreneurs are involved on a daily basis. Thanks to the government for making this case public and also sealing some of the dairies which were found to be selling contaminated milk.

A systemic flaw in dairy business often results in coliform contamination. Local cooperatives collect milk from farmers. While transporting the collected milk to the chilling centres the cooperative adds water and soda to keep the milk from curdling, because milk rich in solid-not-fat (SNF) curdles fast in summer. Milk producers are paid on the basis of fat content only, whereas the cooperatives get paid separately for the fat, SNF, and lactose contents of the milk as well as ‘total solid commission’, which is calculated as some percent of fat, SNF, and lactose; and the quantity of milk transported. The contractor makes profit because he increases the volume by adding water and transports more milk (detail information available in Bhattedanda Milkway: Making Markets Accessible to Marginalized Farmers in Ropeways in Nepal, 2004). Since a substantial quantity of water is needed, the cooperatives do not hesitate to use water from any source, including unsafe sources. This is where the problem generally begins.

The demand for milk and milk product is rising and so is the number of dairy industries. But, the production of milk in many areas is falling due to either shortage of workforce to look after animals or simply because farmers are abandoning animal husbandry due to lack of water and grazing land. In the last four decades, most of traditional grazing land around villages has been converted into forests for environmental protection. Lately, springs in the mountains have also begun shrinking. Now, the question is: where is the milk coming from?

Even under normal conditions, milk production varies between summer and winter. Milk holidays are observed in summer because there is too much of it, whereas powdered milk is used to meet the demand in the dry season. So, what is consumed as fresh milk is not necessarily fresh. One can even go further and be surprised to note that there are malevolent persons who have invented something like Synthetic milk and have the audacity to sell it as fresh milk.

Synthetic milk looks like natural milk, except in taste and nutritional qualities. However, the cost of producing synthetic milk is less than half of natural milk. Invented in Haryana in India by some milkmen about 15 years ago, synthetic milk spread to other milk deficit parts of India.

Synthetic milk is prepared by blending urea, caustic soda, cooking oil, and detergents. Once prepared it is very difficult for common users to detect urea, caustic soda, starch/ glucose, sugar, or nitrate etc. Detergents emulsify and dissolve the oil in water giving the frothy solution, the characteristic white colour of milk. Cooking oil is used as milk fat. Caustic soda neutralizes acidity, which prevents the milk from souring. Urea/ sugar acts as solid-not-fat (SNF) – a major component of milk. Once mixed with natural milk it is even more difficult to detect it.

Synthetic milk is harmful to humans, but is more harmful to fetus and persons with heart and kidney problems. Urea and caustic soda are very harmful to heart, liver and kidneys. Kidneys have a difficult time trying to remove the urea from the body. Caustic soda deprives the body from utilizing some essential amino acid.

Despite repeated action by the police to unearth the racket in India, the practice continues. The recent one has been reported in May 2013. It is not to suggest that synthetic milk is already in the dairy market in Nepal, but one cannot rule out the possibility of it being used by unknown, unregistered milk vendors or even dairy workers to make extra money. Especially when one has seen animals bones, plastics, old rags being used in brewing low grade alcohol, what is being pumped into our food system is any one’s guess. 

 

Until next

Madhukar

 

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Reaping Or Raping ?

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Reaping Or Raping ?

Sand and gravel mining in the flood plains in Nepal Tarai is a key income source for local governments of many districts here. Mining offers employment to hundreds of people and business to numerous crusher industries and transporters. But the way in which and the scale to which sand and gravel is mined raises serious question: is it environmentally safe at all, or do we have the slightest idea of the environmental consequences, if it would have any in the course of time?
The reason this needs to be asked is because there were times when we took pride in building roads across mountains to bring economic growth and prosperity in the remote mountain villages. Today, more than 50,000 kilometres of road criss-cross the mountains, only to add to the problems of erosion, landslides, and loss of water sources. Many springs have either lost from their places or shifted to new locations. How much has the road network helped to bring production oriented economic growth is anybody’s guess.
Realizing the problems the rural roads have created in the mountains, the government is working on making it mandatory to conduct survey for proper alignment. May be a similar attention is needed, before it is too late, in regulating sand and gravel mining in the plains as well.

Photo: Pushpa Raj Adhikari in Mahottarai District

Spreading Pines: A Story Worth Exploring

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Photo: Pos Raj Adhikari

The assumption that more trees equals more water (which has inspired most forests and water policy) is based on incorrect understanding of the hydrological cycle in forest ecosystems, according to the FAO. FAO’s forestry paper 155 ‘Forests and Water’ published in 2008 stated in its executive summary that the forest ecosystem is in fact a major user of water. Tree canopies reduce groundwater and stream flow, through interception of precipitation; and evaporation and transpiration from foliage. It further stated that as both natural and human-established forests use more water than most replacement land cover (including agriculture and grazing), there is no question that even partial forest removal increases downstream water yields. It was probably the first time that a debate about a contentious subject as the role of forests in regulating or enhancing stream flow, which has continued throughout history, has now been explained with the help of science. 

It has already been five years since the revelation; nevertheless, it went unnoticed in the mainstream environmental field. It must be stressed that forests are very important source of timber and fuel wood. Forests maintain greenery and help maintain forest ecosystems as well as natural habitat for wildlife and thereby support biodiversity. Forests are equally important to capture carbon. But its role in regulating stream flow and conserving water has been extended far beyond. In fact, the debate about forest – water relationship has continued since the Roman era. Romans who championed the skills of solving the problem of water supply to the people of Rome by developing aqueducts circa 312 BC, were already debating about how forest are important in reducing floods and preserving water sources.

The story goes something like this. Romans required huge quantities of timber for mining, and heating, as well as for construction and the production of iron and other metals. As a result, forests were depleted particularly in the Mediterranean basin which had been largely denuded by the beginning of the Common Era. About the same time, the Romans suffered frequent floods and droughts.  Since forests were being cut to meet the timber and wood demand, the fluctuating water level in the streams and rivers were thought to be the result of deforestation in the hills.

The debate continued and efforts to protect forests as well as deforestation went on throughout the history in Europe. Louis VI of France issued an ordinance in 1215 with regard to forest and water. Swiss communities began establishing protected forests in 1342. Many protected forests had been established by the 16th century. With industrial revolution in the 18th century, demand for timber increased and so did deforestation as well as the effort to protect forests.  Increased events of floods in the streams and rivers in France, Austria, and Italy were considered a result of deforestation in the Alps. Series of articles published attracted the attention of the then rulers, who made rules for forest protection.

The story in North America was not different. The new European settlers cut vast tracts of forests to establish farms in order to supply food and timber to Europe. Floods events here were also attributed to deforestation and legal measures were taken to protect forests. After a two decade long debate, the state of New York established national forests in 1891.  But critics began asking for scientific basis behind the logic of protecting forests to reduce floods. Critics asked the reasons for occurrence of floods before the settlers arrived and cut forests. Scientific research in the first half of the 20th century gave enough ground to argue against the belief about the role of forests in controlling floods and regulating dry season flow. However, the environmental conference held in Stockholm in 1972 and subsequent publication of the book Losing Ground brought forth the theory of Himalayan Degradation, which once again bolstered the preconceived belief about deforestation and increased floods. With all the investments in protecting the forests (which has been quite successful), floods and droughts continue to impact our lives. Finally,  with the FAO revelation of 2008, we can be assured of how much to expect from forests in maintaining water flow.

It is a challenge for people living in the present day to reflect on the debate that has gone on for over two millennia and pause to take note of the happenings today. The FAO’s revelation is important and provides us with critical lessons to consider as we wrestle with the importance of protecting our own critical watersheds in Nepal. Pine trees (Khote salla) growing in the abandoned terraces and slopes in the eastern Nepal (seen in the picture above) is perhaps signalling a different message than what has been made to believe. The fact is that Khote salla grows in dry places and not that they make places dry. The spread of pines in Panchthar district perhaps indicates that the hills and mountains in the eastern parts of Nepal have gone dry. We have seen that old springs have disappeared for years. One of the reasons for this is the impacts of repeated earthquakes since 1988 together with the expansion of network of rural roads across the mountains that have diverted the runoff filling the groundwater aquifer. Change in temperature and rainfall, if it has occurred significantly, would not have impacted water sources to the extent as has been seen in the area.

The lesson is that when systems begin to collapse or change from one system to the next, the fallout is often visible even in the most unexpected places for everyone to see and perhaps be sorry for being unmoved by the writing on the wall.  Spreading khote salla is perhaps telling a similar story about changing hydrological regime in the area.

Until next time

Madhukar

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Hopes lost!

Hopes lost!
Photo: Pos Raj Adhikari

The emerging picture of the water resources in the upland areas of our mountains demands a serious examination, because due to shortage of water in the local spring sources many families have moved to new areas. This van alone helped 70 families, including this one on the move, in this season to migrate from Panchthar to a new place in Jhapa where water is available.
We did manage forests and improved greenery in the hills. We did try to implement numerous watershed projects, and we did train people and made them aware of the importance of managing natural resources. But, looks like we failed to understand how natural systems work in the mountains. A big question is that where did we go wrong?

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Skewed access to water is more serious than filthy Bagmati

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Skewed access to water is more serious than filthy Bagmati

Photo: Munny Pradhan (left) Kantipur (right)

With the economic meltdown since 2008 in the west and the chronic crises in the Euro Zone, the hidden costs of the high growth of the 1990s have started coming in. The current economic model has placed unprecedented stress, to the levels of ‘insult’ often, on the resource base as never before in the history. Over-exploitation and mismanagement of resources caused by high economic growth have degraded the environment and depleted natural resources in many places beyond repair.
This is the emerging environmental and economic crises that the developed world has begun to take seriously. But, it would be a big mistake if one thinks that we are yet on the safer side. In fact, we are on the same bandwagon as any others for the real threat we are all facing in the environmental and economic front.
Increased economic capability and high growth in consumption has put unprecedented stress on our natural resources, but the ones with economic strength hardly care about the impact of their insatiable demand for ecosystem services. The evidence that the increased income gap usually leads to skewed access to resources making environmental problem even more difficult to address, is right here in our backyard.
Here are two pictures taken in May, 2013. The picture of an old well under lock and key is from Panchkhal Valley where springs began to dry progressively since 2006. Panchkhal is now facing the biggest water scarcity it ever felt in the past. Shortage of water has made life quite miserable especially for women and school going girls. They wait until 1o clock in the morning to fill their water pots. The other picture is of a swimming pool with two young ladies enjoying hot summer days. This picture was published by Kantipur daily as ‘summer fun’. Even though, the pictures are from two different areas, the problems of skewed access to this basic resource can’t be more revealing than this.
Ceremonial official programs organized to clean Bagmati River or cleaning major thoroughfares of Kathmandu will never address environmental problems, which is getting serious year after year as depicted by drying springs.

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Awe-inspiring sight of deepening water scarcity

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Awe-inspiring sight of deepening water scarcity

Photo: Ravi Chitrakar (left) Deepa Shrestha (right)

Nepal’s image of being the second richest country in water resources after Brazil has been refuted countless times by critics and yet the slogan continues to lure water developers. It ranks number 1 in the election manifesto of all political parties. But the emerging reality on the ground is startling.
I literally got goosebumps when I saw one of the two holes in a local well (pictured above on the right) sealed off and the other one put under lock and key. The well, which is more than 30 years old, is located at the bottom of the hills in Panchkhal Valley. In July 2012, women (seen in the picture on the left) complained about the dwindling water yield even in the middle of the monsoon. Seeing no other options, in May 2013, the villagers had closed one of the holes and locked the other one to save the limited water for essential use only. If this is the state of water at the bottom of the mountains, the ridge area must be bone-dry.
Time for some serious retrospection regarding water resources.

Traffic: A Societal Mirror

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Try walking on the roads of Kathmandu any time during the day and you’re lucky if you don’t get run over by a speeding motor cycle or an overloaded taxi. Or get startled by the shattering horn of micro-buses. You’ll want to pause for a second and turn away to avoid inhaling the swirling dust surging towards you. One sighs with relief getting away from the crowded streets to quieter ones, of which not many are left. All this misery is a result of poorly managed traffic of over 500, 000 vehicles run by operators (can’t call them drivers, barring few) in narrow streets within less than 100 square kilometer of the city. Operators, because a driver by definition is someone who steers and guides, who assesses situation and strategizes the following move to avoid risks so that the mission is accomplished fully at minimal costs. It is not so here. In the event of accidents the common reason given is usually a failure of bakes. A driver can’t be expected to be driving a vehicle that has unreliable brakes.  Operators don’t necessarily steer.

Then there is this new batch of operators – the private car owners who are generally educated, and many of them earn in five figures. These neo-elites think they are above all others who walk on the road. Pedestrians, who can only worry about making two ends meet and try to avoid to be on the road if they can are harassed by this new batch of operators as well. One needs to be thankful if they don’t splash mud while driving over potholes (prefer calling them pot-pits). 

Until last year, the roads in the valley were quite narrow, and the pedestrians were literally pushed to the side drain or even to the wall by drivers who, for reasons unknown to humans, seemed to always be in a hurry. The filth of the side drain, the dust in the air, the high pitch horns, erupting black smoke from the exhaust pipes made pedestrians’ life quiet miserable. It was and still is a nightmare to be a pedestrian, especially in newly developed residential areas of inner Kathmandu. Now with the widening of roads, pedestrians’ comfort has of course increased, but so has the risk. Speeding vehicles think that the roads have been widened for them and pedestrians have no business to be anywhere near them!

Kathmandu is probably one of the few cities one can think of where there is no set standards for what type of vehicles would be allowed to operate. Vehicles of all possible models and makes and sizes are seen trying to pass each other. Garbage trucks are busy collecting garbage at rush hours. The road etiquette is unheard of. One can pass a vehicle from right and left, and stop it or even park at any place one wishes. One can open the door from both sides of the car. Don’t get confused if operators (drivers) indicate going one way and turn to the opposite direction, because the meaning of the indicators differ between city and highway. Dividers aren’t enough to designate opposite lanes. Nylon ropes must be hung in between to keep the vehicle operators from crisscrossing the lanes from right to left and left to right like a spring swallow flying to catch insects.

Don’t call me being unfair to vehicle operators in Kathmandu. My reason to raise it is to compare how well the traffic in Kathmandu reflects our societal make up and its character. First the diversity – the types, makes, and size of vehicles are as diverse as our own societal make up. They have communities of taxis, microbuses, minibuses, and even rikshaws. We have our own. Motorcycles represent unorganised mass who when threatened try to escape the trouble spot as quickly as possible, even if that involves driving on the foot path or through three feet wide lanes. Second, the lack of a common goal – we all, as a society, are headed to (ideologically speaking) different directions as the diverse destinations of vehicles.

Third the haste –all vehicles seem to be in a hurry to be in front of the other. They have no patience to wait for their turn and don’t hesitate to break rules if that pays. This character is seen to the same extent in politics, in bureaucracy, in business, and in entertainment circles. Collectively, we all get stuck like the traffic jam caused by pushing operators. Similarity is also seen in the way the size works. Thulo Manchee in the society or large political parties for that matter is always dominating as the big vehicles on the road.

Desirable change in both the society and on the road is difficult to come by within foreseeable future.

Until next time

Madhukar 

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