Take a look at @TIME’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/TIME/status/804017164617416704?s=09
I am re-blogging Andrea’s blog because I found it a ‘must read’ piece for parents.
Photo taken at Khadichaur on June 8, 2015
The risk with trying to step into an unknown territory is that you have to be ready to confront many questions from just about everybody, and if you don’t have answers to all the questions you don’t get the support you need, which can be quite frustrating, especially if you are convinced that the idea you want to implement would work and all you were looking for was that ’yes’ from the people. But sometimes you come up with such an answer that not only convinces people right away, but the answer lingers in your memory for a long time, and you see its reflection in many other occasions.
A similar answer lingers in my mind even after two decades, and with a strong reflection in the aftermath of the big earthquake. It was during an informal meeting more than two decades ago, when we were trying to explain to a group of planners, journalists, friends and well wishers the beauty of ropeways and how they could bring about a change in the living conditions of the people in the mountains that we all have aspired to see for long.
The case we were discussing was from Lalitpur, where the plan was to establish a short-haul material ropeway to help farmers export milk to the market who, due to lack of quick transport, were instead forced to make Khuwa, which not only was environmentally damaging but economically less profitable than selling fresh milk. The proposed ropeway would connect the mountains making transport of milk quick and easy. But the explanation was not attractive enough to convince people. Most of the responses were sort of ‘ok…., you connect the mountains…, then what?’ So, we needed something more graphic to tell people how the economy and the living conditions of the people change across every valley from the nearest road head, and how the ropeways fit in the dairy industry that makes up a large part of the livelihood across each valley.
The story that I explained went something like this.
When you go to South Lalitpur, you see mountains after mountains after mountains separated by valleys with small Kholas (see the diagram) flowing through them, which swell very high during the monsoon making mobility even more difficult. (By the way, that is the case throughout the mountain region in the country). The villages in the first mountains can be reached within 3 hours from the road head. Since they are close to the road, they sell milk to the dairy corporation. They live in two storied zinc-sheet roofed houses with separate cowsheds. Their children go to high school and colleges, sometimes even in Patan city.
The villages in the second mountains are about 8 hours away from the road, because you have to cross the valley to go to these villages. Hence, dairy farmers there can’t sell milk. Instead, they sell khuwa and earn about 70% of what their peers in the first mountains would earn. They live in thatch- roofed houses. Their children go to secondary schools.
The faraway villages in the third mountains are more than a day’s walk from the road, because you have to cross two valleys to reach there. Just because of the distance to the market they end up selling Ghiu instead of Khuwa, and with the same input in raising animals, earn only 40% of what their fellow farmers in the first mountains would earn. They live in one storey thatch-roofed houses, and keep small animals in the same house. Their children don’t normally complete schooling beyond primary level.
I hadn‘t even finished explaining my last point about the conditions in the third mountain, a senior journalist jumped to ask ‘what is there beyond the third mountain?
Without taking a second to answer his question, I said ‘the Maoists’. Everyone in the room burst into laughter. The Maoist insurgency at that time had just begun and one would hear about stories of their activities in the border areas of the districts where the presence of the state is generally insignificant. But that answer that I gave, which changed the mood in the room at that time, lingers in my mind even today because the villagers beyond the third mountain don’t have anything to sell – no milk, no Khuwa, no Ghiu. And perhaps that is the reality even today. In the case of Lalitpur, the area beyond the third mountain borders with Makawanpur and South Kavre. They are the ones mostly, unreached, unattended to, and faraway from all service centers, which makes them quite vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation from implanting ideologies to conversions.
The answer also stunned people in the room, as it opened eyes and helped them get some understanding of why our [development] efforts normally do not reach the ones most in need, the ones who have been left politically and economically very weak.
The mountains haven’t changed nor have the valleys or the economic gradient across the landscape (the diagram presented still holds true). Amidst this, let’s place-over this physical reality over what might have happened now with the earthquake of April 25th and try to reconstruct the picture for whatever services the state has to offer in the days ahead.
When the earthquake shook the mountains, it jolted all at once from first to the third mountains and beyond. Perhaps the damages are even more serious in the third mountains and beyond, but, our efforts of rescue, relief and reconstructions begin from the first mountains because that is where we reach first and also because damages there are not any less. And perhaps with more pressure the help reaches the second mountains. In the third mountains, where the capacity of people to recover and re-establish is very weak, may be the help has not reached yet or if it has, it has reached very late and very little.
Unless, we have plans to bring the third mountains right at the center of our attention, for planning, budgeting and programming, and especially at a time like this, we will not be able to begin to correct the sharp economic gradient that exists in our society.
With support from Irene Upadhya
The purpose of education is to broaden the minds and expand the horizon of one’s imagination, but modern education seems to have done the opposite by making one more of a reductionist. It has taught us to simplify a complex issue in order to understand it better but in the process we have forgotten that we tend to simplify beyond a point and often distort the issue. The approach has helped in biology and other streams of science but not in the field of environment. By focusing on one or two aspects we gradually detach ourselves from the larger picture of the issue. We’ve become simple consumers of the information without any idea of its value in nature. The whole society grows to become a consumer of environmental information without any meaning in real sense.
Let’s take an example. Talk to any educated water manager in Kathmandu valley, you will hear three things: Nepal is second richest in the world in water resources; Nepal has a capacity of producing 83000 megawatts of hydroelectricity, and the demand for water in the Kathmandu valley is 32 million liters a day, but the supply is around 11 million liters. The fact is that none of this information is meaningful, because these are produced by reductionists using information generated by best estimates. Hence, we don’t know if Nepal is rich or not in water resources, not to mention occupying a second position. What we know is that there is so much water in the monsoon period that we don’t know how to manage it, and an acute shortage of it in winter and summer that makes life difficult both in cities and villages. Agriculture, which is a key economic sector in Nepal is largely monsoon dependent and any fluctuation in the monsoon adversely affects Nepal’s growth rate. In so far as producing hydroelectricity is concerned, Nepal has been able to install capacity of nearly 700 megawatt in last 100 years. The scenario of supply and demand of water in Kathmandu Valley is even more confusing. If the official figures were to be true, two third of the population of the valley would be marching on the streets demanding water, which has not happened, though long queues are seen around water taps. Water somehow reaches households, and thanks to the successful water market which has tapped all possible sources within the valley to meet the demand. So, the figures don’t mean much, and yet just about everyone takes it as water knowledge.
Gaining knowledge about water begins quite early. As a child we all have enjoyed splashing water with tiny little hands when we were learning to crawl. It is perhaps the first encounter with nature that we experienced while learning about things around us, and what else could be more fascinating to start learning than this unique and precious gift of nature, which is safe, soft, cool, and freely available. The learning about water begins at that age and continues as one grows (and perhaps never ends), and yet we seem to know so little about it, let alone our relationship with it. Water is not just a commodity, it is our very existence. But, our learning has been quite shallow and so has our ability to understand our relationship with water. As a result, water for our new generation remains to be a product that one can buy in a bottle or a jar and comes through taps in the washrooms. Deteriorating relations with water has made managing water further more difficult.
Let me try to explain what I mean by relationship. All parents; rich or poor, urban dweller or from rural area, educated or illiterate; sacrifice everything in their command to give their child the best. Despite the fact that they know when the child start earning they will be too old to enjoy the material comfort which money can buy or they may be even not be there anymore. They are also aware that the child may leave them to settle elsewhere, and yet the sacrifice for the child never ends. We call it love for the child, but it is the relationship between a child and its parents which is essential to sustain evolution, so that the new generation grows to be smarter and capable than its predecessor. This is the essence of nature. It has to maintain its services (may not be the right word, but burrowing it from ecosystem services) through its components such as water, land and so on to support life on earth for hundreds and thousands of generations to come. Hence our concerns should be beyond these numbers and try to see the relationship with nature.
We should be aware of and concerned with all other areas through which mother nature makes water available to support lives of millions and millions of other organisms including grass, trees and all vegetation. FAO says that a tablespoon of soil has more micro-organisms than the whole population on earth. http://bit.ly/1sS7pBQ . They all need water too. But we have never bothered to ask who provides them water. What happens to nature if water is not available to this organism? To understand the vastness of water and how it relates to larger picture of life and nature, the religious texts are quite helpful, but it could be termed as a wrong start because in this age of science and technology why would one depend on what the religious text says about water. But, let me take help of an article that appeared in The Hindu in the aftermath of Uttarakhanda disaster in 2013.
The Uttarakhanda disaster in 2013 caused an unprecedented loss of lives and properties. Following this, Chitra Padmanavan, a Delhi Based Journalists who contributes to The Hindu published an extremely powerful article ‘When the Ganga descends’ (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/when-the-ganga-descends/article), in which she drew a fascinating picture of how these religious texts and mythology can help us relearn to look beyond and explore the aspects which have been integral part of people’s life in mountains and who lived in full awareness of the towering presence of nature. The story Chitra connects with the disaster is that of the origin of the river Ganga which was brought from the heaven to the earth by the persistent effort of Bhagirath. Her narration of the story is as follows.
The seventh descendent of King Sagara, Bhagiratha, was deeply disturbed by the fate of 60,000 sons of Sagara, who were reduced to ash by the wrath of sage Kapila for having disrupted his meditation. He undergoes severe penances (tapasya) in the Himalayas to please Brahma, and when he was pleased Bhagirath asks Brahma for his blessings to bring Ganga to earth. Upon receiving the blessing Bhagirath asks Ganga to flow to earth, but she threatened to destroy all life on earth by the pressure of her flow. Only Shiva’s powerful hair could control the force of Ganga. Bhagiratha requested Shiva to help him by spreading his hair. As soon as Ganga flowed down, Shiva collected her water in his hair in the form of many small streams. Ganga then followed Bhagiratha across mountains, forests and plains to the end of the world (the land) where his ancestors’ impure remains lie. Having provided mokshya to the ancestors Ganga vanished into the ocean (the Sagara).
According to Chitra the myth of Ganga’s descent resonates at different levels in the lives of the people in the mountains. The story of Shiva’s hair dissipating Ganga’s force seems exactly how streams and rivers behave while flowing from rapid current over ground to changing course, or getting blocked to acquire subterranean existence (the groundwater). A very interesting point was made by one of the commentators to the article, who said ‘‘If Shiva can be equated to the mountains and wiping of 60,000 sons-as subjects of Sagars- lost to forest fire then it adds even more credibility to what could have happened. 60,000 sons could also be different species, plants fauna, who knows. But the ability to visualize what could have happened and its logical flow cannot be questioned but how to and what to equate is what is required’.
These religious texts were in fact the means of educating people. Imagine, at a time when these texts did not exist, how would one have thought of educating people about what and with what material. These texts (taken as religious today) were perhaps developed precisely for that purpose to explain about the nature around us and to make us aware about our role to protect them for the future generation, which could only be done by bringing people close to the nature. But, we tend to interpret these text from within a narrow frame of rituals. A good example can be that of the famous story of Swasthani, a religious text worshiped and read in the month of Magh (Dec/Jan) every winter. It is suitable because as soon as month of reading Swasthani begins, every newspaper carries one or two articles about how bad is the story of Swasthani with regard to how it treats women. They argue that the Swasthani is completely biased against women, because there is a heart breaking story about the plight of a woman named Goma who was married to a 70 year old man when she was only 7. The husband dies leaving Goma helpless and with responsibility of raising a son.
But, we never asked ourselves why this story is read out loud every winter. What does the story tell us? First few chapters of Swasthani talk about formation of universe and some chapters deal with the evolution of organisms and animals, which is amazingly parallel to Darwin’s theory of evolution in which smaller organisms appear first followed by larger ones. Then there is a story about war between gods (savior of nature) and demons (destroyer of nature). One could see it as the story of the egalitarians such as the Green Peace and industries producing hazardous wastes of modern day society. There is a chapter that talks about a chariot that has the sun and the moon as two wheels and travels with an annual speed of ayan (a period of six months). This is exactly the time the sun takes to travel from tropic of cancer to the tropic of Capricorn. Meanwhile the season changes and so does the abundance of food and energy in nature in an ayan. The wheels are kept in place by two latches: the east (where the sun and the moon rise) and the west (where the sun and the moon set). These are some of the fascinating accounts of bigger picture of nature. But we never bothered to see what are these religious texts trying to tell. The purpose of these stories is to bring people close to nature (bathing in the river, visiting a lake, make offerings to the poor and so on) and not creating a barrier between them like the bottled water.
As far as the story of Goma is concerned, it is only there to give the story a human face and make it interesting so that people take interest in listening to the story in a similar manner as one would identify with the good guys while watching a commercial cinema.
In the last few months and more intensely in the last few weeks or so, a very different debate has started within the conservation groups. The issue is so appealing that even the senior government officials could not keep but share their views through social media. The issue is about conservation of Chure: the southernmost frontier in the Himalayan range, referred to in literature as the Shiwaliks.
The culprit is the mining of sand, gravel and stone (SGS) in the Chure Piedmont, which began drawing attention of many when the story was covered, some weeks ago, by a leading newspaper showing picture of tens of heavy machines including bulldozers, excavators and crushers mining and loading SGS in hundreds of trucks in the plains of Chure. The material is exported to construction sites cross the border to India. The mining is so rampant that many places in Chure area already looks devastated.
Chure has always been in the publicity in conservation because of its vulnerability to erosion due to its fragile formation and increased human interfaces. Anyone driving along the East-West Highway could see the eroded hill slopes and ever expanding flood plains in Chure, which made Chure case visible. It came into focused limelight when President RB Yadav, who hails from one of the districts south of Chure, took keen interest in its protection and ordered the government to initiate a conservation programme, which was later named as President Chure Conservation Programme. (PCCP).
After almost 4 years of its implementation, the PCCP was found to be a failure. Millions of rupees spent on conservation activities did not produce desired results. In the aftermath of this failure and with increased SGS mining, the government declared it as conservation area and formed a high level committee to oversee the conservation programme there.
This move has opened up a strong debate about the pros and cons of the government’s move in declaring it as conservation area and the actual need to protect Chure. In fact, as in any other environmental case, a real politics of environment is in display. There are basically three logics presented. Logic 1: Chure is the recharge area of Tarai groundwater and hence its degradation means depleting groundwater and desertification of Tarai. Logic 2: Chure biodiversity is important heritage. Logic 3: Chure is inhabited by poor people and they must participate in its protection.
Though these logics seem quite relevant to Chure protection, a bit deeper analysis would reveal how surficial has been the politics of environment. As far as water is concerned, it is the hundreds of feet of boulder deposit of Bhabar that acts as recharge zone for entire Indo Gangetic plain. What happens in Chure will have little impact on ground water resources in Tarai. Removing debris from Bhabar would obviously not seal the Bhabar Surface. In the biodiversity front, they do get damaged wherever there is human interference. The question is which endemic and vanishing species is being affected or is likely to be affected by the interference. With respect to the local inhabitants, a lot has been said and written about how they depend on not-very-productive-resources of Chure for survival.
It is the economics of things that hold the reign. It is clear that SGS mining has become important for local governments. The local government act provides full mandate to the local governments to trade SGS. Many studies have reported how beneficial SGS mining could be, if done properly. Some say it could be a sustainable source of revenue for local governments, and at the same time excellent way of adapting to climate change threats by making room for annual debris deposit, which is likely to increase with increase in extreme events (http://publication.hils.org.np/hilspub/index.php/IJLE/article/). And there are others who believe that SGS mining can finance Nepal’s poverty alleviation programme, if utilized properly. Speaking of the revenue generation, it is fascinating to see how lucrative SGS trade is. It earns a revenue of about 1072 million a year, while the estimated environmental cost is only about 206 million rupees. The revenue could further increase if resource pricing is enforced (http://ekrajsigdel.blogspot.com/), which is free at the moment.
The issue reminds one of Godawari Marble Factory in the late 80s, which drew severe criticism from environmentalists saying that the marble factory was damaging the mountains and its environment. But no one has complained about a similar damage being inflicted twenty years later to Shiwapuri Mountains by land developers. It may very well be because it is the private land in Shiwapuri.
These differences are often hidden from view in the debate, but they need to be considered carefully if one is to properly interpret the evidence. It is a question of who gets the benefit and how it is shared among different actors: all in the name of environment. The number of interested parties in the revenue from the SGS mining far outweighs those who actually get hurt by downgrading of Chure resources.
I am writing this to reflect upon my experiences of the most public seminars and events organized in Kathmandu, which I, sitting in the audience as a participant, often find quite torturous, not because the programmes themselves are lousy but the manner in which they are organized are. I have always felt that with little effort and with no extra cost things can be improved a lot to enhance the comfort of those sitting in the audience. So my narrative is about the discomfort that I have always endured while sitting in the audience. Let me share some of them with you.
First the banner. The banner which is hung to indicate the title of the programme and other key information about the programme is the first thing that welcomes you in the hall. But they are hardly readable from a distance because of their size. They are too small compared to the size of the room. And they are usually done with very bright and dazzling colors that do not match with the color of the wall around. Any sensible designer would go and see the color of the wall and the size of the room size before designing the banner to make it go with the wall and the room.
- Banner’s letters. The letters in the banners, especially the subtitles and other details, are too small to read even from the first row. It feels even worse if they are in italics. What is the purpose of having all the details on the banner if they are not readable? It would be unfair to imagine that people would figure them out anyway. The organizer should realize that there is always someone in the audience who has come for the first time and has little knowledge about the issues being discussed. The banner provides a lead to such audience and hence should be readable.
- The multimedia. The common problem with the multimedia is that it does not work at once. When one turns the lap top to show the first slide of the presentation, the screen says: no signals. It is a panicking moment for the speaker. Not knowing what to do, begins to push all available bottoms in the machine; and, all of a sudden the projector begins to work. The probability of fixing the problem is 50:50 anyway, but that short moment is embarrassing.
- The bouquet of flowers set in front of the speakers are to decorate the dash, but their heights are just high enough to obstruct the face of the speakers.
- While showing a documentary, the sound does not come, and when it comes it is hardly audible at the back. Just pretend that everything is fine, because it is customary to accept these tortures.
- Microphones are usually placed all over the place for the audience to interact with the speaker, but when one picks them to say something, it either does not work because the battery is dead, or you get a nasty feedback (that annoying screeching sound you get) to your embarrassment. If you are brave enough you just throw the microphone and begin to ask what you intend to ask in the loudest possible way. Then you face another embarrassing moment: someone rushes to you with another microphone when you are halfway through your question: take the microphone and repeat the question all over again.
It is not a question of how much extra would it cost to fix these problems, all it requires is that people should start to learn to honor the audience.
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.
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.
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.