Nepal’s Neighbourhood Dilemma
September 12, 2021
21 November, 2021
The world was not prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic that struck the world in late 2019. Up until then, the focus of the global community was on furthering economic needs, profit maximization and higher growth rates. The pandemic brought the world to a grinding halt, confining people within the borders of the countries and forcing global leaders to look beyond higher GDP and growth. COVID-19 ravaged countries all across the world – big and small, developed and underdeveloped. It affected all the sectors of the economy – agriculture, industries, handicrafts and small scale industries, education, healthcare, and even the environment. Governments were forced to look for alternatives to mindless growth and adopt sustainable measures that focused on the welfare of the people.
Global warming-induced abnormal weather patterns and climatic conditions have been on the rise since the last decade. Bolstered by the rising global temperature, floods, droughts, wildfires, earthquakes and landslides have been occurring at unprecedented rates. This has, in turn, affected the lives and livelihood of millions of people, especially those living in poor, developing and least developed countries. Unfortunately, the unsustainable economic practices have continued unrestricted. Mining, clearing land for industries, urbanization and burning fossil fuels to produce energy are some of the persisting economic activities that contribute to economic growth, but at a cost.
The Case for Green Recovery in Nepal
Green recovery has taken precedence in the development models of countries in the post-pandemic era. The concept of green recovery is a series of economic measures that are aligned with long-term climate change and sustainability objectives. A green recovery would entail a holistic, inclusive, environment-friendly approach encompassing key sectors. It should integrate development with nature, climate change and the social welfare of the people. It comes with the understanding that economic growth should not take precedence over social development. Sustainable development that focuses on protecting the environment, and improving the healthy living standards of the people, while producing economic returns has to gain importance in the coming years. In the post-pandemic world, economic growth, albeit slow, can be achieved with more focus on economic and social development. The central theme of green recovery is to take the economies out of the shock of the pandemic in a sustainable manner. There is a need to take to address the staggering economy along with solving social inequalities, environmental concerns and development for all. The green recovery plan encourages nature-based solutions that will not only help immediate recovery but also strengthen key sectors such as organic agriculture, nature-based tourism, niche mountain products, green entrepreneurship, renewable energy, and ecosystem-based adaptation. This will help build resilience to climate change-related risks and disasters (Chaudhary, 2021).
Nepal’s economy was also affected by COVID-19. In Nepal, the pandemic comes in the backdrop of the 2015 earthquake that led to the loss of lives of thousands and caused devastations worth billions of dollars. The earthquake came as a major shock to the hill state, but the country’s history is replete with climate-induced disasters. Nepal is ranked among the top five countries for climate-change-related hazards and is the 20th most multi-hazard prone country. For a country that depends on tourism, remittances and agriculture, the imposition of lockdowns by the Nepalese government in the aftermath of the viral outbreak hit the drivers of the economy. As per the 2020 world bank report South Asia Economic Focus – Beaten or Broken, “Nepal’s economy is projected to grow by only 0.6 percent in 2021, inching up from an estimated 0.2 percent in 2020 as lockdowns caused by COVID-19 disrupt economic activity, especially tourism” (The World Bank Group, 2021). Nepal responded to the COVID-19 crisis through fiscal and monetary measures, focusing on immediate health and safety measures, food distribution, and economic support to severely affected firms. However, these measures are temporary fixes and do not aid long-term recovery. Moreover, they do not address underlying climate and environment-related issues and associated disasters and vulnerabilities. Failure to give these factors adequate attention could lead to increased social inequalities between the different sections of society and environmental degradation (Chaudhary, 2021). As of FY 2017/18, the incidence of poverty in Nepal has been reduced to 18.7% and the unemployment rate rose to 4.4% as per data from the world bank (The World Bank Group, 2021). However, the numbers are bound to change once the full effects of the pandemic have been calculated. The pandemic worsened the poor condition of Nepalese women. A study conducted by the government of Nepal assessing the gendered impacts of the pandemic found a 337 percent rise in the number of women not involved in any paid work. The study also found that women’s unpaid care workload increased during the COVID-19 lockdowns due to school closures and restrictions on mobility outside the home (Rayamajhi & Fehr, 2021). A large proportion of Nepal’s workforce works in India and has to cross the Indo-Nepal border on a daily basis. When the government of India imposed the nationwide lockdown in 2020, a large number of migrants were forced to return to their hometowns. In the resultant migrant crisis, many, including many Nepalese citizens lost their livelihoods. It exacerbated the existing inequalities in Nepal by pushing many people into poverty, creating unequal access to basic public health services and increasing social inequalities.
The prohibitionary orders and lockdown imposed by the Nepal government also exerted pressure on the environment and wildlife. Human intrusion into protected areas increased significantly, and there has also been a rise in poaching within the protected areas. Furthered by the economic crisis, illegal mining and logging have also been on the rise in Nepal, which has weakened the fragile ecosystem of the country (Chaudhary, 2021). Our emphasis on such recovery should be on economic inclusion, environmental sustainability and social equality to make sure that the process of redevelopment does not happen at the cost of the vulnerable populations.
Nepal should take small, but consistent steps towards sustainable development to bring about a resilient economy. Implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs) as laid out in UNDP’s Agenda 2030 is an important step in this direction. The pandemic has created an opportunity for Nepal to take corrective measures to include the environment, the people and the natural resources in its developmental plans. The Nepalese government’s priority should be to look for long-term eco-friendly and sustainable solutions to the needs of the people. Nepal has made great strides in implementing the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, with the country’s aspiration of “Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali” guiding the formulation of policies and its implementation. According to the Sustainable Development Report Dashboard, Nepal ranks 96 out of 165 countries, much higher than its large neighbour India, which stands at 120 (Sustainable Development Report 2021, 2021). The statistics show that while Nepal has made improvements in SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 8 (Decent work and Economic Growth) and SDG 13 (Climate Action), it lags in poverty alleviation (SDG 1), Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7), Sustainable cities (SDG 11) and Life on Earth (SDG 15) should invest in climate-resilient technology, agro-tourism, forest-based enterprises, renewable energy like solar power, organic agriculture and waste management. Investments in these areas would create jobs in rural areas, encourage green growth and help in poverty reduction. Employment also encourages women to be a part of the development process by allowing them to be economically independent and live a life of dignity.
Nepal is an upper riparian state that has built large hydropower dams to meet the energy needs of the state as well as its neighbours. However, many environmentalists have flagged the dangers associated with these large projects. Besides frequent earthquakes, landslides and floods, the construction of these large projects requires large tracts of land which can be obtained only by clearing forests and displacing people. The 2021 Chamoli disaster in India has also reiterated the dangers associated with large hydropower projects that store very large quantities of water. Indigenous people are among the most vulnerable sections of society, and they have a deep and intrinsic relationship with natural resources. Displacing them from their land in the name of development amounts to depriving them of their right to life and livelihood. Focusing on run-of-the-river projects rather than dams to generate electricity can help to retain the flow of the river, without obstructing its course. Many environmentalists and civilians have objected to the construction of the Pancheshwar dam across river Mahakali since its construction would amount to the displacement of people from their villages.
A large part of Nepal’s GDP is dependent on its tourism sector. It is also one of the first areas that are affected in the aftermath of any disaster. As one of the largest creators of jobs in the economy, making tourism climate-resistant helps to keep the economy afloat during a time of crisis. Eco-tourism and agro-ecotourism help to tackle the twin problem of unemployment and environmental destruction. By partnering with the people who know the terrain, the resources of the land can be efficiently utilized. By making people important stakeholders of the development process, the state can delegate the responsibility of the protection of the ecosystem to those that know it the best. It is these people who are the first to be affected due to the indiscriminate use of land, and it, therefore, becomes imperative to include them in any developmental activity.
Nepal should focus on fulfilling its Nationally Determined Contributions. Nepal aims to maintain 45% of its land as forest cover by 2030 (Government of Nepal, 2020). This can provide job opportunities to those dependent on the forest produce. It can make them economically independent, and help them overcome their economic difficulties. Furthermore, forests act as carbon sinks by capturing carbon that is released into the atmosphere. They also help to prevent soil erosion in a country that is susceptible to the ravages of earthquakes, landslides and soil erosion. Environmental protection is of utmost importance in a state like Nepal that is primarily composed of hilly terrain. Investing in the environment can yield valuable returns in the future.
Encouraging public-private partnership in sustainable development helps to ease the pressure off of government for funds to implement the development goals. In September 2021, the Government of Nepal and Development Partners endorsed the landmark ‘Kathmandu Declaration’ to develop a strategic action plan for Nepal towards Green, Resilient, and Inclusive Development (GRID). The GRID Strategic Action Plan aims to coordinate international and domestic financing for priority investments in Nepal’s recovery from the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the Kathmandu Declaration, Nepal’s development partners have identified up to $
A country with a fragile ecosystem like Nepal cannot afford to lose sight of the benefits of investing in green recovery projects. Reverting back to the mindless development of pre-COVID times will set the path to dangerous environmental crises and poor socio-economic conditions of the people. Recovery should be inclusive, efficient and sustainable. While it may not be easy to predict future natural disasters, it is easy to take precautions to avert the tragedy as much as possible. The future is not about large industries and greater GDP numbers. It is imperative to make conscious decisions that work for the benefit of humanity.
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