Political environment

Nepal’s environmental crises are a direct result of democratic decay

The health of Nepalis is being seriously affected by air pollution, contaminated water, plastic garbage and the impact of the climate crisis on weather, water supply and agriculture. 

These are a result of neglect by the state, which means we have it in our power to remedy them. All it needs is political will. 

The new budget presented to Parliament on Monday, however, was one step forward two steps back. It decreased the tax on electric SUVs, and increased it for battery-powered public utility vans and smaller e-cars -- which goes against the government's stated decarbonisation targets.

The budget reiterated the commitment to promote paper and cloth bags and replace plastic. That is timely because #BeatPlasticPollution is also the theme of World Environment Day on 5 June.

Read also: Things are up in the air, Sonia Awale

This is not the first time a government has banned plastic bags. In 2011, it announced a complete ban on the production, import, sale, distribution, and use of plastic bags thinner than 20 microns. But political lobbying by plastic pellet importers was too strong to enforce it.

So, the government later made a symbolic gesture of prohibiting plastic bags within Singha Darbar. That could not even be implemented within the central government secretariat in Kathmandu. 

Since plastics are so convenient to use, an immediate and outright ban will not work. But there is nothing stopping us from recycling, reducing and removing them. 

Kathmandu Mayor Balendra Shah's electoral platform included solving the capital’s garbage problem by making citizens segregate trash at source. More than a year later, there has been no move to sort trash.

Read also: Refuse, recycle, reuse, repurpose plastic, Aria Shree Parasai 

Seventy percent of Kathmandu’s waste is biodegradable, and can be turned into compost. The rest is mostly plastic, paper, metal and glass which are already collected by informal waste workers for recycling.

Also on World Environment Day, let us commit to protecting the Chure Hills where indiscriminate mining and quarrying by corrupt contractors will inundate the Tarai and the plains of Bihar.

Extracting sand from the beds of seasonal Chure rivers have worsened floods downstream, lowered the water table, affecting farms and livelihoods in the Tarai and in Bihar. 

Read more: Importance of ecosystems for people and the planet

How ironic that the Finance Minister’s budget allocated Rs1.05 billion for the President Chure Conservation Project when the coalition government is planning to allow contractors to mine boulders and sand.

Nepal is now all set to have year-round electricty surplus with an estimated 4,500MW of peak power generation by 2024. But we are not allowed to export more than 420MW to India, which is just as well because Nepal should actually be using renewable energy to reduce fossil fuel imports for transport, industry and household cooking. 

But Nepal is going in the opposite direction to increase fossil fuel imports by signing off on the construction of two additional Indian petroleum pipeline projects during Prime Minister Dahal's visit to India this week. 

Reducing diesel, petrol and LPG import is a win-win-win because it would not just cut the trade deficit, but improve public health, and use surplus power that would go waste. 

Successive governments have tried to enforce green stickers for vehicles that pass emission tests. But these stickers can be bought off the counter. How come the anti-drink and drive campaign with breathalyzer tests has succeeded and reduced road accidents by 80%, while testing the exhaust pipes of vehicles has failed so miserably?

And let's not blame everything on climate change. Increasing global average temperature is not responsible for the garbage problem. Chure exploitation is pure greed, and corruption in high places. Increasing the tax on public electric transport is stupidity.

We know about Nepal’s environment crises, we know the solutions, we need the will to implement them. Accountable government, a clear strategy on interventions and a functioning democracy gives us the power to deliver solutions.

Sonia Awale

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