Need to Balance Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability in Nepal

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by Hari Prasad Shrestha 10 March 2020

United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), byname Earth Summit, conference held at Rio de JaneiroBrazil (June 3–14, 1992) and by means of treaties and other documents signed at the conference, most of the world’s nations nominally committed themselves to the pursuit of economic development in ways that would protect the Earth’s environment and nonrenewable resources.

Environmental issues include deforestation, mineral extraction, pollution, overpopulation, energy, and species conservation. The growth that diminishes the ecosystem is sometimes termed “uneconomic growth” as it leads to a decay in the quality of life.  Unsustainable economic growth can be compared with the malignant growth of cancer. Development certainly affects the environment but damage to the environment must be at a minimal level. Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries to the environment, climate change, water-induced disasters and hydrometeorological risky events such as droughts, storms, floods, inundation, landslides, debris flow, soil erosion, and avalanches.

The encroachment on natural resources in Nepal started during the party less Panchayat vs. multi-party political referendum in 1980, at the time trees in uncountable numbers were axed and peddled as means of victory to Panchayat political system.

And, after 2000 government allowed export of sand, aggregate, and boulders to India for a decade as well as haphazard extractions for internal infrastructure, which destroyed entire foothills of the Chure hill region by haphazard extraction in riverbeds.

As a result, desertification and water scarcity are perceptible in our plain Terai region and agriculture production and productivity significantly decreased.  

Deforestation and land degradation in Nepal seems to affect a far greater proportion of the population and have the worst consequences for economic growth and peoples’ livelihoods. Our eco-system damaged by man-made aberrant actions beyond bearing capacity of nature and cannot continue indefinitely. 

Nepal is the country of the lowest development activities in the world. It needs rapid development by balancing environments. This is the age of sustainable development, there is a widespread view that economic development and environmental sustainability are incompatible. Some sections of Nepalese society, whether it is self-generated or external motivated, give high importance to environmental protection compared to economic development. Many game-changer projects of national priorities have been halted since many decades in the name of environment protection. The latest example is the proposed multi-billion-dollar project of Nijgadh International Airpot- a strong tug of war could be clearly visible between the government, who wants to implement and the group of environmentalists, who oppose it.

There are so many such other examples which have stalled the development endeavors of Nepal, it is affecting real national growth and development. However, economic and environmental development outcomes are reconcilable and can be sustained.

Millions of people are working abroad due to a lack of development activities in Nepal and the unemployment ratio is ever increasing. If the development activities are being increased here, the young people would be closely involved, and investment would increase not only in infrastructure, manufacturing sectors but also science, technology, engineering and other important sectors of education of high expertise.

There are so many countries in the world, which have balanced the environment with development. We can take an example of some east Asian countries where unemployment came down in a considerable percentage by the strong development of infrastructures and manufacturing sectors by quick solving the issues of the environment on development. As a result of fast implementation and timely completion of mega projects, it has been observed that 70% of the workforce are in formal employment and 24% work in manufacturing. A significant proportion of workers have left primary sectors such as agriculture to join the burgeoning manufacturing industry.

In these countries, to jumpstart the manufacturing industry, the government invested heavily in upgrading factories, buying high-tech equipment from abroad. But limited skills to operate and repair this machinery meant it soon became redundant.

A sound climate change adaptation policy, carbon taxes, subsidies for industries using clean energy, and the development of clean, low-tech household appliances have contributed to a reduction in carbon emissions and environmental degradation.

Skills gaps have been filled with workers from neighboring countries, and foreign manufacturing companies are leaving the increasingly challenging market. The rest of the economy continues to be based on service and agriculture.

The Asia-inspired economic boom has centered on promotion by the government of food processing, automobile assembly, garment manufacturing, cement production, and chemical processing.

In some African countries too, which followed a similar style changed considerably its growth and ability to take on the developed world.

The general public around the world don’t like the attitude to be excessively waste time on environment issues and climate change, they want balanced and quick decisions related to environment and development. If not solved in short duration of time, the external investor fears to invest in mega projects.

The concepts and approaches of sustainable development stress that human beings should live in harmony with nature ensuring environmental conservation.

Sustainability is the process, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the alignment of technological development and institutional change are all in balance and enhance the present and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.

We must maintain a balance between environment, economic and social activities, without wasting much time, which are the main pillars of sustainable development and the cultural, technological and political sector must support to accomplish it.

Achieving sustainability will enable us to continue supporting human life. Healthy ecosystems and environments are necessary for our survival.

As q result of the delay in executing environmental and developmental projects with fruitful results, the deformation process is perceptible in our hills and mountains. Landslides have been very normal occurrence here during the rainy season and it has been roughly estimated that there are over 12,000 landslides each year.

After deforestation and land degradation, air pollution has been a big challenge for the health and livelihood of general people. Air pollution is the starter of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials that cause harm or distress to humans or damage the natural environment.

Our cities are not eco-friendly. Vehicular and industrial emissions increasingly have contributed to air pollution in urban areas. We are breathing poisonous air in our cities, especially in Kathmandu city, where highest number of deaths are caused by air pollution in comparison to death by flood, landslide and violence in the country.

We are highly dependent on fossil fuels for transportation, cooking and other purposes. How to convert these sectors to renewable energy, we must seriously plan and implement it.

We also do not have green building code of concept  that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle – from planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition.

We must do a lot in water cycle management both for humans and cultivation. That’s why, due to mismanagement of the water supply system in our cities and villages, its supply is not enough even to drink and for agriculture development. To support sustainable development land resources can be also used for organic agriculture, reforestation, water resource management, and eco-tourism projects.

In recent years, concepts based on (re-)cycling resources are increasingly gaining importance. The most prominent among these concepts might be the circular economy, we must give high priority to this concept in our development and environment protection.

We must be serious about waste management activities of the collection, transport, treatment, and disposal, together with monitoring and regulation of the waste management process.

Our poverty has been a major source of environmental degradation as people heavily rely on their local ecosystem as a source for basic needs and easy means to earn money.

As population growth continues, its heavy pressure is being placed on the local ecosystem. According to an estimation, our population will reach 32.4 million by 2030, and by that time it would be tougher tough to manage the burden of overpopulation and more natural resources will be required to develop endeavors.

Moreover, social disturbances like conflict, crime and corruption and natural disruptions like climate change, landslide, flooding, desertification, earthquake avert our resources from areas of greatest human need, it would squeeze our capacity to plan for the future, and generally threaten us and the environment.

The direct human impacts on the environment are our consumption, which affects the environment. Its negative impact could be reduced by not only consuming less but by also making the full cycle of production, use, and disposal more sustainable.

We should give high importance to research and innovations activities which are integral elements of sustainability. Encouraging good farming practices ensures farmers fully benefit from the environment and at the same time conserving it for future generations.

As well, in analyzing systems such as urban and national parks, dams, farms and gardens, mines, airport, infrastructures, water resources, one way to look at the relationship between sustainability and resiliency is to view the former with a long-term vision and resiliency as the capacity of human engineers to respond to immediate environmental events.

There must be a balance between the environment and development and over-reaction and excess criticism of environmental issues could slow down our development endeavors. Sponsored oppositions on environmental issues are seen as big hindrance to development.

Moreover, government policies to address environmental issues often are hampered by lack of funding, insufficient understanding of ecosystems, bureaucratic inefficiency, and sometimes contentious relations between the government and local communities.

We must follow strictly international law and international governance systems set by UNCED with respect to natural resource management to support our development efforts.

Finally, sustainable development goals should not be the only responsibility of the federal government but also provincial, local, private, NGOs and community should also work together to accomplish it.