Nepali Times Asian Paints

Not as easy as it seems

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

DWbcNqHVAAA9nXREven after the UML-Maoist alliance won a near two-third majority in Parliament-Province elections three months ago, not many were sure this would translate into the much-promised political stability.

Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal was prodding his UML counterpart KP Oli to take turns at prime ministership, letting down voters who catapulted them to power in the hope that it would end political wrangling once and for all and usher in an era of prosperity. Dahal kept bargaining even after Oli was sworn in as new prime minister on 15 February.

But Dahal made a sudden U-turn this week and agreed to allow Oli to complete his full five-year term. The seven-point unification deal signed by Nepal’s two largest communist parties makes no mention of any rotational prime ministership.

The deal is also silent about Oli and Dahal co-chairing the unified party, but its seventh point states that the general convention will be held ‘harmoniously as a unity convention’. Analysts interpret this to be a tacit understanding that Oli will help Dahal assume leadership of the unified party.

Political analyst Shyam Shrestha says Dahal has decided to put aside his immediate ambition to unify the communist party, but this will ultimately yield him political dividends: “That Dahal will be the ultimate leader of the unified party is a foregone conclusion.”

To summarise: Dahal has let Oli stay in Baluwatar for a full term in exchange for a commitment to eventually hand over party leadership to him. Technically, this also means Dahal can hope to be prime minister after the next parliamentary polls, but he probably knows it could easily happen before that because of Oli’s poor health.

The UML-Maoist unification may finally ensure stability, but it has also raised a question about what kind of a party will be governing Nepal. Oli and Dahal both launched their political careers using violence, and both have now proven themselves to be shrewd at parliamentary wheeling-dealing as well.

Dahal has distanced himself from Maoism, and Oli has not gone back to left extremism. The question now is: will the unified party be more like the UML or the Maoists? Dahal has climbed half-way up to take the UML saddle, while Oli is still riding.

During his short first tenure in 2015-16, Oli inspired many Nepalis to dream of a Nepal that does not solely depend on India and maintains equidistance with China. He has returned to power as one of Nepal’s strongest prime ministers. He does not need to pay the nationalism card anymore -– just work to leave a firm legacy of nation-building.
Om Astha Rai

Why Nepal wants to stay poor

Monday, February 19th, 2018
Pic: Gopen Rai

Pic: Gopen Rai

From the Nepali Press

Naya Patrika, 19 February

The UN would want to declare Nepal as the latest member nation to join the list of Developing Economies in 2018, but Nepal wants to remain in the Least Developed Country (LDC) category for a few more years.

Nepal has officially requested the UN to not put it on the list of Developing Economies just before a meeting in March to review the status of each LDC and forward recommendations to the UN General Assembly.

Nepal fears that it may lose foreign aid if it graduates from LDC status, and argues its economy is still vulnerable to various threats including natural disasters. Nepal recently sent a high-level delegation to New York to lobby with the UN-OHRLLS to not graduate it from the LDC category.

A country has to meet three criteria to graduate from LDC status: at least $1,242 Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, above 66 score in Human Assets Index (HAI) and below 32 score in Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI).

When the UN had last reviewed the status of LDC countries in 2015, Nepal had achieved more than enough HAI (68.7) and EVI (26.8) scores. If Nepal is found to have maintained its HAI and EVI rankings when the UN-OHRLLS meets next month, it will graduate from its LDC category – even if it fails to meet GNI per capita.

Nepal has increased its literacy and Net Enrolment Rates (NER) sufficiently to maintain its HAI growth, and its EVI ranking has also improved over the last three years because of connectivity and export conditions.

But Nepal argues that its GNI per capita was just $862 in 2017, and it will be unable to sustain HAI and EVI growth unless its national income grows. Nepal has also questioned the modality of determining EVI ranking, arguing its score should be less than was has been determined.

The UN-OHRLLS looks into 12 indicators to determine whether a country’s economy is vulnerable, but it does not consider threats that Nepal’s economy has faced: earthquake, Blockade, flood and landslide. Nepal argues that its economy can be described as safe only after factoring in these threats.

Economist Swarnim Wagle, who resigned as Vice Chair of National Planning Commission (NPC) this week, says: “The UN indicators to determine a country’s economic vulnerability were based on African countries in the 70s, which cannot be applicable to Nepal. The UN must reconsider its own indicators before declaring Nepal a developing country.”

As an LDC, Nepal enjoys concessional loans, have export privileges, get technical support to expand its market and money for climate change adaptation. At a time when Nepal is hoping for more foreign aid to support new federal structure, it does not want to lose potential funding by being identified as a developing nation.

Mongolian raptor in Nepal

Friday, February 16th, 2018
All photos: Sanjay Mishra

All photos: Sanjay Mishra

A Mongolian raptor with a radio transmitter fastened between its wings has landed in southern Nepal on Thursday night.

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 20.47.53

Children found the Mongolia golden Eagle grounded in a field, and called police when they spotted equipment strapped to its back and a metal ring around its leg with the inscription: oxnith.lab, nst.biol,mongolia 271.

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 20.47.46

Police have sent the eagle to the District Forest Office, where head Dirgha Koirala said his office was investigating the radio transmitter that was equipped with a small solar collector.

Nepal’s foremost ornithologist, Hem Sagar Baral explained that this species of endangered Golden Eagle usually migrates from Mongolia across the Himalaya to Nepal every winter enroute to Africa. He said the radio transmitter was probably installed by Mongolian conservationists to study the bird’s habits and migratory path.

Sanjay Mitra in Rautahat

Oli once more

Thursday, February 15th, 2018
Pic: Bikram Rai

Pic: Bikram Rai

UML Chair KP Oli was sworn in as Nepal’s new Prime Minister on Thursday.

He will now have to prove his majority in the federal parliament within 30 days, which will be a cakewalk because he is backed by CPN (Maoist-Centre) in the Left Alliance.

Even though UML emerged as the largest party in the parliamentary-provincial polls two months ago, Oli’s entry into Baluwatar was delayed because the Election Commission published the results only after the Upper House elections.

Oli himself was busy negotiating with Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal about terms and conditions of the proposed unification between their parties. Dahal wanted to be the head of the unified party if he were to support Oli as the new PM.

This week, Oli and Dahal intensified negotiations and finally reached a power-sharing deal: both leaders will be the co-chairs of their unified Nepal Communist Party. They also agreed to unify their parties before forming the government.

But Oli hastily reached Shital Niwas on Thursday morning, officially informing President Bidya Bhandari that the Maoist-Centre backs his candidacy. The President then appointed him as the new PM immediately after caretaker PM Sher Bahadur Deuba resigned.

Oli was named by the UML as its parliamentary party leader only after he was appointed PM. His inauguration was so hurried that the two leaders still need to sort out differences, and clear confusion.

Maoists claim that the deal also requires Oli to resign and support Dahal as the new PM after two and a half years, but UML leaders have remained silent about it. So even if the country’s two largest communist parties eventually merge, cracks could appear within the ruling coalition midway through Oli’s tenture.

This is the second time Oli has become PM in his four-decade-long political career, which began in the 1960s as a revolutionary inspired by India’s bloody Naxalite movement.

When he became PM for the first time in 2015, the country was facing a humanitarian crisis because of the Indian Blockade. New Delhi was overtly putting pressure on Kathmandu to amend the new Constitution. But Oli did not capitulate to New Delhi, and he instead signed a trade and transit treaty with Beijing.

Oli’s nationalist stance during the blockade increased his popularity, and people gave a near two-third majority to the Left Alliance. As India found no way to stop him from becoming the new PM, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as his special envoy to mend fences.

Transitional justice denied

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

In a joint statement issued in New York on Tuesday, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists and Human Rights Watch warned that just extending the terms of Nepal’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) is unlikely  to improve prospects for the victims of the conflict to meet demands for justice, truth, and accountability met.

The statement said that the one-year extensions of Nepal’s two transitional justice mechanisms without necessary legal and institutional reforms ordered by the Supreme Court and the United Nations are insufficient to comply with international standard. “The net worth of these two bodies has now been tested by the victims in Nepal who are deeply dismayed and disappointed at not having been served truth and justice – even after years of delay,” said Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director at Amnesty International.

On 5 February Nepal extended, for the second time, the mandates of the TRC and CIEDP by one year without measures to ensure compliance to human rights or to increase the capacity of the commissions as demanded by victims, civil society groups, and the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal (NHRC). In fact, the NHRC called on the government to amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014, in line with international standards and the judgements of the Supreme Court of Nepal.

“Families and victims of Nepal’s decade-long civil war have waited far too long for answers, and cynical government attempts such as extending the mandate without broader reform as directed by the highest court is a further slap in the face,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The two commissions have gathered a lot of documentation, but the authorities seem more committed to protecting perpetrators than ensuring justice in the process.”

The TRC and CIEDP have fallen short of international standards, both in constitution and operation, despite repeated orders by the Supreme Court of Nepal, rights groups say, pointing out that the current legal framework allows for the possibility of amnesties and effective impunity for gross human rights violations amounting to grave crimes under international law, and the broad authority to facilitate reconciliation, including without the informed consent of the victims and their families.

In addition, a non-consultative, uncoordinated, and opaque approach to their work has also created distrust among all major stakeholders, including conflict victims and members of civil society. Where the commissions have made efforts to work effectively, they face problems due to a lack of sufficient human and financial resources.

“With Nepal now a member of the UN Human Rights Council, the international community has high expectations of the government,” said Frederick Rawski, Asia director at the International Commission of Jurists. “It needs to commit to ensuring that these institutions function independently, free from political interference, and in accordance with international standards that prohibit impunity for gross human rights violations. Merely extending their mandates without addressing the underlying problems is not adequate.”

Nepal bird census

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018
Photo: Kamal Rimal

Photo: Kamal Rimal

The census of birds in various nature sanctuaries around Nepal last month showed that the number of indigenous and migratory birds found in the country are steadily declining.

Ornithologists say the main reasons are habitat destruction, use of agro-chemicals, depleted fish in rivers and lakes as well as hunting along migratory routes. Even so, there are more than 884 species of birds in Nepal, with 527 of them in the Kosi Tappu Nature reserve along the Kosi River in eastern Nepal.

Counting bird species and their total numbers every year in Nepal which started in 1987 simultaneously with other parts of Asia under the initiative of Wetlands International. The idea was to carry out the census all together across the region during the winter migration period so that there is no double counting.

Oriental Pied Hornbill in Dharan. Photo: Yatra Rai

Oriental Pied Hornbill in Dharan. Photo: Yatra Rai

“Counting the birds at one go all over the world is more accurate,” explains Nepal’s foremost ornithologist and coordinator of Wetlands International Nepal Hem Sagar Baral.

This year’s census was carried out from 6-22 January across Nepal’s wetlands and national parks. Preliminary results show a decline in not just the total number of water birds, but also the species count for water birds.

However, it is not easy to count birds flying all the way from Siberia to Kosi Tappu and other national parks in Nepal. There were 300 volunteer birders in ten groups who fanned out across the Kosi banks, and they later went to the 55 protected water bodies and wetlands across Nepal. The enumerators don’t just count birds but also collect information in areas where there is illegal hunting and habitat destruction.

“Kosi Tappu is really special because nowhere else in Nepal do you see such a large variety of birds in such a small place,” says bird enumerator Samjhana Karki from Barachetra. Among the 50 species of birds she spotted, most were water fowls with the Brahminy (ruddy sheldduck) being most numerous.

The numbers of Brahminy ducks were down from last year, but this year the birders spotted the Greater White Fronted Goose for the first time in 17 years in Kosi Tappu.

Researchers during bird census. Photo: Kamal Rimal

Researchers during bird census. Photo: Kamal Rimal

Says Baral: “The reason for the declining number is mostly human encroachment into wetlands and river banks. If this trend continues, the birds from Siberia will just fly on to India without stopping here.”

Tourist lodges and eco-tourism entrepreneurs in Kosi Tappu are worried that the proliferation of livestock, use of pesticides in fields, and the decline in fish in the river will lead to further declines in the bird population.

Says bird researcher and tourism entrepreneur Badri Chaudhary: “We need to make sure that the birds are undisturbed, we can dig wallows so the buffalos don’t go into the river.”

Kamal Rimal

Yeti reduces carbon footprint

Sunday, January 28th, 2018
Umesh Chandra Rai, CEO of Yeti Airlines,Director General of Civial Aviation Authority of Nepal Sanjeev Gautam, UNDP Nepal Country Director Renaud Meyer and Mitch Hall (left to right) in an event to mark Carbon Neutrality Partnership between Yeti Airlines and UNDP on Friday in Kathmandu.  Pic: Yeti Airlines

Umesh Chandra Rai, CEO of Yeti Airlines,Director General of Civial Aviation Authority of Nepal Sanjeev Gautam, UNDP Nepal Country Director Renaud Meyer and Mitch Hall (left to right) in an event to mark Carbon Neutrality Partnership between Yeti Airlines and UNDP on Friday in Kathmandu. Pic: Yeti Airlines

Kunda Dixit

Yeti Airlines has become the first operator in Nepal to perform an energy audit and plan mitigation efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.

An fuel inventory of the company’s eight aircraft fleet, its 27 vehicles and offices around the country showed that the company generated just over 18,000 tons of CO2 equivalent last year. Yeti now hopes to increase efficiency by replacing its ageing with BAe Jetstream 41s with more modern ATR 72 500s, work with the civil aviation authorities to streamline air routes as well as offset its carbon use.

“As an airline we burn a lot of aviation gasoline, but there are ways to reduce emissions by being more fuel efficient and other measures that will not just make us climate friendly but will also save on costs,” says Yeti Airlines CEO Umesh Chandra Rai.

Yeti has been working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nepal to spread awareness about its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) through decals on its aircraft, airside ramp buses, boarding passes and on other stationery. UNDP has been signing up the private sector to propagate its SDGs throughout the world and this week signed a similar  carbon reduction agreement with China’s Hainan Airlines.

“The SDGs also have climate goals and we are very happy Yeti is building on the partnership with a concrete move towards reducing its carbon footprint,” says Renaud Meyer Nepal Country Director of UNDP. “Nothing is forcing Yeti to do this, the airline is doing it as part of its social responsibility.”

Yeti’s carbon footprint increased in 2017, but with the induction of two ATR 72 500s which are 15% more fuel efficient, it hopes to reduce its CO2 per passenger by up to 11% this year. The airline hopes phase out all its Jetsream 41s in the next five years.

Rai says he hopes other domestic airlines will also join in improving efficiency, and work with the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) to reduce long holding times for aircraft due to congestion at Kathmandu airport. Other measures include pilots reducing the rate of climb, and to using the entire length of runway for landings and takeoffs.

Cutting back long holding patterns would save more aviation fuel and reduce carbon emissions than fuel efficiency, and CAAN is being urged to move smaller domestic aircraft to a new STOL airfield outside Kathmandu.

CAAN Director General Sanjiv Gautam says after the much-delayed airport upgrade is finished by 2019, aircraft movements will be smoother. A new radar system that goes into operation this week will also reduce separation between aircraft and reduce holding times.