After the East-West Highway was built, migration picked up. Today, de-population of the mountain valleys has been accompanied by over-population of the Tarai, at great cost to the environment and agriculture.
Urban expansion northwards from highway towns has put pressure on the Chure forests, already ravaged by quarries mining sand and boulders to be smuggled into India. This has increased siltation of the seasonal rivers that drain to the Tarai and India, triggering flashfloods that have inundated towns, destroyed farmlands, and washed away highway bridges.
Deforestation of the fragile Chure has also lowered the water table which was already in steep decline because of over-extraction for agriculture. Water shortage combined with shrinking arable land has already had a devastating impact on Nepal’s agricultural production.
Mayor Bidur Karki of Bardibas tells us wryly: “Nepalis are migrating to work in the Arabian desert in droves. They don’t have to anymore, there is a desert right here.” In his town, 70% of the wells have gone dry. Pumps that used to strike the water table at a depth of 10m, now have to drill deeper than 50m.
Girendra Kumar Jha is the District Health Officer in Jaleswor, a border town in the eastern Tarai. He says: “I tour the villages to talk about washing hands, and the villagers ridicule me saying first give us water, then come to talk about hygiene.”
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