Drawing a line in sand, Bhrikuti Rai
Drowning in Sorrow, Mukesh Pokhrel
Meanwhile, even as Nepalis living and working in proximity to mining sites and cement industries bear the brunt of resulting environmental and health crises, they receive few financial benefits.
Ghimire of the Department of Mines says that the government has not yet tried to ensure that the benefits of the industry are more equitably distributed, as is the case with investments in hydroelectric schemes.
“Stone, gravel and sand mining are controlled by a select few Nepali companies who reap the financial benefits while the locals incur damages to their livelihoods and the environment,” says former finance secretary Rameshore Khanal.
Indeed, the excavation and sale of aggregates, boulders and sand from riverbeds have become so lucrative that local governments depend on them for revenue for development work. An estimated Rs100 billion worth of riverine products are traded annually in Nepal, with at least 600 ‘crusher’ industries converting them to raw materials for infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the contribution to local governments is negligible compared to the huge profits made by the contractors who usually have local political leaders as partners or in their payroll.
Nepal’s community forestry program is internationally acclaimed, and it doubled the country’s tree cover in 25 years to nearly 45%. This is mainly because the responsibility of forest management was handed over to local consumer groups which have expanded to over 22,000 all over the country.
At COP26 in Glasgow, Nepal pledged to increase its forest cover to 45% of land area. But the overexploitation of natural resources, such as the government-owned forest areas and vacant lands for infrastructure, with hotels, cable car ventures, hydropower plants, haphazard housing colonies now threaten these gains.
Economist Pushkar Bajracharya is studying how benefits of natural resource exploitation accrues to Nepalis. He says: “When natural resources are managed in a way that benefits the people, it can reduce poverty and increase income.”
But Nepal clearly has not found that balance as it hurtles headlong down an unsustainable growth path.
Translated from the Nepali original in the December 2021-January 2022 issue of Himal Khabarpatrika.