Wildlife-friendly linear infrastructures is gradually getting recognised by engineers in Nepal as a solution-oriented approach in conservation. This is also thanks to the Nepal government for commissioning environmental units, and getting conservationists and planners to work together.
International standards today restrict developers from any construction activity in key biodiversity areas. But if that is not possible, minimisation is the next action followed by mitigation to lessen the adverse impact. If there are fatalities, compensation must also be factored in.
Nepal now awaits endorsement of wildlife-friendly linear infrastructure guidelines from the Cabinet, prepared in leadership of the Ministry of Forest and Environment (MoFE) – this would be a milestone in smart linear infrastructure as Nepal upgrades connectivity as it aims to reach middle-income status by 2030.
Read also: Nepal needs wildlife friendly highways, Pramod Neupane
In this year’s budget, the government allocated Rs15.34 billion to upgrade highways, and that includes installation of additional wildlife crossings along the E-W highway. But we should design connectivity solutions that are built on best practices in Asia.
Future safeguard designs should reflect the need of almost the entire animal taxa whose habitat has been encroached by the expansion of infrastructure through a combination of overpasses and underpasses. This requires careful design and landscaping the natural environment while retaining its functionality.
Design specifications (usually structure dimension, openness, spacing, and slope considerations), adapted to local conditions, are equally important to ensure such structures become operational after construction. Another important aspect is roadside intervention such as fencing, and restoration of degraded land using native soil and local vegetation.
Finally, post-construction evaluation is an indispensable part of the entire project, to gauge the performance of crossings and determine whether the employed mitigation strategies were effective. A genuine assessment of frequent usage, lowered road mishaps, and reduced human-wildlife conflict will provide valuable feedback to improve the structures.
Biraj Shrestha is the Independent Consultant (Nepal Liaison) for the USAID Linear Infrastructure Safeguards in Asia (LISA) Project. [email protected]
Pramod Neupane is the Sustainable Infrastructure Programs Manager at WWF Nepal.