Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Nepal-India eco-region concept gaining new heights

By Razen Manandhar

GODAVARI, Lalitpur, April 23 - The idea to develop Nepal-India Terai region as an eco-region took a new shape today with experts and stakeholders actually sitting together and chalking out plans and programs to make that dream into a reality.

At the start of a one-day stakeholders’ consultative workshop on Terai Arc Landscape Conservation in Nepal here today, the concerned parties including the government vowed to protect the bio-diversity of the region.

Conservation experts want to connect 11 conservation areas spread across an area of 30,000 kilometers in the Terai of Nepal and India and develop the same into what they call Terai Arc Landscape (TAL). They say connecting the isolated to protected areas is very important for long term conservation of bio-diversity of the region, and a project has already been launched to that effect.

The protected areas include Royal Chitwan National Park, Royal Bardia National Park and Royal Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve of Nepal, plus Dudhwa National Park, Katarniaghat Wildlife Reserve, Sohelwa Wildlife Sanctuary, Valmiki Tiger Reserve, Swehingaohegi Barga Wildlife Reserve, and Corbett-Rajaji National Park of northern India.

Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation Prakash Koirala opening the meet, participated mainly by the locals and local government representatives, expressed the government’s firm commitment to put in place its best of efforts in the direction.

Country Representative of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Nepal Program Dr Chandra P Gurung said, "This is going to be one of the most ambitious and important conservation initiatives in Asia, if not in the entire world," he said. He was addressing the first stakeholders meeting on the TAL conservation.

Dr Gurung added that the program is now a vision, which needs a long-term effort to make it a success. He said, "After a decade the vision will find a shape and will take almost a decade to see full swing of development."

He added that the project needs around six million US dollars for the coming five years. In the long run, it will need a trust of around 20 to 50 million US dollars. He is hopeful that international donor agencies will provide fund for the project. "Agencies like Save the Tiger Fund and other potential major partners are interested to make it a success."

WWF program coordinator, Ukesh Bhuju said that all government institutions, non-government organizations have "technically accepted" the idea and interactions on this issue is going on in various levels. "There has been an agreement between WWF of Nepal and India on this issue," he said.

According to him, TAL Project will not only restore deforested areas outside the protected areas but also address the socio-economic concerns of the local people, who are in fact the major factors to make the project a success.

"The users of the community forest should understand the significance of the TAL and should also be convinced that it will eventually help their economic development," he said.

The Chief Scientist of WWF, Dr Eric Dinestein said that Nepal’s greatest export is visionary approaches to conservation. "This is the prime habitat of tigers, rhinoceros and elephants. This development would provide bigger room for the conservation of the wild animals and will contribute to a global conservation effort altogether."

WWF believes the TAL project is a great opportunity to protect Asia’s remaining habitat for the world’s critically endangered wildlife species. However, the users of community forests are not convinced that their rights over the forest they developed would be protected.

"We should first need to be assured that the community forests would be handled by the government under the Forest Act and our right would be guaranteed," said Hari Neupane, the chairman of Federation of Community Forest Users’ of Nepal. The Ministry of Soil Conservation and WWF NEPAL Program jointly organized the one-day workshop.
[ Kathmandu Tuesday April 24, 2001 Baishakh 11, 2058.]