Thursday, July 31, 2008

Plan to resettle West Seti-affected soon

Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, July 28:

The West Seti Hydro Limited (WSHL) is going to start a resettlement programme soon for over 14,000 people affected by the 750-MW power project in the far-western region.

“We will meet the locals soon with a concrete plan on what we can do for them to make the project a success,” said WSHL advisor Eddie Barendse, also the chief of the resettlement programme.

Following this, several teams of the project are scheduled to hold meetings at the local levels on the project’s $100 million resettlement programme on Thursday.

The project’s representatives will discuss with three local groups — West Seti Concerned main committee, committee of downstream affected groups and people living near the powerhouse’s site.

Talking to this daily, Barendse said, “Our study found that the local people are ready to contribute their land once they get reasonable compensation and over 80 per cent of them want to shift to Tarai districts.”

According to a project’s study, a total of 14,378 people of 1,680 households in four districts — Baitadi, Bajhang, Doti and Dadeldhura — will be affected by the construction of around 20 sq km reservoir of the project. Of them, 1,202 families need to be shifted to Kailali and Kanchanpur, the study stated.

Sociologist of the project Dr Saroj Adhikari said the resettlement programme supported by the Asian Development Bank would benefit the marginalised communities.

Under the scheme, poor or vulnerable group having one or two ropanis of land would get either 23.19 ropanis of irrigable land or 38.92 ropanis of land in the Tarai.

[2008 July 30]

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What’s stopping government from paying PLA its dues?


Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, July 28
The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the government and the Maoists, who formally entered the mainstream politics by ending their decade-long armed struggle, on November 21, 2006, was greeted with euphoria.

Since then, thousands of People’s Liberation Army personnel, who laid the foundation stone for a republic, have been living in pathetic conditions in cantonments.

The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) has verified over 19,000 Maoist combatants, who are living in seven cantonments located in different parts of the country.

Nineteen months have passed since the signing of the peace agreement, but the government has provided the combatants with allowance of only seven months. The PLA soldiers are living on a ration of Rs 60 a day.

Recently, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ himself complained that the government had not sent allowance to the cantonments for several months. “Our fighters have not received their due allowance,” Prachanda warned at a press conference a few days ago.

Finance Minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat has openly said the government would not release the money until the Maoists follow the peace agreement.

This is an example of the negligence on part of the government towards the written commitment to provide allowance to the Maoist soldiers living in cantonments. The irony is that Maoist ministers too have failed to take any concrete decision from the cabinet on the allowance for their fighters.

All people, including Nepalis and foreigners, politicians and diplomats, bureaucrats and businessmen, all appreciated the peace agreement; but nobody seems serious about the commitment expressed in the agreement to bring the armed revolution to a real peaceful conclusion.

The Maoist fighters were also found crossing the limits set by the agreement. At times, they reportedly came out of the cantonments and got involved in extortion and abduction, while their leaders in the capital kept on defending them.

The period since the signing of CPA has been marked by mutual suspicion. The seven-party alliance feared that Maoists would seize state power if they gained majority in the elections and there would be no role for parties for at least a few decades. The Maoists failed to convince the alliance and the government that they would not use the arms stored in the cantonments against democracy. This lack of trust has been causing the PLA combatants to suffer. PLA deputy commander Janardhan Sharma Prabhakar accused ‘influential NC leaders’ of blocking the release of allowance for no good reason.

He said the PLA combatants received allowance only for seven months.

"Nobody knows for what reason they the allowance has been blocked. It will have a long-term effect on the peace process," he warned.

He said the Maoist leaders had raised the issue in the meetings with the government as well as the SPA several times but without much headway. “We have repeatedly asked the government to fulfil its commitment. We have made over a dozen of agreements on this issue. They only pay lip service, but no money,” Sharma added.

Office of the Central Coordinator for Cantonment Management is the authority, with representatives from all major parties, to transfer the budget from the government to the cantonments. As the government does not take any step to release the budget, the committee seems helpless. The committee has not met for the past four months.

"We have no authority to release or stop the money. The delay is at the political end," said Avanindra Kumar Shrestha, the coordinator of the office.

He said it was possible that since the cabinet meetings had to concentrate on other political issues ahead of the CA election, the issue of allowance might have been pushed to the backburner.

All we can hope is that the mutual suspicion between the parties concerned ends and the peace process is not derailed over the issue of allowance.

[2008 July 29]

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Quake-proof school building a source of inspiration in Hetauda

Razen Manandhar
Hetauda, July 12[2008]:

A small and ordinary-looking building at the Shramik High School in the Karra area has become an inspiration for disaster risk reduction initiatives in the fast-growing Hetauda Municipality, where around 500 houses are built every year.

“After looking at the building we have come to believe that earthquake-resistance technology is not complex,” said Sambhu Dhakal, a student at Shramik.

“Our parents should follow this model while building houses,” Dhakal said.

At Rs 6.5 lakh, the building cost only five per cent more than ordinary load-bearing houses, but it can resist an earthquake as strong as 6.5 on the Richter scale. The building was constructed on the initiative of the Community Based Management Group with the support of the United Nations Development Programme, the Hetauda District Development Committee, the Hetauda Municipality and the school management committee.

The National Society for Earthquakes and Technology also provided technical help.
“The building itself may not be that important,” said Rajendra Karki, chairman of the CBMG Hetauda, “but the message this symbolic building is giving is significant.

It has been a source of inspiration for the whole city.” “As a demonstration project, we chose this school because the school has a vulnerable community building. Besides, it could spread good message all over the city through the new generation,” said Karki.

A civil engineer at the Hetauda Municipality, Satya Narayan Sah, said after construction of the school building, people started visiting the municipality with queries about the earthquake resistant technologies and begun a trend of constructing new buildings like it. “Most of new load-bearing houses have been built by adopting this technology,” he added.

According to Karki, disaster risk-reduction technologies are not expensive but people know little about them.

Most part of the country is seismically active, seismologists say, adding that major earthquake jolts Nepal every 70 years. The 8.4 earthquake of 1934 AD claimed 16,875 lives and destroyed 3,18,139 houses. Earthquakes in 1980 and 1988 AD killed around 178 and 721 people, respectively, beside damaging property and infrastructure.
[KATHMANDU, JULY 13, 2008, Ashadh 29, 2065 ]

Friday, July 04, 2008

Gharial population declining fast

Gharial population declining fast

The number of gharials, the
slender-nosed crocodiles,
found only in South Asian
rivers, is drastically decreas-
ing due to increasing hu-
man activities and pollution
in their habitats.
The more...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Big cats in deep trouble

Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, July 2
The gorgeous-looking big cats — Royal Bengal tigers — will soon turn into fancy tale characters if the government fails to curb rampant poaching.
Though many international conservation agencies are focused on preventing the extinction of the big cats from Nepal, scenes in Nepal’s protected are getting more and more alarming, with reports showing that the number of tigers is declining due to rampant poaching.

Considering its endangered status, tiger is in Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Flora and Fauna) and is protected by Nepal ‘s National Park and Wildlife Conservation Act (1973). But the poaching of this endangered species has been going unabated in Nepal.

According to estimates, there are 350 to 375 tigers in Nepal. International reports state that 5,000-7,000 tigers are presently living in the wild in some selected Asian countries. There are five tiger sub-species — Siberian tiger, South China tiger, Indo-Chinese tiger, Sumatran tiger and Royal Bengal tiger — in the world.

A recent census on tiger, conducted at the Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve by the Department of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, with support from the WWF Nepal, shows that the bid to conserve the wild cat has not been that successful.

In 82 days, or 939 trap nights — from January 7 to April 7, 2008 — five tigers were found in 15 photographs. As per the census, 2.91 tigers were found per 100 sq km area.

According to the data, only five tigers are left in the Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, where as many as 23 tigers were found in the period 1999-2001.

“Overall analysis shows a declining tiger population in the Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve. The situation may be just the same in other protected zones as well,” said Jhama Karki, an assistant ecologist at the DPNWC, adding that the decline in tiger population had been spiralling for the last four years.

He stressed, “An independent probe commission should be formed to find out the reason behind the decline in the number of wild cats.” This statement, coming from a government official, shows how worried conservationists are over the issue. Are the policy makers equally committed to arresting the decline in the number of wild cats?

At least four tigers were killed and five tiger pelts were confiscated from or near national parks in six weeks. In this context, the case of writer-turnedcollector of contraband animal parts Ian Baker could be an eye-opener on Nepal’s share in multi-billion dollar international wildlife trade.

Diwakar Chapagain, a wildlife trade officer at the WWF Nepal, said the plight of tigers in the Bardiya National Park and Chitwan National Park might be no different.

“In six weeks, at least five cases of confiscation of tiger pelt or tiger bones have surfaced in Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts. This points to a booming trade in tiger parts,” he said, adding four tigers were killed by poisoning in Chitwan National Park in three months.

Unlike rhinos, of which only horns and hoofs are sold, every part of a tiger fetches a hefty price. Because of this, it is almost impossible to find how many tigers have been poached. A pelt of tiger is sold for Rs 50,000 in Nepal. In the international market, it can fetch $30,000 to 50,000.

The effect of much-hyped $1 million Tiger Conservation Action Plan (20072001) is yet to be reflected in the jungles. The goal of TCAP, announced in March 2007, is to preserve, recognise, restore and increase the effective land base that supports tigers in Nepal and maintain a viable tiger population.

It may be noted that a group of Chinese people tried to lobby for lifting the ban on the illegal trade of tiger body parts during the International Tiger Symposium held in Kathmandu in April 2007. Twelve countries had taken part in the symposium.

As a signatory, Nepal has an obligation to implement CITES properly but the government has not bothered to formulate laws in line with CITES to conserve wildlife. Moreover, laws alone cannot protect wildlife in the absence of mechanisms.

The conservationists naturally get demoralised when cabinet makes decisions to release notorious poachers in the name of showing ‘good behaviour’. Once out of the cell, they take to poaching again. The conservationists suspect that international racket of tiger poachers is in operation in Nepal. Poachers with political patronage go scot-free; only low-level porters are arrested here.

When there is no provision of holding one person or institution accountable for the irreplaceable loss of endangered species of wild animals, laws alone cannot function well. The army, government staffers and local community should take joint responsibility to conserve wildlife and take individual responsibility when they fail in their respective missions.

Big cats in deep trouble

Big cats in deep trouble

The gorgeous-looking big cats — Royal
Bengal tigers — will soon turn into
fancy tale characters if the govern-
ment fails to curb rampant poaching.
Though many international conser-
vation more...