PURUSHOTTAM GHIMIRE, joint secretary at the Ministry of Environment and the focal point of UNFCC, has been working in the environment sector for a long time. Ghimire spoke to KESHAB POUDEL on the issue related to the World Environment Day. Excerpts:
How is the government of Nepal celebrating the World Environment Day?
Well, unlike in the past, we are celebrating the World Environment Day this year by organizing programs at the grass root level. It will be celebrated by organizing various programs at the district as well as village levels.
Why did you choose the district and village levels?
Most of the programs in the past were confined to urban areas only. The message about the importance of preservation of environment failed to reach the district and village level. It is a fact that the people living in the rural areas are main sufferers of deteriorating environment as they are the first victim of any kinds of environmental implications. This is the reason we have realized the need to sensitize the grass root people about how deteriorating environment will affect their livelihood and health. What is the importance of sustainable use of natural resources and so on? This is a major shift in the government policy: from urban and capital centric to rural centric.
Do you think this will change the state of environment?
Of course. The World Environment Day is an international day to express some commitments at the national level and international solidarity regarding the preservation of environment. June 5 is the day to sensitize the community about the importance of preservation of their natural surroundings. I don’t think you can change the state of environment by just observing the day on June 5 only. We need to take care of the environment all the time and there is a need for a long term commitment from all.
How important is the day for Nepal?
This day is important for all of us to highlight challenges faced due to the degradation of environment. We have been celebrating the World Environment Day with certain slogans. We try to sensitize the people and create awareness on deteriorating environment. United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) annually issues a slogan to celebrate it.
How relevant is the slogan for this year?
This year’s slogan is very relevant for Nepal. Given Nepal’s successful programs of community forestry and forest conservation, this year the slogan is: forest, nature at your service gives a lot of message to us.
This indicates the importance of nature with the livelihood issue. Nepal government is also trying to give the message that we cannot live without nature as the forest and nature are basis of our livelihood. The message is also to clearly point out the need to protect the forest and nature. The message is loud and clear that we need to protect our environment for the future generation. Natural resources and livelihood are linked to each other. This year the aim of the WED is to sensitize the relations between forest and livelihood. We need to take benefits from the forest product by mobilizing it in sustainable way.
Don’t you think climate change has hijacked the environmental issues?
I don’t want to say it is hijacked but what I see is the overall environment issue is dominated by climate change. Since the donors are also focusing on the agenda of climate change, overall environmental issue is in less priority. If we are able to improve the environment, it will also contribute to minimize the effect of climate change.
Don’t you think that the climate change issue is also important?
I am not denying the fact that climate change issue is not important. Even our government has been giving high priority to deal with climate change. What I think is environmental issue needs to be given high priority. Of course, climate change has several implications on human life and society but we need to improve the overall environment to minimize the effect of climate change. Nepal’s overall environment has been deteriorating due to several factors. From air pollution to degradation of forests, river pollution, all are helping to increase the temperature. As the population continues to grows, Nepal needs to take the environment as a number one priority. Nepal government has been doing its best to protect the environment.
How do you emphasise the issue of environment?
Environment is not an issue of Ministry of Environment as it has several linkages and this is a cross cutting issue. You cannot talk environmental issue in isolation as it is integrated with several government stake holders on it. Environment Ministry has been trying to bring the entire front together.
What progress has your ministry made?
In the last few years, Ministry of Environment has already completed a lot of important tasks. For instance, we were able to bring the National Adaptation Program Action (NAPA) to Climate Change document which identifies vulnerable areas for climate change. Similarly, we have already published several other books related to the state of environment. Status of Climate Change in Nepal, Climate Change Vulnerability Mapping of Nepal and Climate Change Policy 2011 are a few of them. Now we are in the process to publish the state of environment of Nepal. Along with this, we will also publish handbooks explaining about various technical terminologies related to climate change.
What do you say about the level of coordination among various ministries in dealing with environmental issues?
I have to admit the fact that there is no coordination among various ministries working in the environmental sector. For example, under funds allocated by the Ministry of Local Development, Village Development Committees are constructing the roads all over the country in haphazard manners threatening the ecology. Although there is the requirement of environmental impact assessment to start development works, nobody is following it. Similarly, there is virtually no coordination between Ministry of Forest and Soil conservation with other ministries on implementation of programs related to environment. There is virtually no coordination at all among the various government and ministries and institutions. By using dozers and bulldozers people are digging the mountains, destroying fragile mountain ecology. These programs are destroying the village in the name of construction. Such roads are creating a lot of environmental problems. We have to decide what is our priority: environmental protection or construction of road? There is no coordination at all.
As the focal point, cannot the Ministry of Environment take a role as a coordinator?
Look. The Ministry of Environment cannot have a role provided to perform the Environmental Impact Assessment. Our role is just limited to EIA. We don’t have implementation arms at district levels. The Ministry of Environment is like an Island. This is just an Island within environment. The ministry does not have arms and legs. It has just a head. Where is its networking, arms, finger and legs? What can one expect from a ministry which is based in the capital?