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Take me to the river



KIRAN PANDAY
Nepali Times:
This is the 10th year of the Bagmati River Festival. What was the rationale for starting it?
Megh Ale:
I was already working for river conservation when we talked about doing something for the Bagmati River in 2001. There was a time when clean water flowed in the Bagmati. So we came up with the idea of rafting down the river and called it the Bagmati River Festival. See, the Bagmati we see everyday is actually clean at its source. Only if you take the journey and follow the river can you understand the situation. The idea was to involve people with the river and raise awareness. The festival also provides a platform for all organisations working for the environment to come together.

Why do you call this a festival of the 21st century?
A festival is a time when all of us get together for a purpose. We in Nepal celebrate many religious festivals as a tradition, regardless of their relevance today. However, the Bagmati River Festival is for a cause that is relevant today and tomorrow. The festival incorporates clean-up programs, rafting, mountain biking, concerts, painting exhibitions and other events.

What are the specific problems you are trying to address?
The main problem with Bagmati clean-up has been sewage management. Sewage has to be treated before it is disposed of in the river. Dumping of solid waste has to be checked as well. Another issue is the water level, which at present rises only during the monsoon. The natural flow of the river is dammed at Sundarijal to fulfill the water demand of the valley. This issue can only be resolved by finding alternate water sources. And of course, law and order has to curb slum encroachment on the river banks, land intrusion and sand mining.

Do you feel your effort has been worthwhile?

It is difficult to say, but the campaign has certainly raised awareness. It is hard to stay committed to a cause when you don't see changes or get the kind of response you expect. But we have received encouragement from the local communities and organisations like Bagmati Sewa Samiti, Nepal Tourism Board and PABSON. Mega Bank has recently committed to support the festival.

But is awareness enough? Isn't it time for action?
Well, if you tour the vicinity of the Bagmati in Chobar, Sankhamul, Tilganga, Thapathali and Teku, you will notice changes. Many areas that used to be filled with garbage are now clean. The locals have also become active. Efforts have been made in the Pashupati area as well. We have also had tree plantation programs at the source of the Bagmati, and the saplings are being maintained as well. Policy wise, there is much to do, but recently a Bagmati Action Plan was formulated that aims to revive the Bagmati and restore it.

Can the Bagmati be what it once was?
It is unlikely that the Bagmati will look like it originally did, especially in terms of size. But efforts can be made to clean it. The river is not contaminated by chemicals but biodegradable and treatable waste. It is the lack of initiative and political will that is letting this sacred river be polluted.

What's happening, and where?

August schedule for the Bagmati River Festival
13 August Friday 7am-4pm Sundarijal Uttar Bahini School Challenge/Media Dunga Daud
14 August Saturday 7am-4pm Sundarijal Uttar Bahini Corporate Challenge/Dunga Diplomacy
21 August Saturday 7am-4pm Chobar-Gokarna via Balaju and Shivapuri Bagmati Eco-Challenge for Peace
21 August Saturday 7am-6pm Tilganga-Shankhamul Bagmati/Bishnumati JalJatra/Grand Finale/Bagmati Live Aid

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LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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