PICS: BHRIKUTI RAI
Conservation and Sustainable Use of Wetlands in Nepal (CSUWN) is one such project, which since 2008, has integrated wetland management with improved local livelihoods. Protecting Nepal's endangered water bodies is important not just to conserve groundwater for human use, but also to save wildlife and migratory birds.
"Unless people at the grassroots understand the importance of conserving the wetlands that they are dependent on, it is difficult to conserve them at all," explains Top Khatri of CSUWN.
Water resources in Nepal are often seen in terms of their hydropower potential only, so marshes, swamps, floodplains and lakes, which form a vital part of Nepal's aquatic ecosystem, often get left out of the conservation discourse. Although wetlands account for only five per cent of Nepal's total surface area, they are integral for recharging acquifers and providing a habitat for wildlife, especially migratory birds.
Among the nine wetlands in Nepal designated as being of international importance, CSUWN manages Ghodaghodi Lake in Kailali (pic above) in the far west and Kosi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in Sunsari. Ghodaghodi is a key link between the Siwaliks and the Tarai, and a corridor connecting Bardia National Park with Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve and it is home to 226 bird species.
Says CSUWN Ghodaghodi field manager Rajkumar Poudyal: "The aim is to sustain its biodiversity while developing tourism infrastructure and sustaining the livelihoods of local people".
Ghodaghodi has an 11-member committee that takes ground-level decisions on conserving the lake. CSUWN will hand over the management to the committee next year.
Women from the Tharu community around GLA are actively involved in producing traditional mats and baskets from munj, a grass that grows along the banks. "Now we are able to earn money selling munj-based products to visitors at Ghodaghodi Lake", says Asmita Chowdhary of Sukhad village (see box). Many households have also started using biogas and improved cooking stoves to decrease their reliance on firewood.
Bipat Ram Chowdhary of Sukhad who works with CSUWN's local chapter says that locals are involved in restoration of wetland sites, weeding, cleaning invasive species, and maintaining floating islands for water birds. Community anti-poaching networks have also been established to stop illegal wildlife trade. "People now understand that reviving biodiversity takes a lot of time, effort, and money," says Poudyal.
The Ghodaghodi and Kosi Tappu initiatives have already shown results. Since 2010, the Cotton Pygmy Goose whose breeding site was restricted to Pokhara has adopted Ghodaghodi also as a breeding site. Similarly, the Common Moorhen which earlier used to breed only in Kashmir has also moved to Ghodaghodi.
CSUWN carries on the ethos of Nepal's senior conservationists like Harka Gurung, Chandra Gurung, Mingma Sherpa, Tirtha Man Shakya, and Yeshe Lama who were among those killed in Ghunsa six years ago. The group had just visited the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area to hand over management to local communities.
Says Hum Gurung of Bird Conservation Nepal: "We are carrying on the vision that our environmental gurus passed down to us by getting local people to help protect the wetlands so that they benefit, the country benefits, and so does the planet".
Knotting for Nepal, BHRIKUTI RAI
A woman's personal hobby is helping others become self-sufficient and preserve traditional weaving skills
Early birds get the prize
"Wetlands are not wastelands", BHRIKUTI RAI
Conservationists battle ignorance and apathy to put Nepal's endangered wetlands on the priority protection list