On the occasion of the WWF Annual Meeting this week, Prince Gyanendra spoke to Nepali Times on a wide range of issues dealing with environmental protection in Nepal. The Prince is the chairman of the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, and has for the past 25 years been actively involved in natural and cultural heritage conservation. Prince Gyanendra has been closely involved with the international conservation movement, and is a strong advocate of a people-oriented approach to environmental protection.
Q How important was it to have the WWF Annual Meeting in Kathmandu?
Prince Gyanendra: The fact that WWF has chosen Nepal as the venue for its conference speaks volumes of the successfully implemented conservation activities in Nepal. It also highlights the efforts of the Nepali people in pioneering innovative schemes in this particular field. The added sweetener was that the conference also brought together the world of religion with that of the environment. Besides an in-depth discussion on the role of religious establishments in strengthening conservation, the Kathmandu Meet will be long remembered for forging a spirit of partnership. Care and compassion must take precedence while devising strategies for the sustainable management of natural resources.
Q What specifically are some of these successful conservation success stories in Nepal?
Prince Gyanendra: Conservation cannot be successful, much less sustainable, unless it embraces the long-term interest and welfare of the people who are to benefit from it. The King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation has increasingly taken an integrated approach in the formulation and implementation of its conservation programmes. The Trust was a catalyst of these programmes, but more importantly the communities for whom they were intended accepted them and made them their own. The Annapurna Conservation Area Project, the Kumrose and Baghmara projects have been successful in addressing and highlighting this very philosophy. In the Manaslu Conservation Area, programmes are built around the economic upliftment of the people blended with an eco-friendly sustainable management of tourism.
Q Learning from these projects, what are the major challenges facing biodiversity conservation in the Nepal Himalaya, and how does KMTNC plan to address them?
Prince Gyanendra: Nepal is ecologically very fragile. But we are also gifted with the bounties of nature, bestowed by rich biodiversity. Nepal is also subjected to various ills faced by many developing countries. An uncommitted leadership, abject poverty, rising population and a lack of will to see things to their logical and fruitful conclusion are challenges. If left unattended, these will have grave and serious consequences. Conservation is a multidisciplinary approach, requiring the cooperation of various sectors in society. KMTNC will continue its efforts in partnership with all concerned for the conservation of the unique biodiversity of the Himalaya.
Q How exactly does the KMTNC plan to do this: to go beyond the successes of the past?
Prince Gyanendra: Your question at least accepts the fact that KMTNC has not wasted its resources in idle maters. Reaching and striving to improve the quality of life of people is easier said than done. If people do not want conservation, no amount of effort will succeed. Care must be taken to inject the human element to all conservation efforts, and the Trust intends to give importance to such areas where conservation will have a long-term impact. That is why, while we recognise the need for habitat and species conservation, we will expand to identify issues related to the environment with more of an eco-regional perspective.
Q Does this mean there will be less of an emphasis on celebrity mammals like rhinos, tigers and elephants and more on conservation of habitats and ecosystems?
Prince Gyanendra: You are right: many conservation organisations have directed their activities to flagship species. I believe this was done because it was easier to project and fundraise for a cuddly panda. The tiger, with all its majesty, lies at the apex of the food chain, as a premier predator. The tiger's well-being provides vital information on the health of its entire home range. So, it is important to realise that things cannot be compartmentalised, especially when you are dealing with the environment and conservation. Without addressing the whole (ecosystem) you would only be solving half the problem. I think this message will also come out loud and clear from the present Kathmandu conference of the WWF-International.
Q What in your opinion are Nepal's conservation priorities?
Prince Gyanendra: Nepal's conservation priorities, and the strategies to achieve them are well defined in numerous HMG policy papers. The fact that they have not been implemented is another thing. Clearly, the conservation of biodiversity coupled with sustainable management of natural resources has received utmost priority. However, we are also beginning to witness the problems of "brown issues". Unplanned urbanisation, increasing migration to towns and cities, excessive use of chemicals, and industrial activities resulting in water and air pollution are creating dangerous consequences. The time has come for Nepal to give due attention to these issues, sooner rather than later.