11-17 March 2016 #799

Seeing both forest and trees

Gains in community forestry have come in handy during post-earthquake reconstruction
Om Astha Rai in Ramechhap

All pics: Om Astha Rai
Prem Narayan Shrestha of Sallaghari Community Forest Users' Group in anthali, Ramechhap shows the first pine tree felled as part of a scientific forest management program.

Nearly one year later, the houses that went down in last April’s earthquake are still in ruins along the banks of the Tama Kosi. None of the 200 families living in temporary huts here have begun to rebuild their houses.

They are all waiting for the first installment of the Rs 200,000 grant to be distributed by the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA). But there is another reason they haven’t rebuilt yet: the shortage of timber.

Babur Jung Shrestha shows his community's forest that has thinned because of drought and encroachment.

“Our community forest has thinned because of drought and encroachment,” says Babur Jung Shrestha, a member of Gadwari Community Forest Users’ Group (CFUG) near Manthali. Villagers are now dependent on other community forests for timber for the nearly 35,000 houses damaged by the earthquake in Ramechhap.

A preliminary study by the Ministry of Forest (MoF) shows a severe shortage of timber for reconstruction in 11 of the 14 earthquake affected districts. Only Rasuwa, Makwanpur and Sindhuli have sufficient timber for post-earthquake reconstruction.

“Only around 60 per cent of the timber for reconstruction can be managed locally,” says Durga Shrestha of the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN) in Ramechhap. “We need to import the rest from elsewhere.”

In neighbouring Dolakha, the epicentre of the 7.3 magnitude 12 May aftershock, survivors have salvaged wooden poles, beams and planks to rebuild their houses. They can also get more timber from private and community forests, but they are worried about the shortage of hardwood timber needed to build doors and windows.

Krishna Bahadur Basnet sits in front of his earthquake-damaged house in Dolakha. He says he also wants timber from the government apart from the reconstruction grant.

“We have forests everywhere, but sal trees are very rare,” says Krishna Bahadur Basnet, a member of Hanumane Community Forest Users’ Group in Japhe, Dolakha. “So we are not just waiting for the reconstruction grant, but also sal timber.”

The Hanumane CFUG is only providing three cubic feet of timber for each of its 80 households. “At least 300 cubic feet are required to rebuild one house, but we are getting only three cubic feet,” he says. “When everyone starts rebuilding this summer, there will be a huge crisis of timber.”

A model of earthquake-resistant building in Japhe, Dolakha. Building earthquake-resistant houses, like this one, requires more timber.

Fortunately, Nepal has enough forest cover and timber for the massive post-earthquake reconstruction. After the earthquake, the Department of Forest (DoF) carried out an assessment of the need and availability of timber and found that Nepal had at least 2 million more cubic meters of timber for post-earthquake reconstruction.

“There is only one challenge: the bulk of timber is in the Tarai, but we need it in the hills,” says Resham Dangi, Director General of the DoF. “We are simplifying procedures so that timber can be easily transported to wherever it is needed for reconstruction.”

A man starts rebuilding his house on his own in Manthali, Ramechhap as distribution of the 200,000 reconstruction grant remains uncertain

FECOFUN says at least 60 per cent of the timber needed for post-earthquake reconstruction can be generated by managing community forests. “We have timber, all we need is permission to use it,” says Ganesh Karki, the FECOFUN President. “If we can fell trees that have stopped growing, we will have more than sufficient timber.”

Karki is not for chopping every tree, but felling mature trees in a scientific way to prevent forest degradation and fires. In the last two decades, according to a Forest Resource Assessment (FRA) report released in Kathmandu this week, Nepal’s forest cover has increased by 5.15 per cent.

Dharma Upreti, a community forestry expert at the Multi-Stakeholder Forestry Program (MSFP) supported by the Swiss, British and Finnish governments, credits this to community forestry initiatives launched in the 1980s. He says: “If we didn’t have community forestry we would not have enough timber to rebuild after the earthquake and the forests also saved lives by preventing landslides after the quake.”

Forest farming

Prem Narayan Shrestha, 55, has been living in a temporary hut in Manthali after the May aftershock last year flattened his house that was partially damaged by the April earthquake.

Like most earthquake survivors in this central hilly district, Shrestha is still waiting for the Rs 200,000 housing grant from the government. But as President of Sallaghari Community Forest Users’ Group in Kathjor village he is not worried about timber.

In February, members of his forest user group felled trees in one of six sections of the 92 hectare jungle. They will fell 70 mature pine trees for timber for rebuilding.

Prem Narayan Shrestha sits in front of the ruins of his house that went down in last year's earthquake.

The scientific management of forest means that trees will be felled in each section by rotation. Says Ram Sundar Sah, an assistant forest officer in Ramechhap. “If we systematically chop trees, we will have enough timber without deforestation.”

In the last decade, Nepal is experimenting with modern forest management in community as well as collaborative forests. Mature trees are cut so younger ones grow faster. The Ministry of Forest has targeted to get more than 20,000 cubic meters of timber from scientifically-managed forests for reconstruction of earthquake-damaged houses, schools, hospitals and infrastructure.

Read also:

The greening of Nepal, Marty Logan

Don't fix what ain't broke, Rubeena Mahato

Seeing neither forests nor trees, Kunda Dixit