Nepali Times
Taking nature back to people


The Ghunsa helicopter crash on 23 September 2006 devastated Nepal's nature conservation movement by taking the lives of 24 people, among them six of Nepal's pioneer conservationists. Six years on, the void is slowly being filled by community-based environmental groups who are protecting the legacy of putting local people at the centre of conservation activities.

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".

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Weaving empowerment

Anita Chowdhary and Asmita Chowdhary of Sukhad VDC of Kailali are no longer stay-at-home moms. Everyday they leave for work with the four wheel cart which is their make shift shop for selling munj-based products like baskets and mats. They sell up to six items a day to visitors at Ghodaghodi Lake. Tharu women like Anita and Asmita blend their indigenous weaving techniques with contemporary styles. Shyam Badan Shrestha of Nepal Knot Craft Centre has been training them in new techniques so their products are more marketable. Nepal Knot Craft Centre and Organic Village have set up a joint-venture to promote and sustain the local enterprise. Says Shyam Badan of Nepal Knot Craft: "Women not just learn to infuse contemporary style in their products, but also get a market for their handicrafts".

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See also:
"Wetlands are not wastelands", BHRIKUTI RAI
Conservationists battle ignorance and apathy to put Nepal's endangered wetlands on the priority protection list

1. yam gurung

Well done keep up the good work.We cannot bring back these great pioneers and great asset of Nepal.But we can carry on their good work to inhance nature beauty of Nepal.

Despite the puppet leaders of Nepal are fighting only for money and power.

2. Chakra L.
Gud 1 Ms., loved the awareness portion.
Carry it on

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)