World Environment Day is celebrated on June 5 annually to create awareness and encourage environmental protection.
According to the United Nations, the main objective is to raise awareness among people to protect the environment by looking at scorching issues of environment pollution, drastic climatic changes, greenhouse effect and global warming.
Needles to mention, among all our cities, the three cities of the Kathmandu Valley hold great significance for geographical, economic, cultural, political and social reasons.
However, the valley has seen its environmental degrade year after year.
The bowl-shaped Kathmandu Valley is located 1,425 metres above sea level and is ringed by the Shivapuri, Phulchowki, Nagarjun and Chandragiri hills. But the haphazard development of its beautiful cities shows that our planners, administrators and politicians have little regard for the cultural and historical importance of this valley.
The unplanned development of our country can be taken as the major reason for the environmental degradation that we witness everywhere. Anyone with a plot of land near the city can divide it into small pieces and sell them at a high price. Not much attention is paid to the management of basic facilities like sanitation, water supply, road access, electricity and communications.
But once houses start sprouting, there is political lobbying for the management of these facilities, which starts with the construction of a gravel road.
The collusion of land brokers, local political leaders and civil servants become so strong that any interaction on whether that area is feasible for the development of a new town gets sidelined. This uncontrolled and unplanned development taking place at the foothills of the surrounding hills of the valley, which we can see from our terrace, has taken a toll of the pristine environment that the Kathmandu Valley was known for.
Century-old documentaries and photos of the developed countries show that they have been through the stages that we are currently in. During that time, they did not have any technology to test whether the plans and programmes they were implementing would go the right way. But their hard work and honesty have helped them establish what they are today.
It is a matter of regret that we lack plans and programmes to develop our nation. Whatever plan and programme we intend to execute in our country are mostly copied from the developed world. But we do not have the capacity to distinguish between the pros and cons of such plans, leading to unorganised development that has serious impact on our culture, economy and environment.
Inside the Kathmandu Valley, there used to be many wells and stone waterspouts providing uninterrupted water supply to the local people in days gone by. But because of the unplanned development near the water conduits, water supply has been disturbed and stopped flowing altogether.
There are still many ancient and historic ponds at the center of the towns that were created to supply water to the local people.
These ponds were also used for the supply of water during emergencies such as a fire or for irrigation and cleaning while also helping to keep the environment cool and our ecosystem balanced. But the unplanned development activities that show no concern for the conservation of such ponds, wells and stone waterspouts have led to their disappearance.
Nowadays, we see stone waterspouts being renovated with the surroundings paved with flagstones and bricks, but what use is such construction when no water is flowing? Perhaps the other cities of the valley – Patan, Bhaktapur and Kirtipur – having learnt lessons from Kathmandu are engaged in the preservation of what little is left of the ponds and waterspouts.
I remember my childhood days when I used to go to the local butcher shop and return home with meat wrapped in sal leaves.
They are bio-degradable and do not threaten the environment.
Most of the people of that time went to the market with a nylon bag, and goods were wrapped in paper. I was thrilled to get things in a plastic bag for the first time, but how was I to know that my ecstasy to get such a plastic bag would become the major reason for the degradation of our environment? The slogan “Let us convert our waste into money”, which we have been hearing since the past two decades, has lost its luster. The concentration of all facilities in the Kathmandu Valley has only led to an increase in the valley's population.
And in the absence of well-managed development, disposal of waste has been one of our major problems.
Every government has floated lucrative plans to solve the issues of waste management, but none have ever been implemented.
Heaps of garbage collect on the streets of Kathmandu every time there is disturbance by the locals of the landfill site. The health and social problems faced by the local people of the landfill site are another side of the story, to which the Kathmandu Metropolitan City always listens but solves only temporarily.
The Bagmati and Bishnumati rivers face a similar plight.
Finally, on the occasion of World Environment Day, it is worthwhile to share some insights about a festival called Sithi Nakha celebrated in June in the Newar community of the Kathmandu Valley.
As we know, the month of June is hot and dry, so carrying out cleaning activities in this month is quite easy. Hence, people engage in cleaning their wells, courtyards and surroundings on this day, a practice that began centuries ago.
The involvement of the Newar community in cleaning activities on this day, which usually falls a day before or after World Environment Day, shows their sensitivity and awareness about the importance of conserving the environment for their well-being and the future generation.
Sindurakar was former Chief Administrative Officer of Nepal Mountaineering Association
A version of this article appears in the print on June 3, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.
© 2021 The Himalayan Times