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Nepal government rises to climate change challenge
4 Dec 2009

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Two centuries ago, when the then prime minister of Kathmandu Bhimsen Thapa wanted to make important announcements, royal heralds clambered atop Dharahara, the 11th storey minaret he had built, to bawl out the proclamation from there. Two centuries later, Nepal’s current Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal led his ministers to a desolate plateau at a height of 5542m to hold the world’s highest cabinet meeting ever from where to proclaim his government’s commitment to save the Himalayas, the source of Asia’s life-giving rivers.


The prime minister exchanged his trademark Nepali topi to don a thick woollen cap, a yellow oxygen mask and a thick, windproof jacket to lead 22 senior ministers, including his two deputies, to the Kala Pattar region on the Gorak Shep plateau that had once earlier grabbed global headlines for hosting the first T20 cricket match. Flanked by high mountains and buffeted by winds as well as the whirring of four helicopters kept on standby, Nepal used a megaphone to read out the Everest Declaration, the republic's 10-point charter that sets the agenda for the government’s action at the UN conference on climate changes that will kick off in Copenhagen on Dec 7.


"Climate changes (and their fallout) is not the concern of Nepal or the Himalayan nations alone," Nepal said at the historic cabinet meeting that however lasted just 10 minutes. "Also, they have been caused not by Nepal but others. We should unite to raise one voice and endeavour now to stop the negative effects of global warming."

Pledging to cooperate with the international community, the government, with the Everest Declaration, will work to expand forest cover to 40 percent of Nepal’s soil and increase conserved areas to 25 percent from the current 20. The Api Nampa conservation area in Darchula district bordering India, Gaurishankar in Ramechhap and Dolakha and Banke National Park in Midwestern Banke district will now be protected areas. Nepal is also supporting a rally by 30 Everest climbers in Copenhagen on Dec 11 to draw attention to the threat the Himalayas and the Sherpas who live in their lap face. They include Apa Sherpa, the legendary Everest hero who has climbed the 8848m peak a record 19 times.

Forest Minister Deepak Bohora conceived the ‘Everest" meet, inspired by the Maldives government that went underwater in October for a cabinet meeting to draw world attention to the engulfment threat the island nation faced. Bohora said the Himalayas needed an orchestrated campaign to save them. With the snow on the mountains melting and glaciers receding due to global warming, the mighty peaks were endangered. "If there is a catastrophe in the Himalayas, our human civilization will not be able to cope with that," he said.

The meeting in the foothills of Mt Everest has attracted world attention even more than the Maldives meet. Over 70 journalists flew to the remote region in near-freezing temperatures to cover the incident while Nepal’s state-owned television station, Nepal Television, beamed it live.

"It is a very positive sign that the leaders of the country have given priority to the issue of climate changes and their fallouts," said Dr Arun Shrestha, senior climate change specialist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu. "The symbolic gesture introduces Nepal to the world. However, it needs effective follow-up."

A discordant note however was struck by a group of lawmakers who have submitted a report to the government after visiting Mustang, Nepal’s northernmost district close to the Tibet border. The report says Nepal’s security forces – the army, police and armed police – are the worst denuders of forests, using thousands of tons of firewood daily to meet the cooking needs of the forces. Even in the capital, police use firewood when they should switch over to cooking gas, the report has recommended.



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Source: The Times of India