Forests face encroachment threat from resettling quake victims

Forests face encroachment threat from resettling quake victims

Amid possibility of mass migration of quake-hit people from hills to Tarai, experts have warned of setback in forest conservation in Chure and the plains if the government fails to protect forests from logging and encroachment in the name of rebuilding and rehabilitation.

While hundreds of villages from Gorkha to Sindhupalchok are rendered uninhabitable by the April 25 earthquake and its aftershocks, the government has already decided to allow the collection of fallen and old trees from Chure to support reconstruction.

“This could result in mass migration from the hills to central and eastern Tarai districts, and lead to encroachment of the forests,” said Santosh Mani Nepal, a sustainable forest management and resource economy expert with the WWF Nepal. He suggested the need for a well thought out plan to resettle the earthquake survivors.

History shows that forest degradation and encroachment have increased during every political transition and natural disaster—be it during the establishment of democracy in 1950, first parliamentary elections in 1958, ban on the multi-party democracy in 1960, the 1980 referendum or the 1988 earthquake.

“Forests, especially in the Tarai plains, are always served for the vested interests of political parties during political upheavals and natural disasters in the name of survivors,” said Rameshore Khanal, chairperson of the President Chure-Tarai Madhes Conservation Development Committee.

Forest areas have always been the prime targets for resettlement and rehabilitation of the victims of natural disasters such as landslides and floods. A case in point is the Myagdi district where villagers displaced from the Baiseri and Bhagwati villages after the Kaligandaki river was dammed are now temporarily resettled in a nearby community forest.

“As the rehabilitation and resettlement phase begins, we need to remain cautious because the failure to intervene now could lead to another environmental disaster,” said Shankar Prasad Adhikari, secretary at the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation.

The ministry has already directed the regional directorates and district forest offices to remain “highly alert” to control any “unforeseen activities” in forests. The Chure committee has mobilised five teams in districts stretching from Illam to Kailali to monitor any “unwanted” activities in both public and community-owned forests.

Source: eKantipur