Statement by Dr. Henning Karcher, UNDP Resident Representative, On the occasion of World Environment Day 2002

05 Jun 2002

Statement by Dr. Henning Karcher, UNDP Resident Representative, On the occasion of World Environment Day 2002 at Birendra International Convention Centre, 5 June 2002

Your Royal Highness, Rt. Honourable Prime Minister Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba, Honourable Minister for Population and Environment, Mr. P.L. Singh, Honourable Vice Chairman of the National Planning Commission, Dr. Narayan Khadka, Secretary, Ministry of Population and Environment Mr. Mukti Narayan Shrestha, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Population and Environment Mr. Janak Raj Joshi, Distinguished Representatives of His Majesty’s Government, Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues and Friends,

It is a great pleasure and privilege for me to address you today on the occasion of World Environment Day 2002 which is focussed on the theme “Give Earth a Chance”. At the outset I would like to express my appreciation to the Ministry of Population and Environment for having taken the initiative to organize this programme. There are a few issues that are more deserving of the attention of a large gathering such as this than the state of the environment and the future of our earth.

Being extremely busy and preoccupied with our daily needs and pressures we all too often forget the big picture and the cumulative effects of our actions. We tend to forget the fragile nature of our planet and our broader responsibility for the generations that will come after us. We tend to forget that all life forms on our planet are inter-related and that as global policies impact on individual lives so do actions by individuals impact on mankind.

Sometime ago I had an opportunity to watch an interview with Neil Armstrong, who as we all know had the opportunity to be the first human being to set foot on the moon. He was asked of all the things he had seen during his unique historical journey had left the deepest impression on his mind. Without hesitation he answered that he was most deeply moved by the sight of our mother earth from space. This uniquely beautiful spaceship earth equipped with a thin layer of air that shows already even on satellite photos signs of human activity that are threatening the very existence of our planet.

As in most areas Nepal’s track record in the area of the environment can best be described as mixed. There are impressive success stories of global significance but there are also failures and trends that give reason to deep concern.

On the positive side I would like to draw attention to the fact that over 18% of Nepal’s surface has been set aside as protected areas for the conservation of biodiversity.

Nepal’s experience with the management of buffer zones around national parks has already drawn global attention as an example of how a balance can be struck between the double objectives of alleviating poverty on the one hand and preserving the environment on the other. By channeling 50% of tourism income to populations living in the buffer zones national parks have become from the perspective of the buffer zone population the “geese that lay the golden eggs”. Also people in the buffer zones have been able to protect themselves through fences and ditches against the damage caused by wild animals. Most importantly organizing themselves around the management of natural resources available in buffer zones, buffer zones population have been able to build strong and vibrant communities that can claim their rights and plan their future.

Also on the positive side I should mention the significant expansion of forest cover in the mid hills through 11,091 Community Forestry Groups. This represents an almost unique success story clearly borne out by satellite imagery proving the fact that communities do behave in a responsible manner if and when the responsibility to manage common natural resources is given to them.

On the other hand rent-seeking behaviour gains easily the upper hand if such community checks are not in place and opportunities do present themselves for the irresponsible exploitation of forest resources. This is clearly the case to an extent in the Terai and available data suggest that the percentage of forestland in Nepal as a whole declined from 37.4% in 1986 to 29% in 1995.

Nepal’s rural areas increasingly face issues of land degradation, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and poor sanitation. The Nation’s urban areas are confronted by air and water pollution as well as solid waste management problems.

Much has been done at the global level since the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 resulted in a global commitment to integrate sustainability considerations into all aspects of development planning and management. Significant financial resources were pledged on that occasion and Nepal has been able to benefit from the Global Environment Facility in a number of areas including the management of Makalu Barun, establishment of a Tiger Rhino corridor in the Terai and range land development in Upper Mustang. The project in Upper Mustang is particularly interesting since it combines the preservation of the environment with preservation of the cultural heritage. Ultimately mankind will only be able to survive if its spiritual dimension is fully integrated into the development process. Afterall, to paraphrase a quote from Teilhard de Chardin “ We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; but we are spiritual beings having a human experience”.

There are a few places on earth where spirituality is so closely and deeply interwoven with daily life as in Nepal. I feel that much could be gained by applying this spiritual dimension also to the way we treat the environment. As pointed out in different fora organized on the occasion of the Year of the Mountains, mountains have since time immemorial inspired mankind and nurtured cultural and spiritual values. Also environmental conservation is often found in ancient cultures around the world. As the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme reminds us in his message on the occasion of World Environment Day, many indigenous people’s value and belief systems have evolved to respect nature and live in harmony with it. Land and people are one. Earth as a spiritual mother, provides life and sustenance as well as cultural and spiritual identity.

As I mentioned earlier, at the Rio Summit it was realized that sustainability considerations must permeate all aspects of the development process and must, in particular figure prominently in long-term development plans and strategies. In this context I am happy to acknowledge the exemplary work done by His Majesty’s Government with the support of some donors to draw up a Sustainable Development Agenda for Nepal. This document prepared in a participatory fashion was just completed and is very timely as a companion document for the 10th Five Year Plan about to be completed. It is encouraging to see that a number of processes that were initiated a long time ago are finally coming together and creating synergy. I am thinking here also of the National Human Rights Action Plan that represents another companion document of the 10th Five year Plan. A National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan (NBSAP) has also been recently formulated.

Much has been done but much more will be required from all of us in future. Personal commitments including changes in our lifestyle, policy changes including some which will hurt polluters, resource commitments which will imply shifting priorities.

In his report for the Millennium Assembly held in the year 2000 in New York the UN Secretary General called for a new ethic of global stewardship for one world. As Nepal prepares itself to attend the second Earth Summit to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa later this year, I trust that the necessary momentum will be gathered to turn things around, take decisive action and live up to our obligations towards the generations that will come after us.

Thank you.