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Development And Environment: What Is, What Should Be



By- Sashank Sharma

Development, as we know it, is the cornerstone to a country’s rise to prominence. The fact that infrastructures, in today’s world, is an indicator of development of a nation, adds to its importance. With rapid urbanization and increasing demand for more, the balance that be, has become lopsided. Environmental issues are rapidly increasing as a consequence of development. People are becoming increasingly aware of these issues in the developed countries while on contraire, people in developing nation do not see its gravity. Inside any project lies a vast amount of environmental problems. After all, it is the common ground that we live in; everything is tangled in each other, none more so than environment and development.

Escalation of environmental movement owes its existence to a poem. “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson in the 60’s sparked a movement that brought the matters of the environment to the limelight. After that, it grew like wildfire and nations across the world started formulating policies that ensure protection of the environment. The policies in this regard became the voice of the voiceless sentient being. After all, we along with 1.7 million species of beings share this common ground called earth. The figure is an estimate only, with this number expected to rise through discoveries, across the world. Furthermore, the issues of habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, over hunting, disease, invasive species and recently climate change have thrown a gauntlet of trials for all the species out there in the world; the gauntlet of survival. It is an estimate that out of all the species that ever existed in the world, only 1% inhabits the globe. That is to say, extinction is a tangible prospect. Anything that ever lives will certainly die. But today, the rate of extinction of species is around 1000 times the background rate (the rate of extinction if human beings were not present). In a sense, our actions are now showing their effect, with rapid escalation of organisms of all sorts, being drafted into different categories of IUCN threat level.

This issue of wildlife is one of many aspects of the clash of environment and development. Pollution of all sorts is now reigning our world. Everything that we took for granted, clean air, clean water, clean soil and others are now facing the wrath of indiscriminate and haphazard development. Development in itself is not the problem, but the fact that educated people that run the developmental works seem so relaxed over solving these problems, that the only thing that they see in managing environment and safety is the provision for the workers to wear construction helmets. And in their blindness, the inevitability of structure failure happens due to carelessness in managing the environment. And they haven’t a clue as to what went wrong and how it could be solved and be avoided in the future.

In 1987, at Stockholm, a report called Brundtland report was commissioned which brought the agenda of Sustainable Development. In a nutshell, sustainability defines how well the resources that we have, are utilized. The idea of incorporating sustainability into developmental projects to ensure environmental quality was a revelation. With further discussions, the concept of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was introduced around the world to give substance to the idea of Sustainability. EIA is a scientific approach of scoping and identifying issues of physio-chemical, socio-economic and biological nature, the impacts that these receive due to the project and the mitigation and/or adaptive measures that need to be undertaken to ensure environmental quality. EIA rejects any projects that have the possibility to fail to at least keep the standards to how they were before the initiation of the project, meaning, the project must ensure or even better the existing environmental condition.

Nepal, through the formulation of Environment Protection Act, 1997 and Environmental Protection Rule, 1997, showed its promise of a better environment. Everything stated within these two polices are commendable. The provision of EIA and IEE (Initial Environment Examination) are well put and the procedures are well stated. But the actual scenario when it comes to implementing them comes out to be on the opposite extreme of what was promised. What really grinds my gear is the fact that people do not really have a grasp on how big the issues really are. With anthropogenic climate change already announcing itself on the centre stage, the issue of sustainable projects is a prospect that we can no longer ignore. It is a necessity rather than an option, for who in their right mind would first install all the furniture and accessories of the house rather than seeing to it that the house itself is built upon strong foundation? The relevancy of this anecdote with developmental projects is a reality that the people of today need to grasp.

Asian Development Bank, World Bank and EU are a few to name that strictly implement the issues of the environment and social nature into their contract with nations, where a project under their fund is being developed. Social and Environmental Safeguards are at the very core of any development projects. The legally binding contractual agreement sees to it that every stipulation stated in ADB-GON contract has been implemented.

With such advances in policies and supposed concern towards the environment, the only issue should have been of strict implementation and monitoring. And this has been the downfall of all the elaborately schemed policies. Ask anyone from Kathmandu about what is wrong with this city and most commonly, the answer is air pollution. The environmental standards set by the Government and even by World Health Organization is a thing of ridicule in this nation. Yes, climate change is upon us, and yes, the environment is changing rapidly. This doesn’t mean we don’t need development. In fact, we need it more than ever, but not the development that has been accustomed to in this nation. We need development that is sustainable with the environment, for as long as the environment is healthy, we will be healthy. And for as long as we treat the environment with ignorance, the environment will treat us with vengeance.

The writer is an environmentalist, and currently works as an Environmental Expert at the proposed Gautam Buddha International Airport.

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