Frustration and despair in Nepal

During my recent trip to Nepal I couldn’t resist the invitation to write an article for my former employer, Nepali Times, about my impressions on returning to the country after nearly 5 years.

As yet another deadline (Jan. 22) approaches to write a new constitution, my feelings weren’t positive.

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Nepal’s journalists still targets of political parties

Two dozen journalists in Far West Nepal were forced to flee their towns and villages last week after threats from individuals linked to the Maoist party that rules from the capital Kathmandu.

Read this summary from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

This sort of political interference in Nepal’s media has been going on for years – practised by all political parties – and, sadly, shows little signs of improving. When I lived in Kathmandu (2005-10) I participated in a few of the numerous meetings between the international community and media organizations to try and find solutions to the problem but none of them seems to have had much impact.

Nepal was ranked 118th among the world’s countries in the World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday, a drop of 12 places from 2011.

“The ability of journalists to work freely in Pakistan and Nepal continued to worsen in the absence of any government policy to protect media workers.”

– World Press Freedom Index, 2012.

Why are Nepal’s political players able to target the country’s journalists with such impunity? Is it because the tiny country is such a minor player in the world that the international community doesn’t really care? Or the inverse: that because Nepal is situated so strategically – between China and India – and is used to playing the Asian giants off of one another, that it has no fear of threats from the rest of the international community?

Whatever the cause(s), it is beyond time that Nepal’s journalists were able to practise their trade without fearing for their lives.

Health study of aboriginal town near Canada’s oil/ tar sands announced

Fort McKay
A number of the speakers at the Parliament Hill rally against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Sept. 26 were aboriginal people from Alberta, the province that contains the oil/tar sands (O/TS).

They spoke of degraded environments, health and ultimately, of their way of life.

Coincidentally, that week the Alberta provincial government said it will review the health of two aboriginal communities near the O/TS – Fort McKay First Nation and Fort McKay Metis Nation. The government says the scope and mandate of the community health assessment will be worked out by the two communities.

In my last post I noted that a 2010 study by the Royal Society of Canada found no evidence of elevated levels of cancer in Fort Chipewyan, another aboriginal community further downstream from the oil sands, but concluded that further study was needed.

“We are incredibly encouraged by this show of commitment from the Government of Alberta,” said Raymond Powder, Deputy Chief of the Fort McKay First Nation, in a press release on Sept. 29.

“We need to better understand the state of our people’s health, and how the environment around us is impacting our health, not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually,” added Powder.

Nigerian State provides cash to girls’ families

Nigeria’s Kano State has announced a 3-year pilot programme to pay families to keep girls in primary and junior secondary schools.

The girls will have to attain grades of at least 80 percent, according to The Nation newspaper.

Read more here.

Keeping girls in school – role models in Nigeria

Project at Secondary Schools, Abuja, Nigeria
This travel blog photo’s source is TravelPod page: Project at Secondary Schools, Abuja, Nigeria

Sokoto, Nigeria, 7 July 2010 – When Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, visited Nigeria in June, he met Rahina Husseini, a community mobiliser at the Kundus Primary School in Kundus village in the Rabah Local Government Area of Sokoto State in northwest Nigeria.

Rahina Husseini is 58 years old and one of seven women on Kundus Primary School’s 29-member management committee.

Her passion is to go house-to-house in the village to make sure all the girls are enrolled at school.

via UNICEF WCARO – Media Centre – Getting and keeping girls in school in Nigeria.

Community Forests – a world first

15-20 percent of Nepal’s forests (roughly one million hectares) are managed by community forest users’ groups (known here as CFUGs). Now, a consortium of 21 CFUGs from Dolakha district east of the capital Kathmandu, and Bajhang district in Nepal’s Far-West, have become the first ‘group’ in the world to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Members of a Community Forest Users' Group in Sindhupalchowk District, Marty Logan photo

Certification signifies that the groups have developed a management plan and adhere to guidelines concerning, among other issues, conservation, workers’ rights and the rights of Indigenous People. Certification also translates into increased international demand for the non-timber forest products (NTFPs – tree bark, medicinal plants/herbs, etc ) harvested in the forests. To profit locally from that demand, Dolakha’s CFUGs joined hands with established businesses, local individuals, and others to purchase three processing factories in the district. Two of the factories make handmade Nepali paper from the bark of the lokha tree, while the other processes wintergreen leaves to make essential oil.

Some of the former owners were also brought in as partners, and poor members of the community who harvest the NTFPs were given a percentage of the ownership, according to The Federation of Community Forest Users –Nepal (FECOFUN). FECOFUN supported the efforts of the CFUGs by, for example, preparing and providing guidelines on the protection and management of endangered plants, animals and their forest habitat. For purposes of certification, FECOFUN became the ‘resource manager’.

About 5,000 households, including some of the poorest families in the district, situated in the hills and mountains of Dolakha and Bajhang manage the 14,000 hectares of forests. Twenty of these households were made part owners of one of the factories in Dolakha – Bhimeswore NTFPs Production and Processing Pvt. Ltd. Its owners predict an annual return on investment of 14% to 50%. However, one challenge they face is a shortage of certified raw materials: to date they are only receiving 50% of their processing capacity. FECOFUN says steps are being taken to certify another 100 CFUGs which could then fill the demand.

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There are mixed views on the impact of Nepal’s community forests. More information is easily available via a web search. Some examples follow:

Forestry Nepal
Poverty Alleviation or Aggravation?: The Impacts of Community Forestry Policies in Nepal
IPS article, July 2006

UPDATE – Bamboo schools

An article in today’s Republica newspaper reports that one of the newest bamboo schools, in Pokhara, is very popular with parents. They are taking their children out of more expensive private schools to enroll them in bamboo schools, which charge 100 rupees (just over $1) a month.

In February, Inter Press Service reported that a wealthy Nepali living outside the country donated 24 million rupees for the building of six schools in Nepal’s Terai (plains).

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