Lured by green, in Kathmandu

Green Dilibazar

Photo: Marty Logan

One of Kathmandu’s biggest defects is the lack of green spaces. Luckily I’ve found one. It’s tiny, and certainly not where you would expect it, but its positive impact is huge. In fact, for many years now I’ve been fortunate to enjoy nature in different forms. in many cities.

I wrote more about this in this week’s Nepali Times:

The lure of green

When I’ve had enough of the smog, barking dogs, crowds and cacophony of Kathmandu I seek out my ‘oasis’, a small piece of green real estate that, I’m sure, slows my heartbeat and lowers my blood pressure on sight in — Dilibazar.

Yes, that’s right, Dilibazar, one of the oldest suburbs of 20th-century Kathmandu, once known for its sweet shops and the derelict Charkhal Jail, but today recognisable by the educational consultancies and their billboards — ‘Study in Australia, Canada, Cyprus, England, Greece, Ireland! — that have spilled onto its streets from Putali Sadak. It’s definitely not the first place that comes to mind when you think of Kathmandu and nature.

My paradise is small and tranquil, wild but constrained by the boundaries of private property. On its fringes is an old, intact Nepali brick house and surrounding it 1960s-vintage concrete homes, one of them belonging to my in-laws. It is from my sasurali, the dining room windows to be precise, that I gaze onto the neighbours’ pocket-sized ‘jungle’ with its plum, pomegranate, pecan and avocado trees, small copse of bamboo and a barely visible path, fringed by wild flowers in warmer months, which passes by a tiny temple.

If I step back slowly from the dining-room window, holding my gaze, I soon reach a point where the brown frame is filled with green only. Marvelling, I approach again, push open the glass and breathe deeply, in wonder that this tiny piece of nature remains and can draw me so strongly, while all around it the concrete jungle grows.

Trees = health

Research in recent years has tried to quantify how trees affect human health. By filtering air pollution, trees averted $6.8 million yearly in health costs in the US, a 2014 study in the journal Environmental Pollution found. In Toronto, having 10 more trees than average on a street was comparable to a $10,000 increase in personal income, and moving to an area with a $10,000 higher median income or being 7 years younger.

Nature has long drawn me. When I was about 10, my family spent the weekend on an island a short boat ride away from our town. While the adults talked inside, I wandered away, towards the ocean, hopping from stone to stone to avoid the mud and pools of water left behind by the retreating tide.

Bending to peer into one of those tidepools an entire, tiny world emerged: orange crabs crawled out from under stones, the movement sending up miniature clouds of sand that obscured the scuttling crustaceans. Tiny fish darted, and the long-legged bugs we called ‘water skimmers’ zoomed across the surface. It was only when I heard a voice calling me that I realised I had been lost in my new world — until my brother arrived to make sure I had not passed out, or worse.

Years later, an earnest student in Vancouver, I passed far too many hours peering into books under the stark lights of university rooms, but then waiting for the night bus to take me home I would fall under the spell of a row of giant poplar trees that on windy nights swayed in the street-lit shadows above, their leaves rustling like running water.

A splendid camphor

Fast forward to our first move to Kathmandu, searching for an apartment. We turned the corner of a galli not far from the Charkhal Jail and a magnificent camphor tree rose at the T-junction ahead. I knew then that I wanted to live on that alley, and soon after we signed the contract.

Back in Toronto seven years later, we were visiting another possible rental in the heart of Canada’s biggest city. At one end of the delightfully long apartment was a former balcony, converted into a room for four-season living. Outside its huge windows a stand of maple trees rose above the parking lot. Here’s a future office, I thought, and we were lucky enough to rent that apartment too.

Today, I am again fortunate to live in a relatively green section of Kathmandu, with a backyard that hosts guava, mango, avocado, and other fruit trees. Unless the neighbourhood dogs are yapping, birdsong wakes me in the morning and frogs call insistently after a nighttime monsoon rain.

I have been luckier than most people to live so often next to nature, which bestows enormous benefits often in small, simple ways. I could spend hours soaking in my Dilibazar jungle, but I get the same pleasure from hearing raindrops hit the leaves of the trees outside my open window.

Postscript: The owner of the Dilibazar jewel died in mid-August, before I could go and ask how he managed to preserve a natural paradise amid the steadily shrinking ‘empty’ spaces of the neighbourhood. I dedicate this article to that man I never met, for withstanding the pressure to sell out and cash in.

I am not exactly sure what motivated him to conserve his patch of land, but hearing that just before he died he had asked one of his children to bring him seedlings from overseas, I’m confident it went beyond simply keeping the valuable property in the family.


Shorter, not fatter


A child eating at a Mother’s Group meeting devoted to nutritious feeding, in Nepal’s Achham district in 2018. Photo: Marty Logan

A study finding that infants in Kathmandu are getting 25% of their calories from junk foods was a major talking point in Nepal last week.

Looking at the article in The Journal of Nutrition, it is also surprising that among the 700 or so kids studied, the group who ate the most junk food were shorter than the average, not fatter as might be expected.

Shorter than average is a description of stunting, a major marker of childhood malnutrition. Decades ago Nepal had extremely high rates of stunting, which is also an indicator of a country’s development, but managed to reduce it greatly. Still, the country is not on track to meet the 2030 target of the Sustainable Development Goals: 15% of children under 5 stunted.

Below is my article published today in Nepali Times, online.

Continue reading

Nepal has greater heights to scale than Mt Everest

WASH_Achham_Marty_Logan_2018As the ‘custodian’ of Mt Everest, the Nepal Government must make changes to how it manages the precious global resource. But far below, leaders are struggling to overcome other obstacles that block the country’s graduation from least-developing country status.

Earlier this month a National Geographic team set up the world’s highest weather station, very close to the peak of Mt Everest. Its purpose is to monitor the Central Asian Jet Stream, to see how winds and moisture move above 29,000 feet and affect the warming climate. In effect the multinational team has also opened a window to the land where glaciers are born.

With great potential for gleaning information about this much celebrated, increasingly exploited, but little known environment, the weather stations are a exciting advance. Yet you get the feeling that the die is already cast: like its neighbours in the Himalaya Hindu-Kush (HKH) range, Everest is melting.

2/3 of glaciers could melt by 2100

The worst-case scenario in a recent assessment predicts that two-thirds of glaciers in the HKH, which spans from Afghanistan to China, will melt by 2100. Earlier last week another team of scientists announced  they found the internal temperatures of the Khumbu glacier on Everest to be higher than expected, just -3.3C. They predicted accelerated melting in the short term, followed by flooding, droughts and unstable, dangerous conditions for climbers.

This climate peril illustrates the double-barrel challenge facing countries like Nepal: they must provide the basics expected from an increasingly wealthy, globally-savvy population — such as infrastructure, health and education — and at the same time confront global threats like the climate crisis and deadly non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that bedevil rich and poor countries alike. Continue reading

Nepal must ensure students’ WASH

WASH in schools

This photo was taken by Sushma, 15, from Sindhuli district in Nepal as part of a participatory photo project, organised by WaterAid UK. She said: “This is the girls’ toilet at our school. It doesn’t lock properly. If someone is inside, someone else has to wait outside, pushing the door. This is why we need more girl-friendly toilets.”

WASH stands for water, sanitation and hygiene. It doesn’t sound sexy, but when you think about it, those things are fundamental to our lives.

The link between WASH and education is not so evident, but it too is essential, this time for keeping students in school — especially girls and particularly when they reach the age of menstruation.

Nepal’s WASH statistics have been improving but it’s important that we don’t confuse facilities with functioning WASH systems, because in many cases water taps and bathrooms are on site but are not useable.

Here’s the column I wrote about this for the current issue of Nepali Times:

Continue reading

Mt Everest as amusement park


Photo: Globe and Mail

This is the article I wrote about the overcrowding and deaths on Mt Everest during the spring climbing season that just ended. It was published in the Globe and Mail on 28 May.

Heated discussions continue about how to deal with the growing number of climbers  wanting to scale the world’s tallest mountain. Of course, climbing Everest is a risky endeavour, but I don’t think it should include waiting in a queue for hours at 8,848 metres. I hope that the Government of Nepal takes some steps to address that issue. Also, I see little mention of the potential damage to the environment – this needs to be taken into account too.

The article:

Mount Everest cannot become an amusement park

When I saw the now famous photo of the queue of climbers atop Mount Everest – hordes of people waiting to ascend to the summit – I was awestruck. Such colour, such clarity, in a picture from the top of the world – wow. But the awe quickly became a sinking feeling in my stomach. Continue reading

Nourishing post-natal mothers and babies in Nepal


A child eats during a feeding session of a mothers’ group in Achham district, Nepal, February 2018. Photo: Marty Logan

Here’s a short update on my recent post, New mothers get rice, rupees and a rooster!

A municipality in Bara district, 60 km south of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, is distributing chickens to new mothers and pregnant women. The local initiative to add protein to families’ diets is part of the national Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan, which I’ve written about previously.

Continue reading

To fix unhealthy diets: activism before ‘an apple a day’

Marty_Logan_blog_health_environment_070419Kudos to CBC News reporter Kelly Crowe for this article about a recent global health study on the deadly impact of unhealthy eating, in which she goes beyond simply presenting the newest numbers to discuss the ‘why’.

The news itself is shocking: in 2017  poor diets worldwide caused 11 million deaths, concludes the report, published in The Lancet journal. Eating too much salt and not enough whole grains and fruits were the major culprits.

Obstacles to healthy eating

But what Crowe also highlights are those factors that are beyond the control of individuals and are known as ‘environmental determinants of health’. These range from absent or misleading labels on food packages to prominent placement of junk food in supermarkets to the unaffordability of the fruits, vegetables and other healthy food that we’re supposed to be eating more of to prevent those 11 million deaths. Continue reading