Hills, Mountains and Terai: An Ecosystem
Hills, Mountains and Terai: An Ecosystem
Sushil Bhattarai Saturday March 10, 2007
Although Nepal is a small country covering only 0.1 percent of the earth’s land area, it has a very rich biodiversity playing host to more than 2 percent of all flowering plants, 8 percent of all birds, and 4 percent of all mammals.
Nepal is basically an agrarian country, and more than 80 percent of the total population is engaged in agriculture.
About 83 percent of the total area consists of high mountains and rolling hills and the remaining 17 percent is the alluvial plain of the Terai and Dun Valleys . Nepal has a unique geographical setting with an altitudinal range varying from 60 meters (above sea-level) in the south and up to the height of Mount-Everest (8848 m) to the north. Similarly, Nepal has a unique mixture of ethnic groups having languages and dialects of their own.
Nepal is divided into five geographical zones based on topographic landforms from south to north. They are the Terai, the Siwaliks, the Middle Mountains , the High Mountains and the High Himal. From development and administrative point of view, the country has been further divided into five Development Regions, fourteen Zones and seventy-five Districts. The zonal boundaries normally follow the perennial rivers towards east-west and consisting of Hill-Terai ecosystem along north-south direction. Although the role of Regions, Zones and Districts are important for the country’s development, integrating people of different geographical regions and ethnic groups and culture, the Zonal offices, however, were misused as a political hub for the rulers in the past.
Nepal ’s unique mountain ecosystem, consisting of high mountains and deep valleys are famous for eco-tourism, besides their role of holding water in the form of watersheds of many rivers flowing to the Terai plain and valleys. Eco-tourism in Nepal has an important role on poverty reduction and protection of indigenous knowledge and culture of the people while conserving the biodiversity.
High torrential rain, the geographical setting, the traditional cropping technique and other factors have led to problems of denudation of hills and mountains and deposition of sediment in the Terai. The Terai is also suffering from inundation during summer, due to the erection of dams and dykes along the border in the south.
Hence, the overall management of Hills and Terai is not possible in isolation; it has to be addressed as a part of ecosystem with highland-lowland interactive system. The flood plains (inner valleys and Terai) cannot be saved without proper conservation measures on a watershed basis in the hills and mountains; and the Terai people get energy (hydro power) from the hills and mountains.
Nepal’s forestry sector also plays an important role in the socio-economic enhancement of the people, as well as the protection of the biodiversity, conservation of water in the watersheds and overall protection of the environment, both in the hills/mountains and Terai. The forests are managed with a view to preserve ecosystem, and all these eco-systems are distributed in different physiographic zones: Terai, Siwaliks, Mid-Hills and Highlands .
Community Forestry in Nepal has set an excellent example of forest management with people’s participation through forest user groups (FUGs) in the hills. Recently, the forests in the Terai (8 Terai districts in the Central Development Region) are being managed under the Collaborative Forest Management System (CFMS). One of the major differences of CFMS with community forests in the hills is to address forest management issues keeping interests of both close and distant forest users and the involvement of all the stake holders. Such a plan is envisaged to address livelihood and equitable economic development along with environmental protection through collective decisions of the stake-holders of the population of the Terai districts as well.
Hence, having different physiographic situation, biodiversity, ecological character and complex demographic mix and their socio-economic conditions in Nepal , the issues raised by Madehsi community in the Terai have to be tackled through eco-system approach and there should not be any controversy in proportional representation of all sectors (ethnic groups – including Madhesi, women and disadvantaged groups) in the forthcoming constitutional assembly.
The inter-relationship between the Madhesi and Pahadi ethnic groups living in the Terai plain must be maintained at any cost as the unwanted and unnecessary conflict may lead to a catastrophe, which no Nepali citizen wants.
It is also hoped that the agitating groups and the government representatives will find a solution to resolve the issues.It is strongly recommended that the eight parties, including Maoists, and the government be careful about any ethnic conflict in future and let the country remain united and co-exist in highland-lowland interactive system.
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