The Government of Nepal is planning to construct a new international airport as the capacity of Nepal’s currently only international airport in Kathmandu has reached its limits. Apart from the presently constructed airports in Lumbini and Pokhara, government officials claim that an alternative to the capital’s Tribhuvan International Airport is urgently needed. Nijgadh, an area covered in forest, therefore, should become an additional airport within a short distance to Kathmandu. As a reaction, groups formed and started to protests against the government’s plans (Sah 2019).
This report will explain forest resource and biodiversity conflicts in Nepal through the current dispute on the planned airport in Nijgadh. Furthermore, I will create a list of mindful questions that could help as a tool of reflection. I will end the report with a short conclusion.
FOREST RESOURCES, BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION, AND CONFLICT
The forests of Nepal have always been of great importance for the country’s people. Forest is an essential basis for livelihood, provides food, building material, medicine, water, and animals to eat for thousands of rural-based Nepali families. In Nepal’s southern region, the Terai forests always served as a source for livelihood; however, forests are increasingly shrinking. Forests in the Terai are more and more affected by illegal tree harvesting, e.g., by Indian smugglers, the Maoists, and villagers (Schweithelm, Kanaan, and Yonzon 2006, vi).
Furthermore, there are many protected areas with rich biodiversity in Nepal. Conflict about biodiversity increased as people started to use protected areas for agriculture and livestock. Communities were resettled to buffer zones around the protected areas. Therefore, biodiversity and forest resources are still sensitive topics in Nepal and have the potential to fuel conflicts (Schweithelm, Kanaan, and Yonzon 2006, vii).
The Government of Nepal is planning to construct Nijgadh airport, highlighting economic benefits. The airport would cover 8,045 hectares of land and would thereby become the largest airport in South Asia.
The plans to construct more airports in Nepal initially came to the table in 1992, when several tragic airplane clashes took place around Nepal’s only airport. When a Turkish Airlines flight crashed into Nepal’s international airport runway in 2015, discussed got more serious. The airport is, however, highly controversial due to environmental concerns. Environmentalists argue that the damage of the project will damage forests and biodiversity irreparable. On December 6, 2019, the activists reached a court order forcing the government to put constructions on hold. The basis for the court order was a petition signed by the opposition of the project. Currently, the case is reviewed by the court (Sah 2019). As a result, protests on the streets and social media against the planned airport are common phenomena.
Mindful questions have the potential to help conflict parties reviewing their viewpoints, identify reasons for patterns of thinking, and understand each other better. The ongoing conflict is not yet a case of mediation. However, this might be a possible outcome of the court order. Mindfulness, as a part of finding a mutual agreement, could include different possible questions.
The Government of Nepal could ask themselves:
– How can we build Niijgad airport from an environmental perspective? – Why do we believe that the airport needs to be built? Which values and motivations are behind our viewpoint? – How can we cooperate with opposition groups and find common ground? – How do we set our priorities, and what is the basis for our strategy? – How could an alternative look like? Why Nijgadh? – How can we be mindful of our decision-making process? – How can we include opposing positions in our plans?
Environmentalists could ask themselves:
– Why do we think we are right and ‘they’ are wrong? – How should we show our protest? – How does our mind influence our position and reaction? – How can we better cooperate with the government?
The conflict about Nijgadh airport is a very controversial dispute, currently going on in Nepal. I have talked to different people from Nepal and heard very opposing viewpoints. Some believe that the airport is needed and beneficial; others believe that the price of deforestation is too high. Mindfulness brings chances of both parties to understand each other and uniquely their perspective better. Therefore, I would highly recommend to include the state of mindfulness into possible mediation efforts.
Sah, Laxmi. “Nepal Needs Another International Airport. So Why Is Nijgadh Being Held Up?” 2019. https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-2/2019/12/19/nepal-needs-another-international-airport-so-why-is-nijgadh-being-held-up. Accessed March 17, 2020.
Schweithelm, Jim, Ramzy Kanaan, and Pralad Yonzon. Conflicts over Natural Resources at the Community Level in Nepal: Including Its Relation to Armed Conflict. 2006. Kathmandu, Nepal: United States Agency for Internatonal Development.