Nepal is a country in South Asia, well-known for its impressive mountains, natural beauty, and cultural diversity. Surrounded by its giant neighbors and global players India and China, the country is one of the poorest in the world. Nevertheless, its natural treasure is impressive. Water, forests, and natural biodiversity are crucial for the country, its people, the economy, and the environment. Nevertheless, these factors also contribute to conflict and have mainly added to Nepal’s civil war and still play a key role in current disputes.
This paper is a part of the World Mediation Organization’s training program on mindful mediation. The paper will start with an introduction to what natural resource conflicts are and how they affect Nepal. Moreover, a summary of mindfulness will be given. Afterward, the concept of mindfulness will be applied to challenge the situation of Nepal’s natural resources, and recommendations will be provided. The paper will end with a conclusion.
CONTEXT OF NEPAL
Nepal counts as one of the poorest countries worldwide, ranked 147 out of 189 on the Human Development Index of the countries worldwide. An estimated 42 percent of the country is living under the poverty line, in some cases, even severe poverty. Most of the Nepalese community, 80 percent, are living in rural areas. Many of the rural-based households suffer from insufficient access to food due to a lack of land for agriculture or other reasons such as climate change.
A significant part of the country is hilly, marked by forests that have been increasingly cut within the last decades. Degradation of mountains is, additionally, a challenge. Growing populations in Nepal that come along with shrinking natural resources have the potential to destabilize the country.
The societal structure of Nepal is marked by the caste system, rigidly hierarchical, causing social inequalities. Furthermore, ethnic diversity and deep-rooted traditions remain dominant characteristics of the country. Additionally, poverty and a lack of education contribute to challenges such as child marriage, early pregnancy, unemployment, and gender injustice (Schweithelm, Kanaan, and Yonzon 2006, iii – viii).
Furthermore, the country went through a decade-long civil war, which ended in 2008. Causes of the conflict were:
– A fastly growing population which resulted in degradation of the environment and scarcity of resource; – Inequality in the society which furthermore contributed to unfair access to natural resources; – Limited access to education which additionally contributes to unemployment; – Limited job opportunities outside the urban centers; – Failures of Nepal’s back then monarchical government (Schweithelm, Kanaan, and Yonzon 2006, vi).
RESOURCE CONFLICTS IN NEPAL
Michael T. Klare writes that resource conflicts have become increasingly prominent worldwide. Conflict on resources is often mixed with religious, ethnic, and tribal antagonism Resource conflicts have become an increasing threat to peace on a local, national, and international level (Klare 2002, 1 – 10).
a) Water and conflict
Nepal is one of the world’s countries with the most significant water resources and has the potential to produce large quantities of hydropower. The irrigation systems in the southern Terai are mainly fed by river systems. As the river flow depends on the monsoon and temperature, agriculture is seasonal and limited to water availability. In hilly regions, access to drinking water is challenging.
Additionally, water sources within Nepal are increasingly polluted, especially in or nearby urban centers like Kathmandu. Poorly managed water irrigation systems, mainly found in the hilly regions, fuel conflict potential. Moreover, only a small part of Nepal’s hydropower potential is utilized. Constructing hydropower facilities often come along with conflict between the people from the dam side and downhill part, as well as pollution during the construction. Furthermore, a conflict exists around fair use if the water: drinking water, industrial use, hydropower, or agriculture (Schweithelm, Kanaan, and Yonzon 2006, vii).
b) Forest and conflict
Nepal’s forests are traditionally crucial for livelihood. Villagers find food in the woods; building material is abstracted. Many trees are cut by smugglers from India, the Maoists, and other individuals and groups. Nepal has established a wide range of community forests. More than 13,300 groups have been formed, including 35 percent of the nation, managing the community forests. However, it is believed that wealthier and socially dominant groups benefit more from the woods than others. Landless or impoverished community members are often excluded. Therefore, community forest groups are believed to contribute mainly to inequality. The benefits of community forests include access to healing plants, timber, and fiber plants (Schweithelm, Kanaan, and Yonzon 2006, vii).
c) Biodiversity and conflict
Nepal offers a wide range of areas protected due to its treasure of biodiversity. However, when communities started to utilize the protected areas for agriculture or other purposes that might harm existing biodiversity, conflict potential increased. Communities were forced out of the protected areas and re-settled to buffer zones. It is believed that the Maoist party, a key player in the civil war, had a plan to use the buffer zone for their purposes, such as utilizing displaced people for their ideas and strategies. Wildlife poachers are still hunting rare animals, fueling conflict potential further (Schweithelm, Kanaan, and Yonzon 2006, viii).
a) What is mindful mediation?
Mindfulness is a mindset that can contribute to conflict resolution in resource-related conflict. Erdmann writes that mindfulness is an essential core skill, found in everyone. Buddhist traditions offer different techniques of mindfulness, often related to greed as the source of suffering and the solution of detachment.
Being a mindful mediator requires the following:
Deep listening: A mediator needs to listen carefully throughout the mediation process, but also understand the situation itself and help to reveal what lies behind statements, behavior, positions, and demands. As a part of this, a mediator can use question techniques such as open questions, reframing, and paraphrasing. Critical thinking: Mediators need to reflect on mediation processes critically, questions used, and statements given while maintaining transparency. Everything happening in mediation might have an impact on future developments. Wise speaking: Furthermore, mediators can support fruitful mediation processes by asking questions wisely, taking positions, dynamics, and the cultural context under consideration (Erdmann 2018).
b) Mindfulness in the mediation of resource disputes in Nepal
The three natural resources have, as explained above, contributed to Nepal’s civil war, but still, affect recent tensions. Utilizing mindful mediation brings a wide range of benefits that should be considered to resolve existing issues. Reaching the state of mindfulness includes understanding oneself, patterns, behavior, and origin of emotions by listening to inner voices and self-reflection. Nevertheless, mediators do have the potential to guide and support mindful reflection.
Water is a sensitive factor for conflicts in Nepal. All parties using and arguing about the use of water in Nepal should ask themselves a series of questions, focusing on finding what influences them in their position, behavior, and primarily use of water. From my perspective, the same counts for the use of forests and the conservation of biodiversity. A mediator applying the principles of deep listening, critical thinking, and wise speaking can challenge current viewpoints and help to change patterns. I strongly recommend bringing representatives of relevant stakeholders to one table to resolve the disputes. Most importantly, processes need to be inclusive, should leave no one behind, and enhance self-reflection through wisely chosen question techniques.
No one in Nepal wants to live in a scenario in which forests are destroyed, water sources are polluted or unequally used, or in which Nepal’s biodiversity has vanished. Nevertheless, as mediation is a voluntary process, parties need to be committed and actively participate in the process. Identifying the matching stakeholders might be an additional challenge. Considering the complexity of the conflicts and the high number of people involved, the process would need time and proper preparation. Mediators, also, can enhance the conflict ripeness.
In case parties agree to commit to mediation, the mediator must understand the conflict correctly. I believe that this paper gave a short overview, which could be utilized as the first step of preparation.
Natural resources are limited, but too often taken for granted. The government of Nepal, political parties, the private sector, smugglers, communities, and individuals should reflect on the use of resources. The goal should be to act responsibly and take the preciousness, limited existence, and collective need for resources under reflection, understand own and opposing positions. Abuses of political power, societal privileges, economic benefits, environmental aspects, and natural preservation need to be taken into consideration equally while using natural resources.
The effects of misused natural resources in Nepal cannot be ignored. Natural resources affect every part of the lives of Nepali people. In times of climate change, forests are more important than ever before. Water is the source of life, and every human has the right to access clean drinking water as a way to stay healthy and productive.
From my viewpoint, it is high time to initiate mediation processes of natural resources in Nepal, with a special focus on mindfulness. Nepal being a country with many spiritual practices, very tolerant towards Buddhism, might serve as an ideal ground to apply mindfulness as a mindset.
Erdmann, Daniel. “Section: B) – Syllabus 1 – World Mediation Organization,” 2018. Accessed March 12, 2020. https://worldmediation.org/.
Klare, Michael T. Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict. 1st edition. United States of America, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002.
Schweithelm, Jim, Ramzy Kanaan, and Pralad Yonzon. Conflicts over Natural Resources at the Community Level in Nepal: Including Its Relation to Armed Conflict. Kathmandu, Nepal: United States Agency for International Development, 2006.