Sustainable Mountain Development: Thinking beyond borders

nepal-mountains(Photo Source: Google)

Even though they have difficult terrain, adverse weather conditions and fragile living conditions, mountains are also great source of biodiversity, water, and ecosystems. Products and services from mountains travel far beyond their surrounding lowlands. Containing majority of the global biodiversity, nearly half of the world’s population depends on mountains for fresh water, clean energy, irrigation, minerals, forest products, recreation, and other resources.

In our part of the world, the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region extends around 2,100 miles over eight countries from Afghanistan to Myanmar, including Pakistan, India, Nepal, China, Bhutan and Bangladesh. HKH is the source of ten large Asian river systems providing water to nearly a fifth of the world’s population.

Lately, the HKH region has experienced great changes with rapid population growth, economic development activities and unplanned urbanization, posing substantial challenges to ecosystem, traditional livelihood and environment of the region.

It is undisputed fact that poverty remains one of the core challenges for sustainable mountain development, especially in developing countries such as ours. Research estimates show that over one-third of mountain population in developing countries live with food insecurity.

In the last couple of decades, glacier lake formation has been worrying for downstream communities of Nepal due to climate change and increased risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GOLFs). Due to difficult terrain and limited accessibility, mountain people are highly vulnerable to natural hazards such as, earthquake, avalanches and landslides.

After the Gorkha Earthquake 2015, the severity of impact due to probable natural disasters is even more evident in Nepal. From the disaster risk management perspective, identifying hazardous areas, developing early-warning systems, building resilient infrastructures, relocating vulnerable population, training local disaster response teams and integrating disaster mitigation measures into the national and local development plans are extremely important if the government envisions a long-term development of its mountains.

Mountains Nepal  (Photo Source: Google) 

Formulating suitable mountain development plans is difficult but implementing them is even harder due to often unfavorable conditions. While discussing sustainable mountain development, we must take mountain people and communities into account. Along with visionary policies and plan, we also need to think from the mountain perspective. Indigenous population and their age-old knowledge about their mountain environment are precious and must be included in designing a sustainable master plan.

Such visionary design may comprise socio-economic development activities of the region including, education, health care, provision of alternate energy sources as well as opportunities to earn livelihoods from them.

Another important aspect of sustainable mountain development strategy would be to promote and help local people to establish green economy though fisheries, environment friendly mining, plantation, cottage industry, growing medicinal plants and renewable products, etc.

To achieve sustainable mountain development goals, the governments of the region should promote environment friendly technologies, effective management of natural resources and substantial investments in the development of green economy.

Considering the biodiversity, scenic landscapes and the rich geographical inheritance, it is well-known fact that tourism development can play a pivotal role in achieving sustainable mountain development in Nepal.  

Attracting investments in mountain region has long been a major challenge for the governments and an understandable risk for private sectors. Pooling of resources from government institution, private sector as well as local investor and civil society could be one creative investment strategy to reduce the risks, inherent to the mountain region. Although, the return on investment would not be quick, the stake holders should understand the fact that their investment, in the long run, would bring ample opportunities not only to the mountain communities but also to the entire region.

Sustainable mountain development of a region, such as HKH, demands international cooperation of all the key stakeholders as well as seeks their collaborative attempts to develop adequate strategy and capacity at regional, national and local levels. Raising mountain issues thru border-less thinking is one good way to help develop a common voice for the development of the entire region, for the stakes are very high not only for the mountain people but also for the sustainability of environment as well as the entire planet.

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Teach for Nepal: Passing the light

IMG_20170409_155828(3rd Cohort: Completion of 2 years fellowship & Induction into the Alumni Movement)

Recently I had an opportunity to attend an annual event program of Teach for Nepal (TFN), committed to end education inequality in Nepal. TFN is doing good job in recruiting/managing fresh and talented graduates for two-year rigorous fellowship program and sending them to teach students in underprivileged rural villages of Nepal, currently in Sindupalchowk, Dhanusha and Lalitpur districts.

IMG_20170409_170300(TFN Fellows: Passing the Light Ceremony)

On 9th April 2017, Sunday afternoon, TFN, along with other awareness raising, informative and cultural events, marked the fellowship-completion of its third cohort program and welcomed newly recruited fellows of the fifth cohort in the Nepal Academy, Kamaladi, Kathmandu, by celebrating “Passing the Light Ceremony”.

IMG_20170409_165145(5th Cohort: Welcoming new fellows into the movement) 

We, as citizens, are more or less aware of the problems faced by our public education sector. One can readily relate to the issues of insufficient number of competent teachers and lack of resources in public schools, especially in remote villages. I was extremely happy to learn that TFN fellows, in their service endeavor, were able to apply insights from their personal learning and professional experiences to bridge the gap of unavoidable educational and social injustice faced by the students of public schools in Nepal.

IMG_20170409_170023(TFN Fellows: Passing the Light Ceremony)

I was impressed to learn that students were not only being taught Math, Science and English in classes but were also being trained to become the successful future entrepreneur of Nepal. Today, we desperately need the kind of workforce which is educated and equally equipped with right kind of skills to start small businesses and create jobs on its own. Besides, TFN fellows deserve big applause for taking leadership initiative in disaster response activities during the Gorkha Earthquake 2015, fighting various social and gender inequalities in the field as well as being instrumental in developing entrepreneurial skills of their students.

IMG_20170409_151650(A dance performance by the students of Shree Secondary School, Bagchauda, Dhanusha District)

I gather that seeking an opportunity in the field of education / teaching did not occur accidentally to the TFN fellows rather it must have happened after a rigorous thoughtful process which could have been hugely influenced by their life experiences, striking reality of the country as well as their personal longing to do the needful.

Personally, I came close to such realization twice myself. The first one, when I was reading this book called “Microsoft Dekhi Bahun Danda Samma” by John Wood, of Room to Read fame, and the second time, when I was watching Salman Khan, of Khan Academy fame, in a YouTube-video explaining how he started tutoring his cousins over the internet. Collaborating with local communities, non-government and government bodies, these organizations have been voicing for quality education, gender equality in education and free education for all. Today, both the organizations have achieved significant success in educating the world in their own unique ways.

Aligning with similar core values and trying innovative ideas to reach beyond, the movement put forth by TFN is highly encouraging and commendable in its own right. In this regard, like many others out there, I feel proud to express my own shared beliefs with TFN initiatives and since have been trying to support it by contributing in whatever small ways possible.

IMG_20170409_170527(One of the stalls, exhibiting students’ creative handicraft and entrepreneurial skills) 

I strongly believe that we tend to become the stories we tell ourselves, thus the only way to bring about change in society is to change the story itself. Teach for Nepal is bringing a paradigm shift in the public secondary school education of Nepal, breaking all the cultural, social and economic barriers. Let’s become a part of this inspirational story, we, someday, will tell the world.

IMG_20170409_170321(TFN Fellows: Passing the Light Ceremony)

(Note: Today, 1st Baisakh 2074 BS, My best wishes and heartiest New Year greetings to Teach for Nepal and all of its collaborators, sponsors, supporters and well-wishers, including past, current and future TFN fellows, who actually make the mission possible on the ground.)

Health & Safety: In the midst of a disaster!

disaster response(Photo Source: Google)

Under any disaster situation, the immediate disaster responders have to work in a very close proximity with the victims. Besides there is high probability that the circumstances under which they are performing the job, inherently carry certain level of risks due to hazardous conditions involved.

During the Gorkha Earthquake 2015, we closely witnessed national and international search and rescue teams working so hard to save lives, sometimes even risking their own. With frequent earthquake tremors and surrounded by vulnerable structures, without doubt the rescue teams had extremely tough task in their hands. Here we should not forget the fact that the term “rescue” implies health & safety of both victims as well as the rescuers. 

In response to a disaster, community people, rescue workers, medical & first-aid providers would be the first to approach the incident site. More often than not, the disaster site lacks reliable information, adequate means of communication, clear line of authority and coordination between various support agencies. Unlike their usual selves, the health care providers and volunteers have to face extremely stressful medical and safety issues while exposing themselves to various hazards and risky situations.

Rescue workers may have safety concerns such as impending structural collapse, landslides, explosion, fire, electrocution or transmitting communicable diseases, etc. It can be a community fire incident, construction site accident, industrial chemical spill or an earthquake. Under the circumstances, disaster response teams need to be aware of potential risks and hazardous environment around them. An on-site injured responder doesn’t only become ineffective and an extra burden to the team but also bring about psychological fear among the rest of the team mates.

The term “Occupational Health & Safety (OHS)” is very popular and significant in manufacturing industries to keep employees safe from accidents or health hazards. In disaster response situation, OHS measures would help us prevent injuries and exposures while mitigating the risk of being hurt. As hazard exposures and risky conditions are inherent to disaster sites, the least we can do is to take adequate safety measures during the response activities.        

Depending on the requirements, disaster responders may have to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and protective clothing such as, gloves, steel-toed shoes, protective glasses, helmets, respiratory protection, ear plugs, etc. Professionals as well as volunteers must follow safety principles and guidelines while supervisors need to make sure that the safety procedures are being followed to protect both responders and victims from probable illness and injuries during the rescue operation.

Regular safety training and reviews of response procedures are important. Proper training of disaster workers has to be an integral part of the entire disaster response program. The search & Rescue personnel, volunteers, professionals, supervisors and managers need to be trained on various aspects of OHS such as damage awareness, risk assessment, environmental hazards, equipment handling, PPEs, safe lifting, safe handling of victims or dead bodies as well as on-site psychological support.

Although disaster responders have to assume certain level of risk as part of their job, they need to avoid heroism and emotionally driven actions in the midst of a crisis. Safety of the victims as well as the rescuers should be number one priority in the list. Above all, health-related precautions and safety measures must be inextricably attached to the entire disaster response planning, implementation and execution process.  

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