While the coronavirus has shaken the whole of humanity, it has also spurred new thinking about bringing about a green recovery.
With fewer vehicles on on the roads and factories closed, the air quality has dramatically improved in recent months and emissions are estimated to be down by eight percent. In Nepal, I recall, during the first phase of the lockdown in May, residents in the Kathmandu Valley enjoyed breath-taking views of some of the rarely seen Himalayan peaks, including Mt. Everest for the first time in their life. With restrictions of vehicular movement, pollution levels went down dramatically during the lockdown, an unintended silver lining. The pandemic has in fact offered an opportunity to think green.
The impact of the pandemic has been devastating. More than two million jobs have been lost in Nepal. There is a sharp decline in the flow of remittances, one of the major contributors to the country’s GDP. In addition, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers have entered the economy, as they lost their jobs abroad in countries such as India, and the Middle East. In this context, a small green recovery initiative launched by UNDP in partnership with the local governments has been able to engage hundreds of people staying at quarantine centers across the country. In the first four months of the lockdown, more than 7,000 trees, have been planted in and around public spaces such as schools and parks. More than0 COVID-affected people, including migrant returnees and informal wage labourers, were able to earn some cash during the crisis.
Kicked off on the World Environment Day the plantation drive has been completed in the quarantine centers of Province 5, Sudurpaschim and Karnali Province. This is just a demonstration. There is huge potential to expand this campaign further to benefit many more people across the country, while also promoting a green recovery.
“We are very happy to collaborate with UNDP on this initiative. We have engaged the people in quarantine centres in positive and constructive activities at a time when they are subjected to stigma. The host community will also benefit from the fruit and medicinal trees that have been planted. These trees will be an asset to schools and can even support to their income, besides contributing to the greener environment. This is a win-win solution for all,” said Nirp Bahadur Odd, Mayor of Dhangadhi Sub Metropolitan City.
The campaign has also engaged young volunteers. “This is a unique approach and it is really satisfying that we are able to help the people in quarantine for a noble cause,” said Karishma Chand, a volunteer of Surprise Dhangadhi campaign in Sudurpaschim Province.
Appreciating the ongoing initiative, Raghu Bir Singh Thagunna, President of Social Welfare Society, Darchula said, “Engaging the people at quarantine in planting trees is an encouraging initiative. This has also helped them better understand the need for green recovery. We are pleased that the local government has taken full ownership of this initiative and has decided to expand this initiative in other wards.”
In Province 5, the plantation has already turned a school green. “We are very pleased to be part of the green initiative. We will guard the trees as they grow,” said Chetnath Paudel, Principal of Laxmanghat Secondary School in Kapilvastu.
Saraswati Bista, who has been staying at the quarantine centre of Panidhara Primary School of Naugadh 1, Dharchula said, “I am happy to be part of this initiative. Staying at the quarantine facility is tedious. Engaging physically in the plantation activity helps us to energize ourselves. By planting trees, we are giving something back to the host community.”
The plantation drive has extended beyond quarantine facilities. Well before the pandemic struck Nepal UNDP had been supporting the government’s plan to plant 50 billion trees. In 2019, UNDP supported local governments in Province 2 in their efforts to promote green cities by planting decorative and fruit trees. The initiative saw major roads in Dhankuta, Dhanusha, Bara and Sarlahi turning green and locals reaping the fruits. With UNDP’s support, local farmers planted 500 mango saplings and 400 avocado saplings in two selected wards of the municipality in Dhankuta. So far, more than 2,500 people have been involved in the drive.
“Thanks to Sahidbhumi Rural Municipality and UNDP for providing technical support to plant more than 400 avocado plants. This will certainly help us enhance our livelihoods,” said Padam Bhandari, a farmer in the municipality.
Footnotes: Story by Richa Ranjitkar with input from Dhan Bahadur Chand, Satish Pandey, Sudip Aryal and Rafeeque Ahmad Siddiqui. Photos: UNDP Nepal