Photo: Adhish Gurung at right, Mahdav Gautam at left

Nepal’s federal government is proceeding with plans to construct a hub airport in Nijgadh, 42 miles south of Kathmandu. If constructed —  at an estimated cost of US$3.45 billion — it would be the largest airport in South Asia and the fourth largest in the world in terms of land area covered (approx 20,000 acres). The airport is intended to relieve expected capacity constraints at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) in Kathmandu.

The plan was initially explored in the 1990s but remained shelved for many years. Now the details have resurfaced outraging environmental activists, citizens, as well as local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The proposed airport would eliminate 2.4 million trees and destroy valuable habitat for 500 species of birds, 23 endangered flora and 22 endangered wildlife species. The project site is proximate to Parsa National Park, where endangered wildlife including 7.7% of Nepal’s tiger population – 18 out of 235 — and the Asiatic elephant live.

The project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was found dubious and challenged by People’s Alliance for Nature Nepal (PANNEPAL), where I volunteer, and the Supreme Court issued a stay-order on cutting any trees in the intended area. This was a small victory but the duration of this stay-order is uncertain. You can watch a YouTube video that I helped screen, “Nijgadh – An Untold Story of a Forest and follow PANNEPAL’S work on Twitter or Instagram.

As a strategist and communicator for PANNEPAL, I frequently reach out to other environmental groups and supporters to build alliances and challenge potentially harmful infrastructure projects in Nepal. I hope that together we can signal to our government that its citizens will not rollover in the face of expedited and destructive projects.

In early 2021, I visited Chitwan National Park and was greeted enthusiastically by a former colleague of my father, Dr. Chandra Gurung. Mahdav Gautam was a trained ranger and currently manages a hotel in Sauraha. He mentioned how a handful of people like my father (foresters, conservationists) were enough to convince the then royal family to establish a national park. Today a Nepal without Chitwan National Park is unthinkable, but back then, the fate of this small piece of the earth was swayed by a handful of conservationists.

I do not know how much of this recap is factual, but the story galvanized me. This is how I choose to remember my father as I continue on the path of environmental conservation, wishing to sway a few people to keep Nijgadh forest the way it is. Here is a short video that I made about the people of Nijgadh.

 

Adhish Gurung is an urban planner and climate activist focusing on research and videography in Nepal. He wrote this piece for the CGCT newsletter.

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