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|Two centuries ago, when the then prime
minister of Kathmandu Bhimsen Thapa wanted to make important
announcements, royal heralds clambered atop Dharahara, the 11th
storey minaret he had built, to bawl out the proclamation from
there. Two centuries later, Nepal’s current Prime Minister Madhav
Kumar Nepal led his ministers to a desolate plateau at a height of
5542m to hold the world’s highest cabinet meeting ever from where to
proclaim his government’s commitment to save the Himalayas, the
source of Asia’s life-giving rivers.
The prime minister exchanged his trademark Nepali topi to don a
thick woollen cap, a yellow oxygen mask and a thick, windproof
jacket to lead 22 senior ministers, including his two deputies, to
the Kala Pattar region on the Gorak Shep plateau that had once
earlier grabbed global headlines for hosting the first T20 cricket
match. Flanked by high mountains and buffeted by winds as well as
the whirring of four helicopters kept on standby, Nepal used a
megaphone to read out the Everest Declaration, the republic's
10-point charter that sets the agenda for the government’s action at
the UN conference on climate changes that will kick off in
Copenhagen on Dec 7.
"Climate changes (and their fallout) is not
the concern of Nepal or the Himalayan nations alone," Nepal said at
the historic cabinet meeting that however lasted just 10 minutes.
"Also, they have been caused not by Nepal but others. We should
unite to raise one voice and endeavour now to stop the negative
effects of global warming."
Pledging to cooperate with the international community, the
government, with the Everest Declaration, will work to expand forest
cover to 40 percent of Nepal’s soil and increase conserved areas to
25 percent from the current 20. The Api Nampa conservation area in
Darchula district bordering India, Gaurishankar in Ramechhap and
Dolakha and Banke National Park in Midwestern Banke district will
now be protected areas. Nepal is also supporting a rally by 30
Everest climbers in Copenhagen on Dec 11 to draw attention to the
threat the Himalayas and the Sherpas who live in their lap face.
They include Apa Sherpa, the legendary Everest hero who has climbed
the 8848m peak a record 19 times.
Forest Minister Deepak Bohora conceived the ‘Everest" meet, inspired
by the Maldives government that went underwater in October for a
cabinet meeting to draw world attention to the engulfment threat the
island nation faced. Bohora said the Himalayas needed an
orchestrated campaign to save them. With the snow on the mountains
melting and glaciers receding due to global warming, the mighty
peaks were endangered. "If there is a catastrophe in the Himalayas,
our human civilization will not be able to cope with that," he said.
The meeting in the foothills of Mt Everest has attracted world
attention even more than the Maldives meet. Over 70 journalists flew
to the remote region in near-freezing temperatures to cover the
incident while Nepal’s state-owned television station, Nepal
Television, beamed it live.
"It is a very positive sign that the leaders of the country have
given priority to the issue of climate changes and their fallouts,"
said Dr Arun Shrestha, senior climate change specialist at the
International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in
Kathmandu. "The symbolic gesture introduces Nepal to the world.
However, it needs effective follow-up."
A discordant note however was struck by a group of lawmakers who
have submitted a report to the government after visiting Mustang,
Nepal’s northernmost district close to the Tibet border. The report
says Nepal’s security forces – the army, police and armed police –
are the worst denuders of forests, using thousands of tons of
firewood daily to meet the cooking needs of the forces. Even in the
capital, police use firewood when they should switch over to cooking
gas, the report has recommended.