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Kathmandu is a bowl-shaped basin located in the asian country Nepal, approximately 1,400 meters above sea level. Kathmandu is an ancient city that is known for it’s exquisite culture and environment. Located amongst the northern part of the Kathmandu is the Himalayan mountain range, home to the tallest but also one of the most dangerous mountain ranges in the world. The Kathmandu Valley is a very fertile region, hence the settlement of Kathmandu there around 6th century B.C. Majority of Kathmandu’s rich culture is due to the birth of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who later went on to become the Buddha, which spawned the spread of Buddhism throughout this region.
Throughout the years Nepal has been incredibly politically unstable, especially recently after a 10 year civil war between the state and Maoist rebels. The civil war left the Nepal with weak governance with 60% of the government budget coming from foreign aid. (Newar 2009) There has been a lot of territorial disputes with the country of Nepal as well. All of these factors play a huge part in contemporary Nepal today. Geographically, Nepal is an incredibly diverse country. ranging from having tropical climates to the highest mountain range on earth. This allows for a variety of different resources, including rich mineral deposits, hydropower and tourism.
Nepal, specifically Kathmandu, is rich in culture when it comes to both Hinduism and Buddhism. Many aspects of their lives and society are governed by religious practices, which is why a caste system is generally implemented into their government. Based on the ranks inherited from the family, that is the rank one must hold their whole lives. Generally, life in Kathmandu falls into many specific gender roles, with women having less say in governmental systems and society than men. Nepal has high infant mortality rates, but even higher fertility rates, so the the ever-growing population has caused many problems for the country. Shortages of food have caused for many people to migrate to Terai, a foothills region of the Himalayas. The overcrowding of the urban region of Kathmandu has lead to many issues alongside the political instability.
Pollution in Kathmandu affects water, air, noise and land and has been steadily decreasing the quality of living over the past decade. Kathmandu government has also asserted minimal effort into minimizing waste. Before the influx of people moving to Kathmandu in order to acquire jobs and wealth a practice was legalized called “free disposal system”. This system basically allowed for dumping of waste or defecation anywhere throughout the city, this raised a lot of problems when it came to water supply. The contamination of the water supply increased the risk of waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, and skin diseases. Lack of adequate water treatment facilities and disorganized drinking water pipes have not helped with the water quality, and when tested in a lab, the contamination found in Kathmandu’s water system consistently exceeded drinking water quality guidelines. However, a group surfaced in 1992 called Women’s Environment Preservation Committee (WEPCO), which was dedicated to preserving and cleaning the urban environment. With lots of effort and work, WEPCO got the ‘free disposal system’ abolished and began encouraging new methods of waste management including composting and recycling. (Lampton 2014)
However, the most prominent form of pollution in Kathmandu is air pollution. The basin-shaped bowl of Kathmandu allows for a greater accumulation of air pollution with large amounts of particulate matter and carbon monoxide. The rapid growth of vehicles in the city, especially older models with poor fuel combustion have led to increased levels of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. The large amount of air pollution is accredited for a loss of visibility and at least 1600 premature deaths a year. (Niraula 2011) Kathmandu’s rapid spread of urbanization has put a hamper on agricultural within and outside of the city. It is expected that if Kathmandu’s pollution rates continue to decline their main source of income, their tourism sector, could be severely hurt.
Majority of the environmental problems that Kathmandu is facing today and in the past are directly linked to their weak governance and political instability. Lack of traffic laws and ability to regulate environmental practices due to weak political systems have resulted in the decline of economy and increased levels of pollution. The feuding between incredibly diverse political parties such as the Communist Party of Nepal, The Unified Marxist Leninists and the Nepali congress has caused for lack of legislation. In the most recent election the Maoists won in landslide, and rebels threatened to mass protest in order to put the Nepali government at a standstill if a new government is formed under the Maoist leadership.
The political deadlock the government is facing means that legislation is not going through and changes cannot be made. The continual changes in key official posts and personnel also make it difficult for those who are in office to get anything done and keep certain initiatives going. The delays in the passing of legislation are only attributing to the growing problems with avoidable premature deaths and pollution. The ultimate goals of the Nepali government are to increase economic growth and the GDP of the nation. “Nepalese government is in a transitional period, and political stability takes time,” says Yubaraj Khatiwada, vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission. However, despite the Nepali government efforts, Nepal still remains the poorest country with the lowest GDP out of all of the southern Asian countries in the region.
Nepal is generally thought to be a country of ‘ethnic harmony’ but this is not the case. Nepal, specifically Kathmandu has been in civil unrest since the mid 1990’s. The initial rise of the Maoist (Communist) Party was in direct result of social and economic injustice against the poor. Developing countries are especially prone to civil unrest due to their generally unstable governments. With the mountainous region of the state unsuitable for agriculture and food production, urbanization in the Kathmandu Valley was necessary to create a livelihood and income. Leading up to the civil war in Nepal were several dynasties that often came into power by overthrowing monarchies (Gaige 1975), and this only further contributed to the tensions experienced for the Nepali government.
The ultimate goal of the Maoists was to wipe out bureaucratic-capitalist class and state, uproot semi-feudalism and drive out imperialism. (Sharma 2006) Through brutal guerrilla warfare, the military force used by the Maoists was more skilled and intense than that of the Royal Nepali Army, so the members of the Nepali armed ended up killed or having to surrender to the Maoists. The tactics of the Maoists were incredibly brutal including murders and kidnappings that that damaged institutions and infrastructures. The human rights that were violated in Nepal during this time were horrific due to lack of any sort of law and order imposed by Nepali government. It is believed that majority of this instability in the government could have been avoided if only there was a clear vision of what the country was working towards. An in depth intellectual knowledge of the consequences of socio-economic exclusion also could have contributed to their political stability.
Overall, the past five decades in Nepal’s history have contributed to their high rates of poverty and unemployment and ultimately the rise of the Maoist party. We see that the political instability of the Nepali government has had tremendous effects on majority of lives in Nepal, especially those in Kathmandu. It seems entirely unrelated, but the rise in pollution and urbanization reflects the instability in the Nepali government. If the Nepali government was more politically stable legislature could be passed much easier and stricter regulations on environmental laws could be enacted. The political instability reflects on the entire economy of Nepal as a whole with their incredibly low GDP, unemployment rates and high poverty rates.
In time as we see Nepal rebuild it’s government post civil war, hopefully we will see an increased rate of environmental awareness in regards to the pollution levels and urbanization that Kathmandu experiences. With Kathmandu being regarded as one of the dirtiest cities in the world a lot of work must be done in order to make Kathmandu a green, eco-friendly city again. Of course certain geographical features make this difficult at times, but small measures similar to the efforts of the women in WEPCO can be implemented to gradually bring Kathmandu to a healthier, more economically prosperous society.
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