EDITORIAL: Enact laws pronto for river conservation

Rivers are the blood vessels of the earth. Many major human civilizations have developed along river banks. Rivers are undoubtedly rich in biodiversity. For many, rivers are also the means of livelihood. Not just from the economic, social and cultural perspectives, rivers also important from political and financial perspectives.

That’s why some of the countries have even granted the status of living entity to the rivers. However, we have failed to internalize the importance of rivers. But we have done nothing for the rivers except turning them into a place for dumping garbage and release the sewerage pipes. In our rivers, we have been engaged in savage activities such as building infrastructures, and fishing through violent methods.

Those sorts of activities have been affecting the biodiversity of the river. The aquatic animals have been dying and the quality of the water has been deteriorating. Most of the rivers of urban area have lost their natural state and turned into sewage. There are some rivers that are relatively clean and pure.

Now we’ve reached a point where it would be impossible to save the rivers if we do not take immediate steps for the same. Even the remaining rivers will become completely polluted, and the aquatic animals will die and the existence of fish will be gone. Those dependent and living at the river banks will be at peril. Presently, excessive extraction of riverbed materials, transgression of river basin and rampant killing of fish have been happening across the country without regulations. As the number of unpolluted rivers have been gradually declining, we need strive for conserving the rivers.

Given this state of affairs, it is high time that the government enact necessary laws to regulate the use of rivers, including when and how to use the rivers for irrigation. It is also necessary to make laws to regulate other development works such as the construction of roads and build tourism infrastructure along the rivers. The political leadership has remained silent on these issues as these projects have served as a major means for them to collect funds. Many people mistake the infrastructure building for development. They do not have the fundamental knowledge about conserving the rivers.

As the country has adopted federalism, all three tiers of the government should work in coordination for the protection of rivers. But no one has paid the attention towards the need to enact separate laws for the conservation of rivers. Although there are laws that have incorporated some aspects of the rivers, they haven’t been included all the aspects of the rivers. If we take the examples from countries like India, USA and Australia, the countries have made laws by putting the rivers at the center. Some of the rivers have been protected as natural heritage, while others have been conserved for their religious and cultural significance.

We need to learn lessons from these countries. With the support from USAID and Pani Project (Water Project), Nepal River Conservation Trust recently conducted a detailed study of various dimensions of the Karnali river. The study has underlined the need for immediate steps to conserve the river. In addition, the trust also studied about the laws required to manage the rivers. This is the first time ever in Nepal that a detailed study of river was conducted which will obviously be quite helpful for enacting the laws.

The government should not delay anymore to enact laws. For that, the federal government should take initiatives and hold ample discussions and consultations with provincial and local governments. The ratification of necessary laws through proper coordination between all three layers of the government will ensure the conservation of rivers. There seems to be no alternative to formulating a policy to take ahead the conservation and development simultaneously. Though we are raising other environmental issues such as planting trees, and sanitation, we have remained almost silent on the rivers, which are equally important for our environment. Therefore, we can no longer delay in making laws on river conservation by understanding the gravity of the matter.

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