The Karnali region and especially the Karnali River corridor has much to offer Nepal’s development that is currently not being highlighted by either Nepal tourism or Nepals economic outlook. The intact cultural diversity found from upper Humla to the Terai is unparalleled. The ecological zones that one can cross over short distances can bring bird, wildlife and native plant interest groups flocking to the Karnali Region. In fact, the harshness of the environment itself makes the area appealing. And finally, the Karnali is Nepal’s last and most pristine free-flowing river. That brings a notoriety to the Region that no one else can claim. An intact protected river system can be as valuable for tourism as Everest is to the Khumbu Region, the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Range is to central Nepal. Marketing the Karnali River for its Scenic and water sport adventure values makes the region a tourist destination.
As Nepal turns to federalism and each province seeks to negotiate its own development path, local leaders in the Karnali river basin can work together to implement smart development choices. This is a moment to frame a new history for Nepal. One of development and environmental conservation. The following sections of this document were developed to explore a variety of options for smart development in the Karnali Region. Smart development, guided by insightful politicians brings prosperity to all, even marginalized groups, within the basin while protecting the environment for both current and future generations. Development in a rapid and haphazard manner, Without regard to environmental factors, brings prosperity to a few and ruins the environment reducing economic opportunities for the many while stripping future generations of the chance of a healthy prosperous life.
There are many values to protect in the Karnali region, including the diversity of ecological zones, cultural zones, the river and its beauty and its turbulent whitewater, the fragile hillside slopes and stream side terraces that provide for agricultural products and the religious heritage of Shivas journey along the Karnali with Pavrati making it a pilgrimage heritage corridor. At the same time, there are many threats. Hydropower threatens to truncate the flow of rivers while providing electricity to other areas of Nepal, India and Bangladesh, sand mining threatens river flows and aquatic habitats, irrigation diversions threaten both stream and sediment flows.
We present information that promotes smart development and includes, first, the provision of a strategic well-constructed road system that is guaranteed to provide access 12 months of the year. If a road doesn’t provide access 12 months of the year, it is not a road. The techniques for proper road construction are codified in Nepal’s road construction standards, however, local decisions makers are pressured to build the longest road possible with their budget rather than taking the time to build proper roads that may take longer to reach their destination. Local decision makers need to be held accountable for following standard road construction practices.
In this section, we also talk about hydropower resources and the potential for developing over 6,000MW of electricity in tributary streams before impacting the flow of water, sediment and aquatic species in the mainstream of the Karnali. We present alternative energy systems that can be immediately implemented and provide for sovereignty to the area with solar, wind and micro-hydro projects. At the same time, we recognize that it is impossible to talk about alternatives to hydropower development, without also discussing the need to promote local livelihoods and to design an alternative benefit-sharing plan.
We propose that concurrently skills are developed within communities throughout the Karnali corridor to provide for eco-tourism along with development of community lodges and improvement and marketing of multiple trekking routes to spread economic opportunities throughout the basin. This includes a pilgrimage corridor from Kailash to the Ganges and to Lumbini. Eco-tourism opportunities must serve a variety of clients from the backpacker trekking set, willing to camp and who want to interact with local communities in a remote, un-roaded experience to those who travel on busses and expect clean, well-constructed hotels. We highlight the opportunities for an increase in water-based tourism and the need to train local guides, start local rafting companies and provide boaters with food, lodging and cultural experiences as they float down river. We highlight the many products already being produced throughout the Karnali basin and suggest development of cooperatives, reliable markets to purchase the goods manufactured by small cottage industries in communities throughout the basin.
Finally, we address governance opportunities that highlight conservation and protection of key stream sections for aquatic species and for their high value scenic, recreational, cultural and resource values. We present fishing and sand mining regulations intended to promote sustainable aquatic resources into the future and the need for transboundary water governance discussions with India and China. Restoration needs are highlighted and the many intact forest resources of the Karnali that can be used as reference libraries for restoration of other areas of Nepal. Lastly, we talk about research needs and the many key elements of society and the environment which needs to be better understood before rushing to develop this unique area of Nepal.
Source : USAID/NRCT, A part of research report on Karnali River Corridor management framework