Sustainability of Zimbabwe’s Natural Food Sources take a Knock Amid Growing Economic Crisis

The kapenta (Tanganyika sardine) and bream fish sold by Sarudzai Moyo is a major source of income for her and great source of nutrition in the diet for struggling Zimbabwe families. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

The kapenta (Tanganyika sardine) and bream fish sold by Sarudzai Moyo is a major source of income for her and great source of nutrition in the diet for struggling Zimbabwe families. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Oct 2 2020 – Sarudzai Moyo, a former teacher, has begun a new career as a fishmonger. Once a week she makes the 450km journey from Bulawayo to Binga, on the shores of Lake Kariba, where she buys between 100 and 150 kilograms of fish for resale as the demand for cheaper dietary options increase in Zimbabwe.

Fishermen sell a kilogram of fresh bream and kapenta (Tanganyika sardine) for $1, but back in Bulawayo Moyo sells a kilo for $3.50. A kilogram of beef sells for between $4 and $7 depending on the grade.

Business is brisk, Moyo tells IPS, but with more and more people leaving their formal jobs to pursue other income-generating ventures in sectors already flooded with unskilled labour, researchers say this is putting a huge strain on the sustainability of natural resources such as fisheries.

“People from all over the country can be found buying fish from Binga fishermen. Some even come with refrigerated trucks,” Moyo said.
“It is clear there is a huge demand for fish, not just in Bulawayo but all over the country,” she told IPS.

However, as more nets are cast into Lake Kariba, which lies on the Zambezi valley — a riparian boundary shared by Zimbabwe and Zambia — this has raised questions about the long term ecological effects and how these natural resources will be able to provide a source of livelihood for communities. Especially since the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) says 90 percent of the country’s fish production comes from Lake Kariba where Moyo and others are earning their incomes.


The Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) has noted that there is a connection “between good nutrition and the environment,” and the need to “take action on education programmes and awareness campaigns to make production and consumption patterns healthy and sustainable”. 

In fact, the Food Sustainability Index (FSI), created by BCFN and the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranks Zimbabwe 70.5 out of 100 — where 100 is the highest sustainability and greatest progress towards meeting environmental, societal and economic  for sustainable agriculture.

But in a country where incomes remain low, environmental and sustainability considerations have been trounced by the need to survive.

Tinashe Farawo is a spokesperson of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA), a government department tasked with protecting the country’s wildlife through the sustainable utilisation of natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
Farawo says while overfishing concerns have been raised in the past, the continuing entry of new and unregistered players in Lake Kariba has made it difficult to effectively create a sustainable ecological balance.

“Ever since the Kariba dam was built in 1958, the regulation has always been that at any given time there must be at least 500 fishing rigs in order to protect the resource for both current and future generations,” Farawo told IPS.

But a joint Zimbabwe-Zambia fisheries management committee last year found that “kapenta rigs operating on Lake Kariba is approximately 3 times above the optimum”.

With population growth on both sides of the Zambezi and the exponential growth of demand for fish, the number of rigs has ballooned with fish poachers being blamed for ecological degradation.

“Concerns of overfishing in Lake Kariba, especially of kapenta, have been an issue for a number of years now, and the trend has been growing and will probably continue to grow in the near future,” said Crispen Phiri, a fisheries scientist at the University of Zimbabwe’s Lake Kariba Research Station.

“The slowdown in economic performance in both Zambia and Zimbabwe over the last decade or so has led many people to consider fishing or the buying and selling of fish as a full time or fallback livelihood alternative,” he told IPS by email.

ZPWMA officials agree that enforcing restrictions on fishing activities have proven difficult.

“Everyone and anyone can now cast their net and we need scientific explanations about the long term effect of this trend on our fisheries. One of the approaches we have pursued is trying to stem the excessive reliance on the Zambezi for fisheries by decentralising and creating other fisheries projects in other dams across the country,” Farawo told IPS.

Zimbabwe has previously banned issuing of new fishing licences in the Zambezi, citing concerns about the excessive fishing activities.

According to ZPWMA, annual fish hauls at the turn of the millennium stood at around 27,000 tonnes annually but dwindled to the current 15,000 tonnes.

FAO has commented that “kapenta was an important, affordable and accessible source of fish protein and nutrition in a difficult 2007-2008 period when the macro-economic climate was harsh”. Today, Zimbabwe finds itself replaying the hardships of that period, economic commentators say. So it is no surprise that poor families are once again turning to fish diets. Indeed, the FSI ranks Zimbabwe as 53.2 on a scale of 100 for nutritional challenges.

Yet researchers say demand is easily outstripping supply, highlighting an urgent need to act.

The BCFN says while nutrition and dietary needs is a priority, there is a need to “raise awareness on the systematic connection between good nutrition and the environment, take action on education programmes and awareness campaigns to make production and consumption patterns healthy and sustainable”.

This, BCFN says, will ensure the realisation of the U.N.’s Integrated Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda “which are all directly or indirectly connected to food”.

Yet researchers have also found the effect of a warming climate on sources of dietary needs such as fisheries, further compounding the sustainability of those resources.

“In a recent analysis that I and my colleagues did, we concluded that the increase in fishing efforts has been a major factor in the decline of kapenta catches and this has been worsened by the warming of the climate,” Phiri said.

For fishmongers such as Moyo, and the fishermen who supply her fish, these challenges could threaten their livelihoods, and the diets of those poor families who have turned to fish as a cheaper food source.

 


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A Feminist Perspective from Middle East & North Africa on the COVID-19 Pandemic

Illustration by Rawand Issa

By Farah Daibes
BERLIN, Oct 2 2020 – Since before the COVID-19 pandemic, feminists across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have been increasingly shedding light on the global shifts that will shape the Future of Work. From their perspective, those shifts would mainly be driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the impact of climate change and the looming global care crisis.

However, they did not account for a global pandemic that would shake the world and drive the acceleration of those shifts, drastically changing the way we live and work and making various feminist concerns about the inclusion, empowerment, and security of women in the labour market more pressing than ever.

Since before the COVID-19 pandemic, feminists across the Middle East and North Africa have been increasingly shedding light on the global shifts that will shape the Future of Work. From their perspective, those shifts would mainly be driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the impact of climate change and the looming global care crisis.

However, they did not account for a global pandemic that would shake the world and drive the acceleration of those shifts, drastically changing the way we live and work and making various feminist concerns about the inclusion, empowerment, and security of women in the labour market more pressing than ever.

The outbreak of digitalization

Across the world, strict measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the economic vulnerability of the most marginalized individuals and communities, and exacerbated their struggle to adapt when equipped with minimal resources, or none at all.

While countless businesses, schools, and public services are digitalizing their processes to minimize human interaction, many women in the MENA region are finding themselves increasingly excluded from the labour market.

More often than not, women have less freedom of mobility and control over household resources than men. Therefore, barriers such as the lack of adequate broadband infrastructure, the spread of digital illiteracy and a wide digital gender divide are affecting women disproportionately.

Because it offers more flexible working conditions, allowing women to simultaneously perform their unpaid care labour, women often choose informal employment, despite the lack of social security and protective labour policies. But because of the inadequacy in digital adaptation women of the region are left behind amidst the spread of online and platform-based gig work.

Overburdening the overburdened

With the spread of digital technologies, online platforms and now the pandemic, a patriarchal narrative that encourages women to perform home-based work to attain “work-life balance” has been gaining ground. Despite claiming to advocate balance, that narrative fails to address the importance of re-distributing unpaid care work within the household and reinforces the stereotypical role of women as primary caregivers.

In countries across the region where women are still too often confined to the private sphere, this is threatening years of progress towards overcoming the hurdles that limit women’s participation in the public sphere, especially in the workforce.

Working mothers, therefore, continue to suffer a “motherhood penalty” as well as time poverty, which limit their chances to advance in their careers and perpetuate the perception that their paid labour is secondary to that of men’s.

To help lift the burden, outsourcing care work at home to less privileged women, often migrants, has become the norm whenever possible within various countries in the region. Under the kafala (sponsorship) system, however, the lives and labour of these women are exploited and abused.

During the pandemic, their already precarious employment has become more so as hundreds of thousands of them faced income losses and worsening conditions. Additionally, most healthcare workers in the region are overworked and underpaid women who are now also facing major challenges that threaten their rights as well as their physical and mental health.

A green lining?

The expectations were, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, that the green economy would grow exponentially in the upcoming years. However, it is not yet clear whether the pandemic will accelerate or deaccelerate that growth, with hints suggesting that either can be true.

Regardless, many issues of gender discrimination are limiting women’s ability to equally benefit from emerging opportunities within green sectors. Discrimination in laws related to land ownership and inheritance, precarious and dangerous working conditions, difficulty in entering high-paid jobs and the struggle to attain decision making positions, all greatly disadvantage women.

This is especially true in the case of larger investments in renewable energy and agriculture as well as large-scale projects that aim to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Levelling the gender playing field

The changes we see around us today make the feminist concerns about the Future of Work even more concerning. Not only because the foreseeable challenges are arriving much quicker than expected and with no adequate preparation, but also because decision makers have a historic tendency to deprioritize women’s issues and the gender equality agenda in times of crisis. This is the time for action.

The barriers that threaten the inclusion of women in a digitalized world of work must be eliminated. Moreover, larger investments in care services and jobs as well as the re-distribution of unpaid care work between the state, the community and the private sector must now become a priority.

Lastly, existing gender discrimination must be addressed to ensure that a greener economy will not be a patriarchal one in order to guarantee equal opportunity for all in the future world of work.

Source: International Politics and Society (IPS) based in the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s (FES) office in Berlin.

 


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The Key to Peace in the Lake Chad Area Is Water, Not Military Action

Fishing boats, Lake Chad. Credit: Mustapha Muhammad/IPS

By External Source
YOLA, Nigeria , Oct 2 2020 – Lake Chad is an extremely shallow water body in the Sahel. It was once the world’s sixth largest inland water body with an open water area of 25,000 km2 in the 1960s, it shrunk dramatically at the beginning of the 1970s and reduced to less than 2,000 km2 during the 1980s, decreasing by more than 90% its area. It is one of the largest lakes in Africa. It is an endorheic lake – meaning that it doesn’t drain towards the ocean.

Its origin is unknown but it is believed to be a remnant of a former inland sea. It doesn’t drain into the ocean but it has shrunk by over 90% since the 1960s due to climate change, an increase in the population and unplanned irrigation. Given the rate at which the lake is disappearing, in less than a decade it may cease to be.

The lake is central to regional stability. To achieve peace, countries should focus on reviving the water body rather than on military activities

Four countries share borders within the water body – Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon – and have formed a political union, the Lake Chad Basin Countries. Other countries indirectly connected to the lake are Algeria, Libya, Central African Republic and Sudan. Over 30 million people live around the lake.

For them, it’s a source of freshwater for drinking, sanitation and irrigation. It supports the livelihoods of farmers, pastoralists, hunters and fishermen.

The Lake Chad region, however, is one of the most unstable in the world. According to the 2020 Global Terrorism Index report, countries of the region are among the 10 least peaceful countries in Africa.

Our research focused on how the drying of this important water body contributes to the instability in the region.

We collected data from interviews with respondents from Lac Region in Chad, Far North Region in Cameroon, Diffa Region in Niger Republic and the North East geopolitical zone in Nigeria. These regions of the Lake Chad Basin Commission countries compose the Chad Basin Region. We also collected data from news reports.

The study found that loss of livelihoods has promoted criminality, easy recruitment by terrorist groups, and migration to urban centres. This has also led to violence and crime in cities and towns. Management of the shrinking lake has caused conflicts among the states that depend on it and this has made it more difficult for them to collectively fight insecurity in the region.

The lake is central to regional stability. To achieve peace, countries should focus on reviving the water body rather than on military activities.

 

Impact on livelihoods

The immediate impact of the drying of Lake Chad is loss of livelihoods.

One of the respondents said in an interview that:

Many years back, this water used to be what we depend on for farming, fishing and herding. Since the water has dried up, sustaining our livelihoods has become so hard. We can hardly farm now and we record regular death of our livestock because of lack of fodder and water to fatten them. Because of this, most people have abandoned farming, fishing and livestock rearing because they are no longer sustainable in this area.

Loss of the traditional means of livelihood leads to widespread poverty and food insecurity. A 2017 report estimated there were about 10.7 million inhabitants of Lake Chad Region in need of humanitarian services.

 

Impact on regional stability

The shrinking of the lake contributes to regional instability in four ways. First, some of the region’s people have taken to criminal activities for survival. One of the major criminal activities in the area is cattle rustling.

Reports have pointed to rising incidence of cattle rustling in the region. It’s easy to move cattle over the country borders in the area to evade arrest. Contemporary rustling has been associated with Boko Haram who resort to cattle rustling as additional means of raising fund in support of their operations. Boko Haram has become a serious security problem in the Lake Chad region.

Most of the response to the threat of the group has been military. For example, from 2009 to 2018, Nigeria’s defence budget totalled nearly $21 billion with a substantial part going towards the fight against Boko Haram.

Further, Boko Haram has capitalised on the loss of livelihoods and economic woes to recruit people into its ranks. It either appeals to the poor ideologically or directly uses economic incentives.

Interviews with respondents also revealed that the drying out of the lake has intensified long-distance migration of people and livestock to cities and towns of the basin’s countries.

The result has been competition for resources, especially farmer-pastoralist conflict. Between 2016 and 2019, almost 4,000 people died in Nigeria as a result of farmer-pastoralist conflicts.

As the lake has shrunk, the water has shifted towards Chad and Cameroon while the Nigerian and Nigerien sides have dried up. This forces people to cross national borders to reach the shoreline. Respect for boundaries disappears.

A complex web of social, economic, environmental, and political issues spills into interstate conflicts. This conflict relationship caused by access to and management of the lake has seriously affected the collective effort of the region’s states to fight Boko Haram.

 

Way ahead

The Lake Chad Basin Commission has identified the need to replenish the water body. There was a plan to build a dam and canals to pump water from the Congo River to the Chari River, Central African Republic and then on to Lake Chad.

It was first mooted in 1982 by the Italian engineering company Bonifica Spa, and discussed at the International Conference on Lake Chad in Abuja in 2018. Major challenges to this plan include funding, resistance from environmental campaigners and peaceful conditions in which to carry it out.

Unfortunately, this scheme is yet to see the light of the day. The commission’s member states lack the commitment required to take action, probably due to the conflict relationship between the other Lake Chad countries and Nigeria.

Yet if they want stability in the region, the key is to replenish the lake.The Conversation

Saheed Babajide Owonikoko, Researcher, Centre for Peace and Security Studies, Modibbo Adama University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Energy Transition and Post-Covid Recovery, a Challenge for Latin America

Windmills in Calama, in the Atacama Desert, in northern Chile. The projects in Chile to take advantage of its high potential in unconventional renewable energies have managed to reduce the country’s dependence on imported fossil fuels and to reach a fall in the general cost of energy. Image: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Oct 2 2020 – The way forward for energy transition and its link to an economic recovery after the depression caused by the covid-19 pandemic is focusing attention in Latin America and Europe, according to the 2nd Madrid Energy Conference (MEC), which concluded this Friday 2.

The intercontinental forum was held since Monday, September 28, in this case virtually due to the pandemic, organized by the non-governmental Institute of the Americas (IA), which is headquartered in the coastal town of La Jolla, in western United States.

Jorge Rivera, Panama’s Secretary of Energy and one of the sector’s leaders in Latin America who participated in the Conference, stressed that the transition is not an automatic process, but depends on a political decision and on the sector’s corporations.

“We have a great opportunity. We have an energy transition agenda for the next 10 years, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which includes a series of national strategies, decarbonization, digitalization, and energy democratization. We have a lot to do in transportation, industry, in the uses of energy,” he said.

Rivera insisted that “these measures have the potential to become a tool for post-covid economic recovery.

The Conference, which lasted five days and whose first edition took place in 2019 in the Spanish capital, brought together virtually ministers from five American nations, more than 20 companies´ presidents and more than 400 delegates from international organizations and experts from both continents.

The agenda addressed issues such as the climate crisis in the context of the pandemic, the situation of renewable energy on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, the financing of post-covid recovery, the energy transition towards lower carbon models, energy storage in batteries and power grids, as well as different aspects of mobility.

Topics such as transport, gas, the outlook for oil corporations or the digitalization of the sector were also tackled.

An important part of the debates was linked to the climate crisis, such as carbon capture and storage and greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activities responsible for global warming, as well as methane and the prospects of hydrogen, seen as an alternative to fossil fuels, on both continents.

For Alfonso Blanco, OLADE – Latin American Energy Organization’s executive secretary, the region has made significant efforts to accelerate the transition, but the impact of Covid-19 has generated an uncertain outlook.

One of the debate sessions of the Madrid Energy Conference, dedicated to the energy transition, which held its second virtual edition, between September 28 and October 2, organized by the Institute of the Americas. Image: IA

 

“Sustainability will depend on regional measures, but the region does not have a defined regional action. If we do not analyze the (financial) risk and develop a financing model for renewables, we will see problems of further incorporation of renewables. We have to think of specific strategies, according to the role of each sector,” he said.

In recent years, Latin America has advanced in the development of wind and solar sources as clean alternatives, but it faces the challenge of reducing the burning of fossil fuels in industry and transportation and improving energy efficiency.

This transition has come to a halt in nations such as Mexico, which prioritize support for hydrocarbons, as pointed out by Joost Samsom, partner and co-founder of the consulting firm Voltiq – Renewable Energy Finance, and Claudio Rodríguez, partner of the law firm Thompson & Knight LLP.

Stuart Broadley, executive director of the non-governmental Energy Industries Council (EIC) – based in London and which brings together energy companies – explained that phase I of the energy transition, currently underway, consists of the adoption of technologies such as wind and solar, and during which most countries have not invested much for different reasons.

 

The forthcoming future

Phase II, which the world has not yet entered, involves energy variations such as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Broadley said that companies dedicated to promoting renewable sources are not going to invest in hydrocarbons and do not like oil companies jumping into their market, so they are not going to help each other. In view of this, regulations imply or should imply forcing them to work together and, for this, the government’s role is critical.

For Fernando Cubillos, head of Energy at IDB Invest, the private investment arm of the Inter-American Development Bank, renewable energies have shown resilience during the pandemic, competitiveness and attractiveness.

“The possibilities of reviving the economy may give a chance to introduce more renewable energy, which can help the recovery, and there is an opportunity to deploy more renewables. We see good conditions for renewables today. What is missing in some countries is the regulatory framework,” he said during the discussions.

 

The installation of photovoltaic panels in poor neighborhoods in Brazil, like these in Morro de Santa Marta, in Rio de Janeiro, which often respond to community and distributed generation projects. They also contribute to reducing the energy bill in these populations and moving towards sustainable generation and consumption. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS.

 

In nations such as Brazil, distributed (decentralized) and small-scale solar generation has become important on a commercial scale and has registered growth, which was possible thanks to the regulatory framework.

“We have seen that state-of-the-art technology is wind and solar, due to low costs, and it is very difficult to expand hydropower generation. We have seen potential for battery storage, but it’s not attractive yet”, Thiago Barral, executive president of Brazil’s state-owned Energy Research Agency, analyzed during the MEC.

Although the energy transition is in its first phase, Latin America is beginning to consider emerging technologies, such as CCS and hydrogen, whether from gas or renewables.

In the first case, CCS, the intergovernmental International Energy Agency (IEA), which brings together major industrial countries and is based in Paris, said that by 2020, governments and industry have committed around some $4 billion to such initiatives worldwide.

In the world, there are at least 15 projects in operation and seven under construction, but during the MEC experts estimated that at least 500 are needed globally.

The use of hydrogen is an unknown variant in the Latin American region. At the beginning of this century, Brazil was a pioneer in exploring this path, but abandoned it to develop sugar cane ethanol, renewable sources and hydro energy.

Chris Sladen, founder and director of the UK-based consulting firm Reconnoitre Ltd, said CCS “has been a dream for hydrocarbons. But it’s not a simple concept, it involves several joint projects” and the big question is how to take them to a commercial scale.

That technology, he proposed, should occur close to where carbon is generated, such as power plants, petrochemicals or cement factories.

Some 50 countries, most of them in the developed North, have instituted policies for the use of hydrogen. In Latin America, Chile has the potential to produce this resource at low prices and that can be a mitigation measure for a cleaner electrical matrix, according to its Undersecretary of Energy, Francisco López.

 

Nepal Is a Model for Vulture Conservation

Nepal has established itself as a pioneer in vulture conservation over the years, and the birds are now showing signs of coming back

White-rumped vulture. Credit: ANKIT BISHAL JOSHI.

By Karun Dewan
NAWALPARASI, Lumbiniī, Nepal, Oct 2 2020 – Vultures get a lot of bad press. Unlike other birds which are praised for their melodious song or bright plumage, vultures have been traditionally reviled for feeding greedily on carcasses, and what many see is as a repulsive look. In many cultures, they are considered an ill omen and the Nepali language has many derogatory phrases.

A famous dialogue in the critically acclaimed and commercially successful recent Nepali movie Loot proclaims Kathmandu as a ‘the city of vultures’. What an insult to vultures.

This negative perception of vultures does not take into account the enormous ecosystem services provided by the raptors in consuming carrion, and reducing the spread of disease.

In fact, when vultures nearly became extinct in the Subcontinent in the past two decades because of the use of the veterinary anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, animal carcasses lay rotting in the fields and jungles becoming hotbeds for pathogens.

South Asia first started seeing a massive decline in its vulture population starting the 1990s, and no one quite knew why. The White-rumped, Long-billed and Slender-billed vultures declined by more than 99% in India and Pakistan.

In Nepal, between 1995 and 2001, there was a 96% decline in the Slender-billed vulture population, and the numbers of White-rumped vultures had gone down by 91% until 2011.

Researchers then zeroed in on the cause: the use of the analgesic diclofenac to treat sick livestock. Residue of the drug in the carcasses of those animals when consumed by vultures caused their kidneys to fail. Studies have shown that just 30ml of diclofenac can kill as many as 800 vultures.

 

Nepal has established itself as a pioneer in vulture conservation over the years, and the birds are now showing signs of coming back

Indian and Slender-billed vultures. Credit: ANKIT BISHAL JOSHI

 

The good news is that Nepal has established itself as a pioneer in vulture conservation over the years, and the birds are now showing signs of coming back.

Nepal is home to nine species of vultures of which seven have undergone considerable decline in recent years. The White-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis), Slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostis), Red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) and Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) are in the IUCN critically endangered list.

The Egyptian vulture (Nephron percnopterus) is listed as endangered, and three species – Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), Cinerous vulture (Aegypius monachus) and Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis) — are near threatened.

The first Vulture Conservation Summit in Kathmandu in 2004 took three key decisions: ban the use of diclofenac, establish breeding centres for endangered vultures, and rehabilitate them in the wild.

In 2006, diclofenac was banned by the governments of South Asia. The same year, Nepal opened world’s first food centre for the birds called the ‘Vulture Restaurant’ locally known as ‘Jatayu Restaurant’ in Nawalparasi district.

Operated and managed locally in an effort to provide the birds of prey with uncontaminated meat, it saw a significant revival of vulture populations in the area. Seven more ‘vulture restaurants’ have been set up across the Tarai and mid-hill districts: Rupandehi, Dang, Kailali, Kaski and Sunsari.

Similarly, a vulture conservation and breeding centre was set up in Kasara in the Chitwan National Park in 2008. The same year a ‘Vulture Conservation Action Plan 2009-2013’ was approved and implemented followed by a second action plan 2015-2019. The campaign has seen 74 districts (except Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur) declared diclofenac free.

At present, Nepal is on the verge of establishing the world’s first vulture sanctuary – which will not have a defined perimeter like other protected areas, but will stretch over 30,000sq km divided into inner core area and a buffer zone. The amount of diclofenac in the core area should be zero and less than 1% in the buffer region.

 

Nepal has established itself as a pioneer in vulture conservation over the years, and the birds are now showing signs of coming back

White-rumped vultures. Credit: NATIONAL TRUST FOR NATURE CONSERVATION/SAGAR GIRI

 

In order to increase the population of vultures in these protected areas, 31 vultures tagged with satellite devices have been released into the natural habitat in the last three years. Additional monitoring of 30 wild vultures fitted with satellite equipment is being carried out.

Despite these achievements, vulture conservation is not without challenges. Most conservation programs are limited to the Tarai and hence should be expanded to the mid-hills and the mountains.

Apart from diclofenac, other chemicals such as nimuslide, aceclofenac, and ketoprofen also appear to be harmful to vultures and regular monitoring to prevent excessive use of these drugs is recommended. Additional risks also come from declining natural habitat, food shortage and transmission lines.

Vultures mate for life, they stay together from nesting to hatching to rearing their young ones. They are found primarily in the Tarai and mid-hill forests of western Nepal and generally prefer to nest in enormous simal trees.

Despite the negative perception of vultures in culture and folklore, the birds have religious, cultural and environmental significance. Hindus worship it as the vehicle of Saturn. In the Ramayana, the vulture Jatayu fought till his last breath when Ravana abducted Sita. The practice of feeding the deceased to vultures is still prevalent in Himalayan communities that worship the scavenger as carriers of human souls to heaven.

More importantly, in the absence of vultures there will be no scavengers to dispose of carrion, leading to disease outbreaks among humans and cattle.

In monetary terms, one vulture in its lifetime saves about $11,000 for its role in carcass management.

It is in our interest to invest in vulture conservation. The first Saturday of September every year is marked as the International Vulture Awareness Day and it is in its 12th edition this year, Nepal should commit to work together with the communities, governments, environmentalists and conservation groups, because by protecting vultures we preserve biodiversity, and ultimately the safety and health of human beings.

 

Karun Dewan is with the World Wildlife Fund, Nepal.

 

This story was originally published by The Nepali Times