Wetlands in Nepal are suffering and very little data is available about wetland degradation and conservation. Since the formation of the DNPWC, some valuable wetlands have been given protection within PAs. In addition, ten wetland sites in the Terai have been identified for urgent conservation action by the Biodiversity Profiles Project (1995a); these are listed in Table 2.21.
3.6.1 POLICY AND LEGISLATION
Although Nepal became a signatory of the Ramsar Convention in 1988, a well defined wetland policy and management plan is still overdue. However, a national policy on wetlands was drafted in 2001 and submitted to MFSC for approval. Wetlands were not addressed by the Nepal Conservation Strategy, the Fifth Five-Year Plan, or the Master Plan for the Forestry Sector. NEPAP-I states that wetlands in Nepal have often been overlooked as an important habitat type and that many wetlands are suffering from land and water pollution while others have been drained and converted to agricultural land. NEPAP prioritised the need to identify and protect biologically significant marshes, wetlands, and water bodies. In order to achieve these goals, NEPAP recommends conducting a study to assess the biological diversity of endemic terrestrial and aquatic plants and animals that occur outside protected areas on farmland, pastures, rangeland, forests, rivers, lakes and ponds (HMGN 1993). NEPAP is an effective initiative for the protection of wetlands and provides a good policy foundation upon which the NBS proposes to build.
Unless otherwise identified, wetlands belong to the State. However, analysis indicates that the ownership of these lands is held by different government agencies for specific purposes. In some cases the lands are owned by the government, but usufructs belong to intermediaries or tenants (IUCN-Nepal 1996). There are many wetlands where the local VDC and DDC use the wetland resources. Four types of wetland ownership occur in Nepal:
State ownership wetlands lying within forest areas are owned by the MFSC.
Gazetted land ownership wetlands lying in protected areas.
Corporate ownership Rampur Ghol is owned by the Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science, and the Harahawa river floodplain wetland is owned by the Lumbini Development Trust. Ponds inside cultural heritage precincts fall under the Guthi Sansthan. Wetlands registered under autonomous organisations fall under this category.
Private ownership small ponds built for aquaculture and fisheries and deep-water rice fields owned by individuals upon payment of government land revenue. This is also called fee simple ownership. Such ownership is inheritable and transferable.
Tenancy practices in wetlands, which are under communal ownership, involving use, occupation or dwelling on a rental basis, are administered by local institutions such as VDCs, governmental agencies and DDCs. Common tenancies found in the Terai are:
(a) contract tenancy - where usufruct is given to the highest bidder for a fixed period of time (1-15 years); (b) community tenancy this tenancy is common in the Terai where wetlands are managed by communities; (c) seasonal tenancy owners cultivate the land during the main growing season and lease it out to tenants for particular purposes such as growing vegetables or setting up temporary markets during other times of the year; (d) Batai tenancy tenants rent land and produce from the land is shared equally between landlords and tenants; (e) Kamaiya tenancy tenants rent land and provide labour inputs while the landlords provide all other inputs (e.g. oxen, seed, manure, and fertiliser) and produce from the land is shared equally; (f) Share cropping - the most popular tenancy system in the hills and mountain regions – produce from the land is shared equally between tenant and landlord, and payment is made in cash or in kind.
Wetland-related issues are addressed in various pieces of legislation, the salient statutes of which are summarised below:
Aquatic Animals Protection Act, 1961: The Aquatic Animals Protection Act, 1961 is one of Nepal's oldest pieces of legislation which recognises the value of wetlands and aquatic animals. Under this Act, it is an offence to introduce poisonous, noxious or explosive materials into a water source or destroy any dam, bridge, fish ladder, or water system with the intent of catching or killing aquatic life. It defines 'private water' as a lake, pond, ditch, pool or reservoir that is on land used by a person paying land taxes, but it does not designate the wise use or management of privately owned wetlands. Although the Aquatic Animals Protection Act has been in effect for some time, there is no designated agency to administer or enforce it (Belbase 1997; Chapagain 1997). The Act was amended in 1998 to prohibit the use of unsafe pesticides, sometimes used for catching aquatic life.
National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973: Schedule 1 of the NPWC Act identifies certain waterfowl, including the saurus crane, black stork and white stork, as being fully protected. This Act has been amended four times since 1973, and a Fifth Amendment is in progress. However, the protected wetland species list needs to be updated.
Soil and Watershed Conservation Act, 1982: To combat degradation of valuable land from flooding, water logging, salinity in irrigated areas and acceleration of siltation in storage reservoirs, and to properly manage the catchments of Nepal, the Soil and Watershed Conservation Act empowers the Government to declare any catchment area protected. The Act outlines the essential parameters necessary for the proper management of catchment areas, including rivers and lakes.
Water Resources Act, 1992: Section 3 of the Water Resources Act states that ownership of water resources within Nepal ‘shall be vested in the Kingdom’. The Act appears to embody a public trust doctrine vesting ownership rights and jurisdiction over water bodies to HMGN. The Act strives to minimise environmental damage to wetlands, especially lakes and rivers, through environmental impact assessments. Section 8 (1) of the Act requires any person or corporate body wishing to survey or use specific water resources to apply to the appropriate authority and submit a detailed economic, technical and environmental report.
Electricity Act, 1992: Section 24 of the Electricity Act states that while generating, transmitting or distributing electricity, it is forbidden to negatively impact the environment by causing soil erosion, flooding, landslides, or air pollution. This Act prohibits blocking, diverting or placing hazardous or explosive materials in rivers, streams, or any water source.
Wetlands have been recognised as one of the important ecosystems that harbour about 25% of the biodiversity of Nepal. Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is the only Ramsar site in Nepal included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance. A preliminary survey of the wetlands system of Nepal was conducted in 1988 by IUCN. Other inventories have been carried out by IUCN (Bhandari et al. 1994), and for the Biodiversity Profiles Project (BPP 1995a).
3.6.3 LESSONS LEARNED
No protected area can survive without the support of local people. As such, to allow grazing of buffaloes and additional harvesting of grass in the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is being considered. Moreover, buffalo grazing and harvesting of certain grass species can maintain a desired stage in succession (Davies 1994).
3.6.4 MAJOR CONSTRAINTS
There is no institution with a clear mandate for wetland management in Nepal. Weak institutional co-ordination hampers the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, while anomalies in existing laws contribute to an ineffective legal and policy framework. Furthermore, multiple ownerships of wetlands makes uniform policy and management prescriptions problematic.
Inventory of wetland sites: Although IUCN has identified 242 wetland sites in Nepal, the biodiversity of these wetlands is, for the most part, still unknown. Identification of significant national and international wetland sites in the hills and mountains is needed to prioritise projects to conserve wetland biodiversity. Given the importance of wetland biodiversity and the benefits they provide to disadvantaged people, developing monitoring mechanisms to measure spatio-temporal changes in wetlands and to determine the rate of degradation as a result of human use is crucial. It will be necessary to generate time series data and information on factors that impact wetlands in order to maintain healthy wetlands on a long-term basis. Additionally, it is necessary to periodically update the existing inventory database and to determine the minimum data set needed to manage critical sites.
Lack of integrated wetland management: To focus only on the bodies of water is not sufficient for their conservation. No specific programme exists for the integrated management of catchments of critical wetland sites. It is also necessary to manage the catchments of nationally important lakes and to monitor their sedimentation.
Lack of awareness and community participation: The lack of awareness about the ecological functions of wetlands amongst communities who depend on wetland resources contributes to their degradation. Although wetlands provide alternative livelihoods to many people, they have become resources that are openly accessible to all with no concern for their conservation, which could be managed through the formation of user groups. The capacity of technical staff to manage wetlands in a sustainable manner with the participation of local stakeholders needs to be built.