"If you want to bring about conservation of these big, iconic species that need lots of area to roam, you have to work with the people that are living there," said Jon Miceler at a March 19, 2009, event, "Population, Health, and Environment in Nepal." Miceler, managing director for the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Eastern Himalayas program, and Rishi Bastakoti, director and co-founder of Resource Identification and Management Society Nepal (RIMS Nepal), discussed their ongoing work on population, health, and environment (PHE) programs in Nepal.
Protecting Tigers in the Terai
To protect endangered Bengal tigers in Nepal, WWF seeks to simultaneously protect the ecosystem and support sustainable livelihoods in the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL), a biodiverse region that spans the India-Nepal border. Environmental threats to the Terai include:
- Conversion of forest into farmland;
- Forest fires;
- Excessive extraction of timber and fuelwood;
- Human-wildlife conflict; and
- Population growth.
The area's national parks have become isolated islands that "are increasingly surrounded by oceans of people," Miceler said. "If we really want to preserve something like the tiger, we have to enable the creature to roam, to keep its genetics diverse." The ultimate goal is to connect the protected areas with a green corridor that will allow the tiger populations to move from one park to another.
"By protecting a tiger—which is what we call an ‘umbrella species'—you're actually protecting a whole host of species below that, and a whole host of ecosystems that are connected with the tigers," said Miceler.
Piloting PHE in Khata
In the Khata corridor, a region of the TAL, WWF worked with local leaders and community forest user groups to create a "permanent community-managed health clinic with basic clinical tools," Miceler said. In addition, the program:
- Distributed 172 arsenic filters to remove naturally occurring arsenic from the groundwater, as well as 44 hand pumps to provide clean drinking water;
- Improved access to family planning services and increased the contraceptive prevalence rate from 43 percent to 73 percent in two years; and
- Provided 136 biogas plants with attached toilets and 100 improved cookstoves, reducing the need for fuelwood, which in turn decreased deforestation and the number of acute respiratory infections.
WWF will be "taking results from the successes we've had in the Khata corridor and lessons learned from other PHE projects in other countries to scale them up in other areas of the Terai," said Miceler.
PHE at the Grassroots Level
"The average fertility rate in Nepal is 3.1," said Bastakoti of the Nepalese NGO RIMS Nepal. "But it is much higher among the ethnic communities living in the remote areas with low education."
RIMS Nepal works with 82 community forest user groups in Dhading to improve livelihoods, health, and environmental conservation. Since 2006, the project has:
- Increased the contraceptive prevalence rate from 44 percent to 63.1 percent; and
- Distributed biogas and other improved cookstoves, helping reduce the incidence of acute respiratory illness from 55.5 percent to 5 percent and saving 1,178 metric tons of firewood each year.
RIMS Nepal trained 375 people to be peer educators and community-based distributors of contraceptives. "Local volunteers are key for the success of PHE," Bastakoti explained. "They become role models for behavioral change."
In addition, with RIMS Nepal's help, 24 community forest user groups incorporated PHE activities, including family planning, into their operational plans. The "integration of family planning and health brings added value to conservation, poverty reduction, and livelihood improvement," said Bastakoti, calling community forest user groups "one of the greatest grassroots-level institutions"—and key to advocating for the PHE approach at the national level.
Drafted by Will Rogers and edited by Rachel Weisshaar and Meaghan Parker.