Professor D. D. Poudel; The Founder of the Asta-Ja Framework
Asta-Ja is a theoretically grounded grassroots-based planning and management framework for conservation, development, and utilization of natural and human resources.
Asta-Ja means eight of the Nepali letter “Ja” [Jal (water), Jamin (land), Jungle (forest), Jadibuti (medicinal and aromatic plants), Janashakti (manpower), Janawar, (animals), Jarajuri (crop plants), and Jalabayu (climate)].
Asta-Ja promotes accelerated economic growth and socio-economic transformation of the nation.
It is a scientific, holistic, systematic, self-reliant, and multidisciplinary framework for the conservation, development, and utilization of Asta-Ja resources.
The eight elements of the Asta-Ja system are very intricately linked and strongly connected.
Hence, it is important to have sustainable conservation and development of each of the eight elements of Asta-Ja for better functioning of the entire system. Asta-Ja Framework emphasizes community capacity-building, self-reliant, and national, regional, and local level planning and development of environmental and natural resources for socio-economic transformation of the nation. Asta-Ja is the backbone of Nepal’s economy. Therefore, the best governance of Asta-Ja should be the ultimate goal of the Government of Nepal.
Human activities such as deforestation, sand and gravel mining, river pollution, improper disposal of municipal solid waste, climate change impacts, pesticide usages, and dumping of industrial wastes in waterbodies or land are just a few examples that potentially put all plants, animals, and microorganisms at risks.
Various risks for organisms may include physical injuries, degradation of their habitats, toxicity, affecting their food sources, diseases and parasites, and inclusion of invasive species. Some plant and animal species may suffer so badly that they may even extinct.
Ecological sustainability is necessary for ecosystem services such as clean air, clean water, nutrient cycling, food production, disease control, climate regulation, and aesthetics.
Therefore, it is important to understand various risks associated with human activities including climate change impacts and take appropriate actions in order to minimize or mitigate these risks.
Ecological Risk Assessment:
Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA) employs two distinctive methods: 1) assessment of the risks because of existing conditions or activities that have already happened (descriptive), and 2) assessment of risks for possible authorization of new substances such as pesticides or other hazardous materials for use (predictive).
Risk assessment for new substance requires strong predictive techniques in order to predict the risks in real-world situations from results generated in controlled laboratory and field experiments. The descriptive method tries to assess the risks considering the changes in the ecosystem that have already occurred.
Ecological Risk Assessment involves the identification of actual and potential risks to plants, animals and the ecosystem due to release of physical, chemical or biological contaminants in the environment or any changes in the environment.
Based on ERA results, appropriate regulatory mechanisms are developed for risk management or mitigation.
A thorough, scientific, precise, and comprehensive risk assessment will compel policy makers in quick decision making with regard to risk mitigation.
Ecological risks associated with Chure degradation, Municipal Solid Waste disposal sites, Glacial Lake Outburst Floods, Invasive species such as Banmara and Nilo Gandhe, Transboundary Air Pollution, pesticide applications, and Global Climate Change are just a few examples of current widespread ecological and natural resources concerns in Nepal.
Through ERA and the implementation of appropriate risk minimization and control measures, the sustainability of natural resources is enhanced which benefits both the present and the future generations. While there exist several, often quite detailed and complex, frameworks for ERA, in broad term it involves three phases: 1) Conceptualizing the risks or hazards, 2) Evaluating the exposures, stressors and linkages, and 3) Characterizing the risks.
The “Risks Conceptualization” phase includes: a) collection of comprehensive baseline data (quantitative and qualitative) in relation to various stressors and their potential adverse effect on plants, animals, forests, and ecosystem, b) identification of source-pathway-target linkages, and 3) site characterization.
Sufficient time and resources are necessary for proper problem identification and conceptualization of the risks and hazards.
The second phase of ERA, the “Evaluation of the Risk” involves the formal risk assessment following the establishment of source-pathway-target linkages.
At this stage, quantitative information or laboratory data is generated in relation to the concentration, distribution and mobility of stressors; nature, pathway and duration of the exposures between the sources and the targets; characteristics of the targets, and the nature of the effect.
Many scientific questions such as how do the stressors enter into the organisms, what is the dose and response mechanism, how do the receptors behave, etc., are answered.
The “Risk Characterization” phase involves the synthesis and reporting of the information generated in previous two stages.
At this stage, actual and potential risks associated with plants, animals, forests, and ecosystem are presented.
Various risks may include loss of biodiversity, incidences of diseases and parasites on plants and animals, loss in ecosystem services, disruption in food chain, forest degradation, extinction of a species, loss of agricultural land, sedimentation of lakes, and many others.
Depending on the severity of these risks, the policy makers can design appropriate policies and strategies to control or minimize ecological risks associated with human activities.
Control measures could be related to the management of the stressors such as modification or reduction and breaking the source-pathway-target linkages.
The Government of Nepal has undertaken multitudes of natural resources conservation, development and utilization initiatives for decades.
The scope of these initiatives span from field level to watershed, basin, and landscape levels. Some of these initiatives are: the Chure Conservation program, National Biodiversity Strategy, Hariyo Ban Program, Wildlife Management Project, Adaptation for Smallholder in Hilly Areas project, REDD+ Implementation Programs, Agroforestry and Community Forestry, Climate Resilience of Watersheds, Watershed Management, Soil and Water Conservation, Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation Initiative (KSLCI), Building Resilience to Climate Related Hazards (BRCH), and Community Based Flood and Glacial Lake Outburst Risk Reduction Project (CFGORRP). Water resources management for irrigation, drinking water, industries, recreation, and agriculture constitute additional high priority activities in the country.
Following the enactment of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973, Nepal embarked on establishing national parks, wildlife reserves, and conservation areas for natural resources conservation and development and tourism promotion.
Subsequent acts and regulations include National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Regulations 1974, Wildlife Reserves Regulations 1978, and Buffer Zone Regulations 1996.
Nepal has an excellent network of national parks, wildlife reserves, and conservation areas representing tropical, subtropical, temperate and alpine climatic conditions with a wide range of floras and faunas.
Nepal currently hosts 20 protected areas (national parks, wildlife reserve, conservation areas, and hunting reserve).
They include, Chitwan National Park (1973), Langtang National Park (1976), Rara National Park (1976), Bardia National Park (1976), Shivapuri National Park (1976), Sagarmatha National Park (1976), Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve (1976), Koshitappu Wildlife Reserve (1976), Parsa Wildlife Reserve (1984), Khaptad National Park (1984), Shey Phoksundo National Park (1984), Annapurna Conservation Area (1985), Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve (1987), Makalu Barun National Park (1991), Kangchenjunga Conservation Area (1997), Manaslu Conservation Area (1998), Blackbuck Conservation Area (2009), Gaurishankar Conservation Area (2010), Banke National Park (2010), and Api Nampa Conservation Area (2010).
While the Government of Nepal’s natural resources conservation initiatives are commendable, more focused, sustained, and coordinated initiatives with respect to preservation, conservation, and protection of plants, animals, wildlife, fish, and medicinal and aromatic plants at-risks are necessary.
Habitat protection of species at-risks is critical for a sustained ecosystem services so that the Nepalese society can continue receiving necessary services from ecosystem.
It is necessary to identify endangered species and their habitats and develop action plans for their conservation and protection on a sustained basis.
Because of human activities and climate change impacts, many animals and plant species are listed as endangered species and this list continue to grow. Some of the animal species included in the endangered lists include red panda, snow leopard, Bengal tiger, one-horned rhino, Himalayan musk deer, Ganges River Dolphin, swamp deer, pangolin, striped hyena, and Asiatic elephant.
Similarly, some of the endangered plant species in Nepal include Champ, Jatamasi, Sarpaghandha, Panch aaule, Yarsagumbha, and Lauth Salla. Available literature suggests that at least 45 medicinal and aromatic plants are listed as endangered species in Nepal.
Out of 500 species of medicinal plants used in traditional medicines that grow in forests only 50 of them are in commercial use.
This fact alone justifies the importance of forest conservation and protection in Nepal.
Together with governmental initiatives, strong community participation is critical for the conservation and protection of endangered species.
This requires a great deal of community awareness.
In this context, it is critical to have governmental ecological services field offices across the nation so that locality specific cooperative management plans could be developed and implemented for plant and animal species conservation and development.
Ecological Risk Assessment serves as the basis for developing landscape level cooperative management, monitoring, and research activities in relation to targeted plant and animal species that are at ecological risks.
Through ERA, governmental agencies can focus on the species that are at-risks. At-risks species include the species that are possible candidates for listing as endangered species.
In part seven of this series, the author will discuss Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) in natural resources governance.