We must understand the reasons Nepal could, for ages, maintain a relatively stable economy, be free from colonization or occupation by foreign invaders, and provide home to one of the happiest people on earth. Throughout history, we Nepali have been strongly driven by the concepts of karma and afterlife (though both seem less of a priority today). Survival assured, people are willing to live on half of what they deserve. We are afraid of a poor public image, readily embrace austerity and try to save fortunes for the future. We are highly driven by cultural values.
Nepali are nature worshipers. We worship almost all things in nature: living and nonliving, terrestrial and heavenly, visible and invisible, plants, animals and humans, soil, water, air, fire and space, relatives and strangers. We consider anything that disturbs nature as problems: climate change, global warming, biodiversity loss, pollution of soil, water and air, radiation hazards, ozone layer depletion, and nuclear threat. In the face of terrorism and ongoing regional and global conflicts, not surprisingly Nepal had proposed itself a Zone of Peace!
Nepal needs both economic and infrastructure build-up to start from inside, from grassroots. Large-scale and high-sounding projects are not our priority. We do not want to inundate our millennia-old river-bank settlements to erect reservoirs for hydroelectricity plants. Instead, an average Nepali would prefer covering barren mountains with solar plates or wind fans.
The major part of Nepali agriculture is still organic. Ironically, we advocate productivity at any cost and teach farmers to use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, green houses, as well as exotic, hybrid and genetically modified (GM) and suicide seeds. Each of these steps makes the locals lose their independence and resilience to adversity. They inflict devastating harms on the locals, their livelihood, ecosystem and traditional wisdom. Overuse and inappropriate application of chemical fertilizers has upset soil composition and degraded its productivity.
Pesticides have not only indiscriminately killed insects, weeds, fungi, pests and other useful natural enemies of the harmful ones, they also have become serious threats to human health. They are now associated with various types of cancers, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, organ failure and even sudden death. Seemingly attractive greenhouses have further damaged the environment. Imprudent adoption of exotic, hybrid and GM seeds has threatened our seed banks.
Throughout history, attached toilets were not our dream. Excreta was not tolerated in homes, or nearby water bodies or sacred places. However, the waste was commonly used as organic manure in the fields. After natural organic decomposition, the excreta mix and disappear into fertile soil. This fact was well understood by our ancestors. Human feces and urine formed a part of the healthy ecosystem. People benefitted from active toilet habits. Now we are encouraged to build modern, attached toilets, wasting our already scarce resources. The result is sedentary population, conflicts over dumping sites, as well as various other health and environmental hazards associated with improper waste disposal.
Rapid population growth has put extra pressure on arable land, housing, forest, open space, water and other natural resources. Population planning and maintenance of demographic balance should be a priority. However, our slogan ‘small family, happy family’ has been misinterpreted by many as ‘no to joint family’! The result is adults splitting up from their aging parents and aged grandparents, thus leaving the elderly at the mercy of the state and elderly-care centers.
Some people pay no heed to elderly in their families and localities but found or fund elderly care organizations elsewhere for publicity. Society needs to begin ridiculing such figures.
Our newly adopted education system that promotes materialist views oblivious of the spiritual, religious and moral aspects of development is no less responsible for social disintegration. Now each adult speaks of ‘I’ as ‘a free person’ with rights to choose a life ‘as I like’. With such stubborn views and attitudes, ‘we educated people’ have become feeling-less mechanistic living units, without any concern for the larger society. This has to change.
The biggest reason for our economic poverty is wrong land use. Nepal needs to learn from its own experience. Holding land as a fortune has many downsides. I do not propose snatching private land. But I do propose banning trade of land. Let us own no more land than what we can cultivate without hiring laborers or using mass production tools. Let us not own land or houses for rentals. Let us ensure skyscrapers are not blocking sunlight, or posing threat to bordering lands, houses or waters in case of fires or earthquakes. Such structures harm people both physically and mentally.
Let us begin anew. Let agricultural and settlement lands be fixed first. Let all rivers, streams and lakes and selected forests be declared sovereign—no government, no community, no person can remove them, destroy them, pollute them, cover them, or harm them. This will ensure clean air and environment. For industrial or other activities needing larger pieces of land, let the state or community rent land, hills, rivers, lakes or forests.
Let us fix land prices. Let the state buy all the land being sold, and sell it at the same price to those who need it, on a priority basis fixed by the local community. To the squatters, provide it for free but make it non-transferable and non-sellable, which the state can give to other people if the former tenants are no longer poor or cease to use land as required by the contract.
We also have other development needs. The above-mentioned steps will not only make our land more inhabitable and ensure better and healthy food supply. They will also save our precious resources and enable us work on other priority projects.
The author is a professor of pharmacy at Tribhuvan University