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Trees for airport

Trees for airport

 Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari has been repeatedly saying that the environmental fears over the Nijgadh International Airport are overblown. It is true that the airport, as envisioned, will cover over 8,000 hectares, which will make it the biggest in South Asia in area. It is also true that an estimated 2.4 million trees will have to be felled. But as Adhikari points out, the media and the broader public is missing a crucial catch.

In the first phase, only 2,500 hectares will be used, and as such just around 760,000 trees will have to go. As envisioned, after the first phase the airport will be able to handle 15 million passengers a year; after the second phase, in another five years, it will accommo­date 30 million; and 60 million after the third phase, in five more years. If the airport does not get expected traffic after the first or the second phase, then it may not be expanded.

But the larger goal is to establish Nijgadh as a tran­sit hub with easy access to 27 major Asian cities. If things go as planned, say the project’s backers, the airport could be a game-changer for Nepal, lay­ing a firm foundation for national prosperity and development. But is the environmental cost of bring­ing down 760,000 trees in the first phase worth it, not to think of the two latter phases? Has the government done enough homework on the likely damage to the rich flora and fauna, as well as to human settlements nearby, after destroying the last remaining patch of dense forest in the Tarai belt? And was there really no option to Nijgadh?

The country without a doubt needs a second inter­national airport to relieve the pressure on the over­burdened TIA, and the government says expanding Bhairahawa or Pokhara airport was not an option. So perhaps Nijgadh is really irreplaceable. If so, the devel­opers will have to be extremely careful about inflict­ing minimal ecological damage, in a country already beset by climate change-induced natural disasters. Perhaps it is also worth reevaluating Nijgadh’s role as a ‘transit hub’ after the development of passenger aircraft capable of flying 20 hours non-stop. While the ecological damages certainly have to be minimized, it would also be a tragedy to build anoth­er Hambantota, often dubbed “the world’s emptiest international airport.”