The Government of Nepal has been planning for several infrastructure development projects in the lowland Terai of Nepal. Among several projects, the East-West Electric Railway and Postal Road projects are reported to have been designed to pass through the Chitwan National Park (CNP), which is – due to its outstanding universal value – also a World Natural Heritage (WNH) Site.
The UNESCO fact-finding mission was carried out from 16 to 19 June 2015 to make initial assessments of the proposed infrastructure projects in the light of the park’s WNH status. The mission was conducted jointly by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), IUCN Nepal and UNESCO.
The DNPWC, IUCN Nepal and UNESCO have raised their concern that if these projects became a reality, this could lead to major fragmentation of the park, loss of endangered species and, ultimately, to loss of its outstanding universal value for which the park has gained its World Heritage status. Alternative routes whose construction would have less environmental impacts and at the same time benefit more people can be found.
Previously, IUCN also wrote a letter to Rt. Honorable Prime Minister and Rt. Honorable Chair of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal, showing its concern over the proposed East-West Electric Railway and the Terai Postal Road, which could potentially result in the fragmentation of the core wildlife habitat of Chitwan National Park.
Chitwan National Park supports the livelihoods of about 0.3 million people living in its buffer zone and provides habitat for 68 mammalian species of animals including iconic species such as the tiger, rhinoceros, and elephant. It is home to more than 125 Royal Bengal tigers, Gaur bison and Gharial crocodiles, and more than 6% of the world’s bird species. IUCN strongly believes that an alternative that avoids intrusion into park areas is the best option. However, in the case that a trans-park alignment is chosen, efforts to reduce impact on wildlife, landscapes and tourism must be prioritised as much as possible.
A balance can be struck between infrastructural development and the conservation of landscapes and the organisms and communities that they support. Short-term gains must be assessed in the light of long-term opportunities and environmental benefits, including biodiversity, ecosystem services, and tourism.
The UNESCO fact finding mission team consisted of Maheshwar Dhakal, Under-Secretary of the DNPWC; Yam Malla, Country Representative of the IUCN Nepal; Pearly Wong, UNESCO consultant; Laura Heiskanen, UNESCO Natural Heritage Coordinator and Arjun Dhakal, a national consultant.