On a map, borders seem natural and intuitive. They represent a simple way to organize people and allow for efficient governing. But, between the Syrian refugee crisis and the potential “wall” between the U.S. and Mexico, it is clear that borders also separate groups and create many conflicts in themselves.
One of the most overlooked consequences of borders is their effect on the environment.Cows graze near Tumbling, a Nepali village adjacent to India. (Photo by Saad Amer)
Cases of adverse environmental border impacts can be found all over the world. In the Himalaya, which sprawl between several Asian counties, degradation runs high along the India-Nepal border.
On the Indian side lies the Singalila National Park, a 30.35 square mile preserve that is home to threatened species such as the red panda. On the Nepali side, however, no such preserve exists. Instead, a series of villages, shrines, and farms are found.
These Nepali settlements are directly adjacent to India’s National Park and often cause deforestation, soil erosion, and pollution. These degredations often spill over and negatively impact India’s Singalila National Park.
Politics and Power
While people can move freely between India and Nepal across this section of the border, relations between India and Nepal can be tense and have many effects along the Himalayan border.
Nearly half of Nepal’s energy is imported from India. So when the political atmosphere thickens, petroleum and kerosene imports are blocked and Nepal loses access to energy. In these times, they turn to cutting down forest trees for firewood.
The consequences of potential fuel sanctions run so high that Nepal has already assessed its forest stocks and has calculated how long it can supply wood to keep its capital of Katmandu going. Given that it can only power Katmandu for six weeks on forest stocks and that Nepal is entirely landlocked, Nepal’s energy situation, and by extension, forest health, is dependent on bordering India. This tends to put Nepal at a disadvantage when trying to negotiate trade deals and environmental legislation and has impacted the ecosystems of Nepal and bordering India alike.
There is no doubt that the Himalaya are among the most incredible mountains in the world. Even the pile of garbage on the India-Nepal border photographed above looks almost holy in their context. Given that these mountains are at a high altitude and have a unique climate, their beauty is matched with great biodiversity. Even so, these ecosystems are often neglected in diplomatic talks.
Despite the geopolitics inherent in borders, steps should be taken to ensure adequate preservation of these ever threatened sights. As talks on borders continue and as human settlements grow, politicians should do their best to avoid harming these incredible natural sites.