Nijgadh International airport has come to limelight because of increasing air traffic congestion at Tribhuvan International airport, the only International airport of Nepal. Nijgadh has been identified as a feasible airport to reduce the pressure and working load of TIA. The Communist government came to power delivering a promise of prosperity and is steeping its path towards development. But in my opinion, it has failed to realize the impact of development on the environment and ecosystem.
Nijgadh airport and the expressway linking it to Kathmandu will decimate the dense forest, a prime habitat for many wildlife species including some of the endangered mammals, birds. The project also will deplete the buffer zone of Parsa National Park, removing the vegetation that recharges the valuable ground water. Conservationists and ecologists also worry that a big, busy airport next to the park will disturb the wildlife habitat. The government is preparing to fell 2.4 million Sal trees spreading out to area 80 sq km; a corridor for wild elephants and tigers. Although the government claims that selling the valuable timber from the site will fetch nearly 70 billion, it will prevent 22,500 tons of carbon being sequestered in the vegetation annually which in turn will deprive Nepal of earning about Rs.160 million annually from the global carbon fund. The economic value of oxygen lost due to deforestation is about Rs 230 billion. The development project also includes an airport city and a modern road connection between Nijgadh and Kathmandu.
Although Nepal is small in territory, have a rich biodiversity and are renowned as pioneers in nature conservation, across the globe. The proposed area of airport is massive; almost equivalent to 11,300 football fields. When such infrastructures are constructed in ecological zones like Nijgadh, it will result in biodiversity loss, habitat degradation, noise pollution and severe other problems. The project may affect more than 90 species of wild animals including some endangered and critically endangered ones. The government has already approved the Environment Impact Assessment report which states that 7,000 hectares of dense forest will be cleared for the project and it only considers about the loss of trees and does not include any detailed assessments of the project on biodiversity. Therefore In my opinion, a much detailed assessment of the impact on biodiversity needs to be done.
Infrastructures development is necessary for a nation to prosper but why has it been planned to be built in such dense forest and biodiversity zone near the natural sanctuary instead of other non ecological zones? The question arises- Why do we need a fourth international airport (after TIA, Pokhara and Bhairahawa) in a small country like Nepal? If it goes according to the planned project, Nijgadh will be almost four times larger than the world’s busiest airport: The Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International airport of USA. Any international airport needs a big enough catchment area. For Nijgadh, it will be Kathmandu. If passengers cannot reach Kathmandu within an hour after landing at Nijgadh, this multi- billion airport will fail. So the key to Nijgadh’s success will be how fast the Kathmandu Terai fast track will be completed. Hence, the government can better spend money on TIA and can extend its area so that the immediate need for another international airport can be minimized. In my opinion, constructing a large airport at Nijgadh neither makes an economic sense nor any ecological sense.
Pratik Bhattarai is an undergraduate at Institute of Forestry, Pokhara.