– Samar Baniya
Sand mining has adversely impacted the ecology of the Narayani River, including threats to fish and other aquatic species.
Unsustainable sand and gravel extraction disrupts the natural ecosystem of the river and impacts the biodiversity that are dependent on it.
Gharial is Critically Endangered animal which rely on sand banks for nesting and habitats, sand mining disrupts their habitat and is great threats to them.
Researchers have issued a warning about the serious consequences of uncontrolled gravel extraction from the Narayani riverbed, posing a grave threat to its diverse aquatic biodiversity. The Narayani River, also known as ‘Kali Gandaki’ and ‘Saptagandaki’, originates from the Himalayas and is a significant tributary of the Ganges River in India. This river sustains a rich array of aquatic life, including the critically endangered Gharials (Gavialis gangeticus), a unique crocodile species with elongated, slender snouts, and a fish-based diet.
The Overlooked Endangered Species: While many in Nepal think of iconic animals like rhinos, tigers, and elephants, the endangered and vital Gharial species often goes unnoticed. Unfortunately, various human activities are pushing Gharials towards extinction, causing their population to decline steadily. The lack of attention and support towards their protection places them at risk of vanishing from our country.
The Surprisingly Dangerous Impact of Sand Mining: Initially, sand mining might not appear to cause significant harm, but its consequences are profound. Sand plays a crucial role in river and lake environments. As sand and gravel are removed, the water table drops, leading to the destruction of habitats for aquatic species. In Narayani, Gharials face extinction due to the destruction of their nesting sites caused by sand mining. This also holds true for the Ganges River Dolphin, another species teetering on the brink of extinction.
Impact of Sand Mining on Rivers in South Asia: Sand mining is not limited to the Narayani River; it has become a widespread issue across South Asia. In India, the extraction of sand from riverbeds is so common that a ban on such mining only leads to an underground industry, escalating house prices and creating security risks for journalists who report on illegal activities. The dangerous nexus between illegal sand mining and political interference poses significant challenges to effective enforcement of regulations.
Rampant Illegal Riverbed Mining in Nepal: Nepal, too, faces rampant illegal sand mining in its rivers, despite a ban on riverbed sand mining imposed in 1991 after the collapse of a bridge on the Bagmati river in Kathmandu. However, a case study revealed that about 40% of the total demand for sand in the Kathmandu valley is met through illegal riverbed mining. This unchecked activity is destroying the vegetative cover of aquatic environments, reducing nutrient inputs, and severely affecting aquatic life.
The Sand Mining Gold Rush: Sand is an essential resource for construction and infrastructure development, and Nepal’s abundance of rivers makes it a significant source of sand. However, unregulated sand extraction has resulted in threats of flooding and a decline in species dependent on sand for their life cycles, such as Gharials and other aquatic species. Large-scale riverbed mining poses a significant threat to the aquatic life and ecosystem of the Narayani River, but illegal mining activities continue without proper environmental clearance.
The Need for Protection and Habitat Conservation: Protecting Gharials and preserving their habitat is crucial for safeguarding the biodiversity of the region. Breeding and survival of these species directly rely on the sand along the riverside. To achieve this, local authorities and residents must enforce strict laws against illegal sand mining in the Narayani River. The destruction of riverside habitats has hindered the population growth of Gharials, and urgent action is necessary to reverse this trend.
The Greed of Human Actions: Human greed, evident in global warming, climate change, and habitat alteration, poses a significant risk to the Gharial’s survival. Illegal sand mining exacerbates the problem, making it even more challenging for these species to thrive. Sand, being a critical factor in the growth and development of Gharials, must be protected to ensure their survival.
The Consequences of Inaction: The loss of numerous species due to human greed and indifference towards biodiversity protection has led to the extinction of vulnerable and endangered species. Failure to address the issue of illegal sand mining in time may result in the extinction of Gharials and other aquatic species in Nepal. Therefore, immediate action is crucial to protect these species from disappearing entirely, leaving only memories of their existence.
Sustainable Solutions for Sand Mining: Experts agree that designating stretches of rivers for sand extraction based on ecological principles is a practical solution. Contracts for mining along these designated stretches can be awarded transparently, enabling controlled extraction and ensuring royalties are paid. Some countries in the region have such designated stretches, but they need to keep pace with the increasing demand for construction materials to avoid unregulated activities.
Conclusion: The alarming threats posed by unregulated sand mining to the Narayani River’s Gharial population and other aquatic species demand urgent attention and action. It is essential to strike a balance between development and environmental preservation. By implementing strict regulations and raising awareness about the importance of habitat conservation, we can ensure the survival and prosperity of these unique species for generations to come. Sustainable sand mining practices, coupled with strong enforcement measures, will be instrumental in protecting the fragile river ecosystems and the rich biodiversity they support. Only through collective efforts and unwavering commitment can we secure the future of the Gharial and other endangered species, ensuring they continue to thrive in their natural habitats for generations to come.