The Nepal Water Conservation Foundation (NWCF) has reported victory in opposition to Nepal’s central airport project in Nijgadh, 68 km south of Kathmandu and 27 km from the Indian border. It would be the largest airport in South Asia and the fourth largest in the world in terms of surface area. It was expected to handle 60 million passengers a year. It was budgeted at US$6.7 billion and was proposed as a public-private partnership for construction, ownership, operation and transfer. The company chosen was Zurich International Airport AG.
The victory is welcome for its environmental dimension, as the area of its location threatened an important rainforest in the region, and for its social dimension. But today, in the serious climate crisis we are suffering and when its progress is undeniable, it is also appreciable for what it means as an obstacle to even more flights and infrastructures. The airplane is the most climate-damaging form of travel: a flight from Europe to Nepal emits about 5 tons of CO2 (CO2 equivalent) per person, more than twice the emissions produced by a family car in a year. It is therefore inconceivable that the construction of more airports, but above all it is inconceivable that more flights are still being considered. There is more incongruity added to this when it comes to cutting down the forest that absorbs these emissions: this very forest would absorb 22,500 tons of carbon per year. We can afford this to be cut down, to be loose.
This project is proposed as an alternative to Kathmandu airport, the only international airport in the country. This airport poses a problem due to its topographical, climatic and seismic characteristics that have caused two air disasters. In 2015, a Turkish Airlines plane skidded off the runway. Therefore, this project would require also a new highway to connect it to Kathmandu (76 km). This has already been started by the Nepalese Army.
The Supreme Court of Nepal (1) stopped the construction of the project on December 6, 2019 as its environmental impact assessment (EIA) was unacceptable, even though it was approved by the Ministry of Forest and Environment himself in May 2018. On March 26, 2022 they issued the final verdict ruling the project out. The complaint was filed by nine people led by environmentalist Ranju Hajur Pandey and former Nepali government secretary Dwarika Nath Dhungel.
The airport perimeter covers 80 km2 (8000 hectares) of land, which is excessive for an airport. According environmentalist Chanda Rana just the airport would require about 1300 hectares and the other infrastructures about 600 hectares. The affected area is mostly (90%) tropical and subtropical rainforest dominated by the sal or sakhuwa tree (Shorea robusta). The project’s own EIA foresaw the felling of more than 2 million trees. This forest is also home to a great biodiversity that includes 500 species of birds, 23 species of flora and 22 species of endangered fauna. It is also a forest corridor for large animals such as the Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, spotted deer, and the rare rhinos (4 or 6), as it is close to the Parsa National Park that protects these endangered animals. The area is also part of an 800 km green belt stretching from India to Rautahat in Nepal.
In terms of water, the affected area is also of great significance as most of the region’s rivers originate in the proposed construction site. These rivers also irrigate the vast southern plains, where the main agricultural area is located. The airport will cut off these water sources.
Crops and jungle of Nijgadh (Nepal).
But it also has serious social impacts: the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) acquired 24 hectares of land from Tangiya Basti for the airport development, which resulted in the eviction of 1,476 households, leaving 7,500 people displaced, and homeless and landless.
For all these reasons, it has met with great opposition from local and environmental organizations, who are now enjoying the fruits of their labor. We also thank them for their efforts for the global importance of these ecosystems for the Planet and we join them in their celebrations.
More information: https://ejatlas.org/conflict/nijgadh-airport-and-aerotropolis
(1) The court consisted of judges Hari Krishna Karki, Bishowambhar Prasad Shrestha, Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada, Prakash Man Singh Rawat and Manoj Kumar Sharma. Advocates Prakash Mani Sharma and Ranju Hajur Pandey have conducted the prosecution.