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Bagmati River Festival: A Festival of 21st Century

Author(s): A Success River Conservation Model from the Bagmati
Congress: 2008
Author(s): Megh Ale, Parveen Chhetri
Megh - President, Nepal River Conservation Trust (NRCT) Parveen - Board Member, NRCT

Keyword(s): Bagmati River Festival, River Conservation, Public campaigning, Nepal
AbstractBagmati River is the principal and sacred river of the Kathmandu Valley. It has altogether 20 tributaries within the valley and is an important source for drinking water and irrigation to the valley’s people. This river flows through the heart of the valley passing through the holy temples of Pashupatinath, Guheswori and many more. Historically, Bagmati River has acted as a cohesive force for the community of Kathmandu, and it has helped to sustain and support this community. It was a place where both devotees and non-devotees alike could go to pray or to reconcile in peace, where they could sit and reflect upon their roles and responsibilities and make sense of their daily lives. However, over the past 20 years, the pressure placed upon Bagmati and other rivers by the ever growing population of the Kathmandu Valley have turned this sacred river into something that is little more than a drain- a convenient disposal system for the solid waste and sewage produced by the people of Kathmandu. Due to such degraded state of the rivers, devotees are now reluctant to go on the banks of these rivers to worship and pay homage to their gods like they used to in the past. Water sources, particularly rivers such as Bagmati, Bishnumati, Tukucha, Dhobi Khola and Balkhu, are now deeply polluted and unfit for human use. It is also estimated that 30% of the river flowing through Chobhar during the off season is all but raw sewage and sludge. Thus, it is imperative that we respond to these issues with appropriate measures that are timely and effective. In response to the worsening situation of the Bagmati River and in order to alter the biological degradation in it, NRCT had initiated a Bagmati river conservation campaign called Bagmati River Festival (BRF) in 2001, in association with some like-minded organisations. The festival aimed to provide a platform for all interested individuals and organisations to express their concern and provide solutions to overcome the plight of this holy river. Since then, BRF is being organized on an annual basis and today, the number of active partner organisations has crossed over eighty-four. Also, over four-hundred institutions have participated in this event so far, since its inception in 2001. The partner organisations includes many I/NGOs, I/GOs, academia, research and development organisations, business houses, local clubs, media, actors, singers and music bands, conservation campaigners and civil society. Government organisations like Nepal Tourism Board, Sustainable Tourism Board, Kathmandu Metropolitan City, different ministries and some I/NGOs along with donor communities, corporate and media houses etc. are providing minimum funding and technical support to organize the events included in the BRF. The festival has attracted people of all age groups (School children to university graduates and job holders to retired professionals) and from a variety of professions. The two and half month festival is formally launched every year on June 5th to mark the World Environment Day (WED) and continues till the third or fourth week of August. Depending on Nepali calendar, it ends on Nagpuja, a holy festival of Hindus. The festival comprises of several events including clean-up campaign, tree plantation program, heritage walk, rafting for public, press/media dunga daud, corporate dunga daud, corporate challenge, poetry, drama, essay and photography competition at school levels, Bagmati eco-challenge, training on waste management to several groups of women living along the bank of the Bishnumati/ Bagmati river, school student's kayak race, professional down river kayak race, Bagmati friendship float, student’s theatre program, technical workshop on Bagmati/Bishnumati river, sharing scientific findings about the river, public exhibition on various activities done by the partner organisations, Bagmati conservation campaigns and rallies, anti-plastic campaigns, women for Bagmati cycle rally, exhibition of environmental models prepared by the students of high school, live music concerts etc. The unique feature of the Bagmati River Festival is that, it is probably the only model in world that gives an equal opportunity to interplay science, sports, conservation education, recreation, music, religion and social activities to produce synergy in conservation and gives a unique opportunity to interact among peoples of different areas and professions. As a result one can easily notice the contribution made by the festival to save the sacredness of the Bagmati River. The volume of waste dumped in the river and riverbank is relatively less in comparison to the population growth and level of awareness among the stakeholders is increasing. The biggest achievement of the Bagmati River Festival is that, it has somehow managed to develop a common and active alliance of over eighty like-minded organizations and has gained an identity as the “Festival of the 21st Century”. Since the population in the valley is growing rapidly, the amount of daily waste generation has almost doubled in last one decade and due to the lack of proper waste management system, again Bagmati is becoming the ultimate dumping destination of the majority of these wastes. In this context we have realized that intensifying the Bagmati River Festival can be the only way to ensure biological, social, religious and political sustainability of the Bagmati River. The paper admits some innovative approach practiced in the Bagmati River of Nepal with a great replication potential elsewhere, to reverse the degradation of the river and other wetland ecosystems. It effectively gives an aperture to think about stakeholder’s involvement in the conservation. Promotion of river conservation campaigns changing the conventional conservation mind sets and promoting conservation through participation. It has a big potential of replication elsewhere as it is an absolute participatory approach of conservation.
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