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Pema Sherpa Q&A: Helping communities in Nepal to manage and conserve environmental ecosystems

Posted: 27 May 2021

Nepal, COVID-19, Environment, Experience, Impact,

In anticipation of World Environment Day 2021, we met with Australia Awards alum Pema Sherpa, who works as a Program Monitoring Officer at the Red Panda Network in Nepal. Pema completed a Master of Ecosystem Management and Conservation at the University of Melbourne in 2020 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

Can you tell us about your background in environmental fields?

“On my return from Australia, I rejoined Red Panda Network, where I have worked for more than three years. I assist in research and monitoring of the red panda and other threatened wildlife, disseminating conservation awareness among local communities and other stakeholders, restoring degraded fragmented forest habitats, and creating sustainable livelihood alternatives for local communities.

“For our Plant a Red Panda Home campaign, I collaborated with local communities and educated them on the importance of wildlife forest habitat restoration through plantation. Together, we identified, mapped and fenced degraded fragmented wildlife habitats. We planted thousands of native tree and bamboo species, restoring hundreds of acres of barren habitats and revitalising degraded habitats. This effort connected fragmented forest habitats and created biological corridors where red pandas and other threatened wildlife can thrive.”

Pema during a forest survey visit

What do you consider your most significant environment-related contribution to date?

“I have sensitised local elected representatives, community forest user groups, livestock herders, local communities and school students on environment protection, eco-friendly sustainable livelihood alternatives and conservation threats, and protection measures for wildlife—the red panda in particular. This has increased local stakeholder involvement and local stewardship for sustainable environment and wildlife management and conservation.”

How did your studies in Australia contribute to the work you do?

“The theoretical understanding and on-field experiences equipped me with the skills to identify gaps; critically analyse, integrate and interpret generated data on the forest ecosystem; understand the people-nature nexus; and create sustainable solutions. I look forward to integrating wildfire management and suppression strategies as increasing forest fires threaten Nepal’s environment, forests and wildlife.

“My interaction with diverse people in Australia has enabled me to embrace differences. I am motivated to work in a multicultural environment. Enhanced confidence and communication skills have helped me effectively share my work, views and understandings with everyone from policymakers to practitioners to local communities.”

In your specific field of work, what are some of Nepal’s environment-related challenges and solutions, big or small?

“Road network expansions in Nepal’s countryside continue as a top priority of both local government and local communities. Multiple roads are constructed through farming terraces and critical forests without analysing environmental effects. This approach has triggered ravaging floods, landslides and soil erosion. It has also deforested, fragmented and degraded wildlife forest habitats. One solution could be road and infrastructure construction aligning with guidelines proposed by Initial Environmental Examination and Environmental Impact Assessment.”

How do you assess the relationship between the current COVID-19 pandemic and environmental degradation? How would environment protection help overcome human health crises?

“Research suggests an inextricable link between nature degradation, global wildlife trade and outbreak of diseases. Over-extraction and exploitation of natural resources to meet escalating demands of the human population trigger invasion and environmental degradation. Close exposure between wild species and humans can lead to the emergence of different infectious diseases and zoonotic pathogens. Climate change and global warming fostered by environmental degradation alter distribution, timing, intensity, transmission and severity, and promote outbreak and spread of infectious diseases. Climatic indicators like rainfall, temperature, wind and humidity influence COVID-19 transmission and fatality. A study shows that those exposed to polluted air were hit hard by COVID-19.

“A healthy environment ensures the sound health of people, nature and livelihoods. Human wellbeing, health, resilience and ability to combat diseases rely on human interaction with nature—the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. Environmental protection, addressing pollution and stopping illegal wildlife trade are essential to reduce human health crises, ensure sustainable post-pandemic recovery and create a healthy natural world.”

Pema during her graduation ceremony at the University of Melbourne in 2020

Can you share any eco-friendly activities that you or your family follow at home?

“We do our best to reduce waste, reuse and recycle, and ensure the minimum use of plastic and non-degradable waste. We use reusable water bottles and cloth shopping bags.”

What is your message on World Environment Day 2021, which has ‘ecosystem restoration’ as its focus?

“Earth is where we live. We must prevent, halt, restore and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems. Ecosystem restoration offers climate solutions helping people, biodiversity and the climate. We all can make a difference by making peace with nature, taking actions/initiatives, making smart choices aligning with ecosystem protection and raising our voices for restoration.”