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World Environment Day: Dr Deepa Shree Rawal – Responding to climate change impacts through biodiversity conservation in Nepal

Posted: 5 June 2019

Nepal, Impact,

Today (5 June) is World Environment Day, the United Nations day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect the environment. On this day, we reflect on the work of Australia Awards alumna Dr Deepa Shree Rawal as a champion for climate action and environmental conservation in Nepal.

Nepal has seen a change in rainfall patterns and rise of temperatures in recent decades that have affected germination, growth, flowering and fruiting of certain crop species, thus having an impact on their yield and economy. Already a disaster-prone country, Nepal has become susceptible to drought, flooding, poor growth and yield reduction due to climate change. Additionally, lack of proper solid waste management in urban areas and deforestation and loss of biodiversity in rural areas, together with widespread air and water pollution, have exacerbated environmental degradation.

Australia Awards alumna Dr Deepa Shree Rawal is committed to biodiversity conservation as an effort to respond to climate change impacts. She is proud to have gained the expertise that can be instrumental in addressing one of the burning issues of our time—climate change.

Born and brought up in Kathmandu as the eldest child of a large family, Deepa had a sense of responsibility to set an example for her siblings. Therefore, she worked hard, which gradually became her habit. Her grandparents, who raised her in the absence of her mother, whom she lost when she was young, inculcated in her the value of education and motivated her to be independent. “My grandparents are my source of inspiration,” Deepa says.

She pursued both a Master of Environmental Management and a PhD in Land and Food Resources from the University of Melbourne through Australia Awards Scholarships. Deepa is now a Senior Scientific Officer and a Coordinator of the Environmental Research Unit at Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST); she joined NAST in 1998.

She is using her expertise to explore the impacts of climate change and possible solutions to address them. She is engaged in research and has co-authored papers on climate change that have been published in Climate and Journal of Hill Agriculture. Through her research, Deepa has identified the adverse effects of climate change on various sectors, ranging from forestry to agriculture, and consequently on the economy. Deepa observes that Nepal is more vulnerable than some other countries to climate change impacts because its economy largely depends on natural resources such as water, soils and forests, with about 35 percent of the population in Nepal earning their livelihoods from community forestry.

While the environmental issues are significant and require attention and action from national governments and international communities, Deepa believes that individual contribution is vital.

Deepa is therefore contributing her knowledge and skills towards addressing climate change issues in Nepal. Using the “plant response to climate change modelling” that she learned during her PhD, she has been working to identify plant species vulnerable to climate change. By exploring ways to preserve and protect the vulnerable plant species, she says that “this program significantly aids in forest adaptation and management”.

As a Senior Scientific Officer with expertise on biodiversity conservation, Deepa is also leading an “ex-situ seed conservation program for wild plant species via seed banking” at NAST. Under this program, wild seeds are collected from different areas of Nepal and, after curation, they are conserved in the NAST seed bank. She says that “these seeds can be utilised for scientific research, forest reintroduction and rehabilitation”.

Deepa is one of the recipients of alumni innovation grants offered by Australia Awards as part of Regional Alumni Workshops held in 2017 and 2018. She used the grants to pilot projects on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs). Nepal is rich in MAPs; unfortunately, they have been over-exploited and are at the verge of depletion. Through the grants, Deepa and her team provided training to the local people in the district of Makwanpur to cultivate high-value MAPs. Having seen the success of her pilot program, NAST plans to implement this program on a large scale in different areas of Nepal, in collaboration with Federal and Provincial governments. Deepa believes this program will conserve biodiversity while helping people earn their livelihoods through alternative sources of income.

Deepa will continue to strengthen the MAPs program. During her remaining tenure at NAST, she is planning to work in the area of sustainable utilisation of MAPs, cultivating them on a large scale and constructing a specific regional belt for them. Her plan after leaving NAST is to initiate agribusiness by introducing new varieties of high-value medicinal plants and exotic fruits and contribute to biodiversity conservation and the economy of Nepal.

As a global citizen, Deepa says that “climate change is a global issue, which affects everyone. It becomes our collective responsibility to respond to it by using our expertise and innovative ideas”.