The most fundamental and essential feature of the biosphere is biodiversity, whereas linear infrastructures are the pillars of the economy. Both of them play a pivotal role in the development of any country but unscientific projects and unplanned infrastructure will only choke biodiversity to death.
The linear infrastructure like roads, railway, powerlines, pipelines and irrigation canals which are the sign of the country’s development are the key drivers of biodiversity loss. Unscientific and haphazard construction of these structures has led to habitat loss, fragmentation, and mortality of many innocent creatures due to edge effect.
Most roads have been constructed without any environmental safeguard. An additional 7,500 miles of new paved, gravel, or dirt roads were built in 2017 and 2018. Transmission lines are causing fire and electrocution accidents injuring or killing wildlife (plants, birds, climbers, and large animals. Every year, an average of 50 elephants are killed in India by electrocution, according to official data.
Between July and August 2020, 7 critically endangered African White-backed Vultures, struck by a train and one due to a powerline collision were discovered dead in four separate incidents in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Recently, a male leopard was killed in a road accident in India.
According to WWF Nepal 2019, almost 130 road kills of wildlife are reported annually in the highways of the country that pass through the protected areas. A male tiger broke its limbs and jaw in 2019 when encountered with the speedy jeep. Besides this, there are many other cases related to different wildlife species.
The forest areas have been fragmented by infrastructural development which has restricted the free movement of wild animals within their territories. A recent study published in Science Advances also revealed that Asia’s Tiger population is threatened by ever-growing road networks. Dr. Neil Carter has also expressed this concern to World Atlas; “Road building is outpacing our efforts to understand its effects on biodiversity and that’s a recipe for disaster,”
Neupane (2018), in his article, revealed that the planned extension of Mahendra Highway from the existing two lanes to four with the length of 1,028 km from Kakarbhitta in the east to Bhimdatta in the west will have a major impact on different parts of our national park. He also mentioned that Irrigation canals of about 100 meters width spanning over the Right Of Way (ROW) have fragmented forests and ultimately affected the free movement of wild animals in Sikta, Babai and Rani Jamara-Kulariya.
Nepal’s linear infrastructures are the backbone for prosperity that magnify the country’s standards. However, the impact these projects will have on the environment is something that needs to be addressed timely. Environment assessment which is a must for infrastructure development in a protected area system should be more strategic and monitoring of the interventions should be more scrutinized. Modification in engineering design is important to build environment friendly structures.
Biodiversity not only maintains a functional ecological environment but equally enriches our life through ecosystem services. To conserve biodiversity requires more than ever, stronger collaboration and coordination between conservationist and development stakeholders. Public involvement is equally essential, to ensure the success of the chosen solutions.