The melting north

  • Life has become harder in the highlands, but the government has other things on its mind
- GEETA PANDEY

Dec 11, 2015-

The world has been marking December 11 as International Mountain Day ever since the UN General Assembly designated the day for the development of mountains and highlands across the globe back in 2003. Celebrating the day in Nepal, which is home to eight out of the 14 peaks in the world above 8,000 metres, has great significance at a time when melting mountains are making headlines across the world. 

As the snow-capped mountains continue to melt, people residing around the highlands are facing adverse ­­impacts on their livelihood. We are already seeing the effects of extreme weather, snowstorms and avalanches on Mt Everest and blizzards on the famous Annapurna Circuit trekking trail. A mountainous country like Nepal needs to raise its voice about the consequences of climate change to protect and promote the rights of its mountain communities.

Melting snow

According to a recent study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Science and the Hunan University of Science and Technology, the glacial lakes on Mt Everest are melting as temperatures have been rising in the past 50 years.

According to the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod), mountains cover around 25 percent of the earth’s land surface and host about 13 percent of the world population. They are perennial providers of essential ecosystem goods and services to billions of people living in the mountains and surrounding areas. The mountain regions are rich in timber and medicinal and aromatic herbs, and they could generate substantial incomes for the local people. These resources, however, have remained underused or untapped for centuries due to lack of development infrastructure and sheer negligence of governments. 

In Nepal, around 77 percent of the total land is covered by high hills and mountains with fragile mountain ecology but a wealth of biodiversity and natural resources. Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk and strategic consulting firm based in the UK, in its most report entitled ‘Climate Change Vulnerability Index 2011’, has ranked Nepal as the fourth most vulnerable country to the impact of climate change over the next 30 years even though its emissions make up less than 0.1 percent of global emissions. 

Mountain people

Mountain dwellers are more at risk from the negative consequences of climate change, and they are the least equipped to withstand and adapt to it. The lifestyle of the people living in the mountains and highlands has been adversely affected as the snow there continues to melt. Even trekking tourism has reduced over the years in Nepal. Tourism contributes Rs 50-60 billion to the national economy annually. The country may lose this income if mountain disasters continue to occur on Everest and other famous trekking routes. 

Mountain countries are likely to suffer further if stakeholders fail to take adequate measures to address the woes caused by climate change. The food security of mountain communities is directly linked to incomes generated from livestock production, agriculture, forestry and tourism. 

The condition of growing food deficit caused by new patterns of pests and diseases and lesser availability of water for irrigation, particularly during the dry seasons, adversely affects the output of winter crops when people are already suffering from price hikes. 

Hence, it is important to address the challenges faced by mountain communities in a sustainable manner. Sustainable approaches for livestock production, agriculture, forestry, tourism and micro hydropower need to be adequately implemented to enhance food security in Nepal’s mountainous regions. Nepal launched the first Mountain Initiative in 2009, hosting an international conference to highlight the threat of climate change to the Himalaya. The government also held a Cabinet meeting at Kala Patthar at an elevation of more than 5,000 metres to draw world attention to Nepal’s melting mountains. 

Enhance partnership

A few people may call it a publicity stunt, but it helped to highlight the woes of people living in mountainous countries like Nepal. Additionally, Nepal also organised an International Conference of Mountain Countries on Climate Change in April 2012 as part of the Mountain Initiative. The event aimed to raise awareness of glacial melting in the Himalaya, which scientists say is due to temperatures increasing at a higher rate than the global average in the region. This also increases the risk of glacial lakes outbursts.

The writing of the constitution, prolonged political transition and devastation caused by the April 25 earthquake remained the government’s top priorities. Perhaps using this as an excuse, the government has done nothing to raise issues related to the mountains at international forums for the betterment of the people living there. It is important to focus attention on these areas for the sustainable development of these communities. Solutions must be developed and urgent action needs to be taken to address climate change in the mountains to ensure that effective support is provided to the locals to adapt to the changes. 

For this, national, regional and international organisations working for mountainous countries need to enhance partnership and develop alliances for the cause of the locals so that mountain issues get appropriate priority in global climate change agreements. Representatives from the mountainous Least Developed Countries need to raise a common voice for the mountains, and they should ask for an equitable share of global climate funds to address the impacts of climate change and support adaptation in the mountains. 

Pandey is advocacy and knowledge management coordinator at the Karnali Integrated Rural Development and Research 

Published: 11-12-2015 08:30

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