Himalayas Unsettled by Melting Glaciers, More Avalanches
KATHMANDU - For the last two climbing seasons, Dawa Sherpa has missed
scaling the summit of Mt Everest. But the climate ambassador
for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and two-time Everest
summiteer may not be relishing the thought of bearing witness
once more to the impact of rising temperatures on the world’s
Indeed, he says that even making one’s way just up to
Base Camp, which lies at an altitude of 5,380 metres, can
already give one the dismal view of the devastation climate
change is wreaking.
"Snow cover in the mountains is decreasing, crevasses are
opening up in the glaciers," says Dawa. "Avalanches (have
been) occurring frequently (in) the past two years."
In 2010, one of his Sherpa staff lost his life to an
avalanche. Dawa also recalls Appa Sherpa, the 20-time
Everest summiteer who has been climbing Everest since 1990,
as saying last year that he has seen small puddles of water
even at an altitude of 8,000 metres.
Snow and glaciers cover about 10 percent of the area of
Nepal, where about 10 percent of the stream flows can be
traced back to the glaciers.
Melting glaciers and receding snowlines, however, are
just among the many manifestations of climate change in this
tiny Himalayan nation.
Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation Joint Secretary
Dr Jagadish Chandra Baral shares with IPS a striking example
of how climate change has been affecting Nepal’s
"The apple-growing belt in the Mustang district is
gradually shifting to higher altitudes," says Baral, who
writes frequently on climate change, because warming
temperatures have resulted in their fruits getting worms.
"People there claim that while they could easily produce
healthy apples as low as Lete (2,480 metres) until a few
years ago, the apples now tend to catch worms even in higher
altitudes like Larjung (2,550 metres), Kobang (2,640 metres)
and Marpha (2,670 metres)."
Mustang is located near the Tibet border. Recently, a
village there was dubbed as Nepal’s first ‘climate refugee
Efforts are now underway to resettle the entire village
of Dhe to a lower area of Mustang. Among other things, the
sources of water there are drying up, while the flora in and
around the area have been vanishing fast, leaving the
villagers’ cattle herds and other grazing animals with
little to eat.
According to the English-language national daily
‘Republica’, which broke the news about Dhe in June, "(a)
total of 150 people (23 households) …are being shifted due
to the adverse impact of climate change on the livelihoods
of the poor in the village".
"Dhe village has been facing an acute shortage of water
for irrigation over the last six to seven years," it added.
"The irrigated land over the period has also been reduced to
less than 50 percent and animal husbandry (particularly goat
keeping) has declined by 40 to 45 percent.
The irony is that Nepal itself is said to contribute next
to nothing to climate change, which is traced by experts to
greenhouse gas emissions of countries around the world.
China and India, which sandwich Nepal, in fact happen to
be two of the world’s fastest industrialising and highest
carbon dioxide-emitting countries.
Earlier in 2010, though, those who have expressed doubt
that climate change is real had a field day when the United
Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
announced it had made a mistake in saying the Himalayan
glaciers may be gone by 2035. The climate-change sceptics
took this as yet another piece of evidence that much of what
had been said of the global phenomenon had been nothing but
But IPCC has clarified that while it had made an error on
the date, it did not make a mistake about the melting away
of the Himalayan glaciers.
Madan Shrestha of the Nepal Academy of Science and
Technology also remarks, "We have ample scientific evidence
to prove that climate change is causing the Himalayan
glaciers to retreat."
Shrestha has been studying Nepal’s glaciers since 1974,
when he was a part of the Glaciological Expedition to Nepal
(a joint effort of Japan and Nepal).
He says that he was shocked beyond belief to see a
picture taken in October 2009 of the Yala glacier (5,100
metres to 5,700 metres) in Lamtang area in central Nepal.
Comments Shrestha: "The photograph was evidence of the fact
that the glacier’s mass had decreased and there was a
significant terminus retreat."
A comparative analysis of photographs taken during
different time periods clearly reveals that the fate of
other glaciers such as AX010 (4,950 metres to 5,390 metres)
glacier in Shorong mountain in East Nepal is no different,
Shrestha says, though, that since Nepal’s contribution to
global climate change is minimal, there is not much it needs
to do in terms of mitigation. "As a token response to
international efforts we should voice our willingness to be
a part of mitigation efforts," he says, "but our focus has
to be on adaptation".
By that, he means introducing heat-resistant crop
varieties and working to strengthen the dam structures so
that they can withstand increased water pressure, among
other thing. He says that Nepal can take a cue from
Bangladesh, which has already introduced a flood-resistant
variety of rice.
"It is high time we factored in climate change in our
development discourse," says Shrestha. "This has simply been
*This IPS story is part of a series supported by the Climate
and Development Knowledge Network http://www.cdkn.org