Nepal: a country at risk
The Himalaya is one of the fastest changing regions in the world due to global warming. According to scientists, the Himalayas are warming at an alarmingly quicker speed than the global average, becoming 1.4 degrees Celsius warmer in the last 100 years, a far higher level of warming than the 0.5-1.1 degrees on average.
Nepal has been placed in the sixth position in view of possible harm due to climate change and ranked 31st out of 198 countries based on possible water-induced disaster. This is a direct threat to the district’s biodiversity, but those likely to be hit the hardest are the mountain people.
Thousands of glaciers in the Himalayas are the source of water for nine major Asian rivers whose basins are home to 1.3 billion people, including in Pakistan and parts of India and China. Most livelihoods in this area are very poor, rely almost entirely on climate-sensitive natural resources, and have a low capacity for coping with climate extremes.
At this stage many local perceptions of these changes have been positive. Farmers have observed that the warmer weather has resulted in better crops, and has also enabled them to grow new vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, chili and tomato, which could previously only be grown at lower altitudes. But if warming in the region continues at the same rate, it could have a large scale and devastating impact on millions of lives.
Erratic weather conditions have already led to a pronounced hike in landslides and flashfloods in many areas, killing local people and displacing them from their homes. Some of the lakes formed at the base of melting glaciers have split their natural mountain embankments, threatening Glacial Lake Outburst Floods into the valleys and local settlements below. However, while experts can document environmental changes as they happen, predicting precisely what effects global warming will have on the area and how quickly they will occur is much more difficult.
At present, the lack of basic environmental data for the Himalayan region is so serious that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s apex body on climate change, says that the region is a ‘white spot’ for data. In addition, environmental monitoring is still relatively new to Nepal, which has lead to gaps and inconsistencies in reporting.
Dr Shrestha of the ICIMOD says there are general observations that the glaciers are erratically shrinking, but they are only observations from the surface. Changes to volume inside the glaciers, he says, is currently unknown. Without this data it is impossible to develop appropriate plans for avoiding or adapting to the worst problems, and if climate change remains unchecked in this area, it could be the main cause of the depletion of the Himalayan glaciers.
This could lead to reduction of agricultural land due to rising, trapping water levels, floods in India, or rising sea level in Bangladesh. The ironic end-consequence for water-rich Nepal in this case would be a scarcity of water itself. Back to Nepal: a nation left in the dark