Notes from Nepal: Climate Change Reaches the Himalayas
In Jagdish Poudel’s first entry in the “Notes from Nepal” series, he told us that he would soon be going to the Himalayas to teach uneducated rural residents about climate change. Last week, Poudel, along with fellow environmental science M.Sc. students Aseem Kanchan, Raju Pokharel, and Mausam Khanal, journeyed to Khudi, high in the Annapurna Mountain Range. What follows is Jagdish’s second entry, in which he tells us about giving a presentation to Khudi villagers, who live in a place where the once-abundant snow has turned to rain, and the mountainsides are losing their coat of white. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Nepal is rich in biodiversity and natural resources. While the nation leaps through the process of economic development and embraces globalization at an accelerated pace, she also demonstrates concern for biodiversity conservation and sustainability. Central to this process, however, is the understanding that it is never easy to balance the delicate relationship between conservation and development, especially given the complex effects of climate change.
As the environment warms, the survival of a large number of plant and animal species will depend on their ability to move to higher latitudes and altitudes. The ever-accelerating warming of the environment can, therefore, cause a loss of ecosystem integrity or destroy the habitats of certain species. Consequently, large populations of plant and animal species could be wiped out due to climate change and habitat fragmentation.
Keeping these things in mind, three other M.Sc. students and I went to the village of Khudi to organize a workshop on climate change and its impact on the local people. We had an idea about the things that we would need to show to them. We had been wondering whether we could make them understand. We four friends gave three presentations, including some important points about temperature increases due to greenhouses gases; the melting of snow and ice; and changes in rainfall patterns, with increased frequency of extreme rains. People living in and around Khudi watershed are experiencing different rainfall patterns than in previous years, sometimes heavy enough to cause the loss of fertile soil, as well as flooding and landslides.
Observers have noted an overall decrease in annual rainfall in the arid and semi-arid regions of the Annapurna Range. So far this year, there has been no rainfall in the area. Consequently, there is less snow on the Himal (mountain) and the water level in the river has been low. I saw that the Himal was bare, where there used to be a huge amount of snow just a few years ago. Meanwhile, there has been an increasing tendency of extreme showers and storms in summer, leading to severe flood disasters and soil erosion. Besides increased floods, there is also an increase in the frequency of other natural disasters, such as heat waves, drought, dust storms, and typhoons.
In the development process and expansion of human activities, lots of range land and forest areas have been, and are still being, replaced by agricultural lands. Besides the above-mentioned impacts of climate change, there are other direct and indirect threats to biodiversity from climate change. We anticipated that the local people would mention these at the workshop. Some points I was expecting them to mention included: widely spreading invasive organisms, especially weeds and pests; shortage and uneven distribution of water resources (we saw this at Khudi, when we took a look around the area); growing vulnerability of grasslands, forests, and wetlands, and of the people who are dependent on those natural resources; and a decrease in the health of the ecosystem.
Above all, the increase in climate variability and extreme events will alter environmental conditions and threaten many species that live in narrow habitats. We couldn’t find any data over there yet, but study has to be done on that area for this purpose. The giant panda, for example, has a very brief breeding period in the later spring and early summer. Changes in the timing of seasonal temperatures may upset its breeding season and place further stress on this species. This may apply to many other species, as well, such as the snow leopards and the red pandas that are found in Sagarmatha National Park, Annapurna Conservation Area, and Langtang National Park.
The people at Khudi told us that some vegetables and improved seeds of agricultural crops are growing better this year than before, even though they don’t understand why. People also experienced an increased number of mosquitoes and insects around Khudi. This, too, is due to climate change.
As far as I could tell while interacting with local people, they didn’t know what climate change is. But in government and private schools, students are learning about it from their teachers.
I had a deep interaction with an old man of age 71. He was trying hard to understand the presentation I was making. After my presentation, he told me that he now knows what climate change is and how it happened. The old man was not in the mood to know why this is happening; he doesn’t even want to know more about climate change. But he was keen to understand about the mitigation techniques and precautions he needs to take to protect his land and his family from natural disasters that might occur if the Khudi river floods in summer.
He is an old man. Even if he tries hard to know how all these things happen, he will hardly understand all our scientific data and facts. He does understand the pictures and videos that I took there to show the people. I am happy that he wants to know more about mitigation techniques and precautions against natural hazards.
But climate change is not a problem that can be solved just by the effort of a few people. It needs global support and determination. Educating the younger generation and school students is the most important thing we can do to stop further harmful impacts from climate change.
It was a nice workshop, where most of the local people and school students participated. I would like to do such work again and again in those places where people are directly affected by climate change.
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