Postcard from ... The Himalayas
A hard rain is already falling Pasang Yangjee Sherpa on how climate change is affecting the people of Nepal
I was sitting on the kitchen floor with my baby daughter in Seattle, when I found out about yet another climate changeinduced disaster back home in Nepal.
On July , my friend Laxmi shared an emotional post on her Facebook page about a disastrous flood. She is a fellow Himalayan woman from Kagbeni, a village lying in the Mustang district of Nepal. She runs a successful tourism business there.
‘It looks like a glacier outburst,’ Laxmi wrote. The villagers had seen chunks of ice and snow floating in the muddy flood waters that engulfed fully grown apple trees and juniper and pine trees overnight. There was nothing the villagers could do.
Latest scientific assessments show that even if global warming is limited to . C, warming in the Himalayas is going to be higher than the global average. Glaciers are projected to melt at an even faster rate than previously predicted. Living with the looming threat of a glacial lake bursting its banks is a reality.
As the flood reached the village of Lubra, video clips circulated on social media. Yungdung Tsewang, whose ancestral home was rendered uninhabitable by the flood, shared his worries over the potential loss of historically important sites. His village, founded in AD , is where the preBuddhist Bon religion continues to be practised. He wrote: ‘Yes, it is due to climate change and if anyone thinks these changes are not real, you can come and witness the threat yourself.’
In addition to the melting of Himalayan glaciers, climate change affects daily lives in more ways than one. From more subtle shifts in rainy seasons and harvest patterns to extreme weather events, climate change is hard to miss.
Laxmi says it is firsthand experience,
Dark monsoon clouds loom over the swollen Kali Gandaki River in Nepal rather than her university education, that informs her about climate change. ‘In Kagbeni, nothing used to flower in November and December. Now, marigold blooms up until January,’ she says. Even the rainy season has changed. Earlier this summer, Mustang district received unusually heavy rain lasting two weeks. Water seepage damages the traditional flat-roofed, rammed earth houses and the bridge on the main trail is damaged once again.
Heavy rain has also destroyed crops such as barley and potatoes. ‘It is as if we cannot be sure that barley and buckwheat will grow.’ Residents now question if they can rely on these staple crops, integral to our subsistence and identity.
Back in Seattle, I am unnerved by Laxmi’s words. I wonder what future I am leaving for my daughter. We are from Khumbu, east of Mustang. Unlike Lubra and Kagbeni, Khumbu where Mount Everest lies attracts many news outlets and scientists. Mount Everest, or Jomolangma as Sherpas call it, has long fascinated those pursuing adventure and those trying to understand the effects of
‘In addition to the melting of glaciers, climate change affects daily lives. From more subtle shifts in rainy seasons and harvest patterns to extreme weather events, climate change is hard to miss’
climate change. However, the impact of these changes on people is less explored.
Climate sciences pursue the quantifiable. And so, climate change discussions at the policymaking level have fallen short of recognizing the uncertainties Himalayan people face.
For those experiencing climate change in the high mountains, uncertainty comes not only from unpredictable rain patterns, but from not knowing who in the physical world and other worlds can provide stable ground.
Alok Sharma, the COP president, has called for action to protect and restore critical ecosystems, and to champion the move towards sustainable, resilient and nature-positive agriculture. If this call is to be taken seriously in the Himalayan context, discussions in Glasgow will have to prioritize those on the front line of climate change, like Yungdrung Tsewang and Laxmi Gurung, whose sustainable agriculture is being washed away before them. When extreme weather events such as the flood in Mustang happen, the landscape is not the only thing damaged. Along with material losses, the physical connection between the people and the place is washed away. Many Himalayan households now live far from their original home. It is through personal connections, helped by social media, that Himalayan communities across diaspora are able to care for each other.
I think about our relatives in the mountains and those of us dreaming of being there. Mountains are inextricably tied to our lives, and I am haunted by Laxmi’s question: ‘If there are no mountains, what is the fate of us, mountain people?’ Pasang Yangjee Sherpa is a Seattle-based anthropologist from Mount Everest region in Nepal. Laxmi Gurung is a tourism entrepreneur from Mustang district in Nepal
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