Safe, Resilient and Livable Mountains and Peoples

By Pragya Sherchan (JWH grantee 2022)

Mountain is not only about geography. It’s also about the mountain community, people, culture, tradition, food, livelihoods, biodiversity and ecosystems that are directly dependent to Mountain phenomena. Due to the virtue of elevation, mountains on earth are hotspots of climate impacts.

Nepal lies in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, also known as the third pole of the Earth. The HKH region is a mountainous area across the eight countries in Asia. These mountains are the primary sources of freshwater feeding ten large river systems and supporting 1.3 billion people in Asia.  

Nepal, a mountainous country with 14 of the world’s highest peaks, represents a beautiful landscape, biodiversity, culture and people. People across the globe come to Nepal to experience these amenities of nature and people. The mountains are fundamental to maintain hydrological cycle, the global atmospheric circulation, and a multitude of ecological services. We are losing our white mountains and these are turned into black rocks due to rise in temperature. Studies also claimed that even though the world will be able to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, it will be in 2 degrees in the mountains. Due to elevation sensitive warming, meaning that temperatures in high-mountains area increase at a faster rate than at lower altitude. This increase risks of devastating events such as Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), avalanches, snow storms, floods, landslides, drought, epidemics, forest fires, etc due to change in temperature and precipitation.

Snow coverage differences of Nilgiri Mountain in Mustang in five months period. When I was child, I used to see Mt. Nilgiri as in the first picture throughout the year. But in recent years, we got to see only after a snowfall. A timing of snowfall is also changing in the mountain regions. (© Pragya Sherchan)

In Nepal, avalanches are becoming a pertinent issue in recent years. The frequency, intensity and timing of avalanches are impacting immensely. In early May of this year, the avalanche at Chyarkhu Passof Mugu district killed three people and nine were injured. Last year Nepal has experienced avalanche twice. It was reported that three persons including world-famous ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson and two local Sherpas died and many others were missing in the Manaslu Himal. Similarly, in 2021 Nepal experienced avalanche in Dhaulagiri region from Manapathi Himal that injured 11 teachers and students and 120 Yaks (Chauri Gai/ Himalayan livestock) died. Till date Nepal has encountered 24 GLOFs events. The study shows that 47 potentially dangerous glacial lakes are ticking in Koshi, Gandaki and Karnali river basins. The reports also showed that a total of 235 tourists lost their lives in the mountains due to inclement weathers between 2005 to 2012. The Government of Nepal has started a background work to change the mountain climbing trails including Mt. Everest route. The buried climber’s dead body and skeleton were seen up in the surface with the melting of glaciers and ice. That is making the climber even more afraid during their summit expedition.

Deadliest Avalanche in Mustang, Nepal 2021. (© NepalPress)

Mountain lifestyle and culture are also impacted by climate change. For instance, Mustang district and Manang district are rain-shadow zone of Nepal. The rainfall is very less near to zero. The communities used to have structures constructed with local resources like mud, stone and logs with flat-roofed houses. But in the recent years, these places are experiencing intense and prolonged rainfall. Those are causing seepage of roofs and crack in the walls as wooden logs are decaying. The people in these areas are rebuilding their housesusing cements, iron rods and metal roof sheets. Nowadays, we rarely see the traditional flat-roofed houses. A change in climate is forcing communities and peoples to change their culture for survival.

The above cases showed that vulnerability of mountain region and people due to rapidly changing climate in the region. Similar stories are being reported from other mountain regions in the world.  There is an urgency to prioritise mountain and mountain people’s vulnerability to climate change. The global fora like UNFCCC, UN CBD, UN SDGs, SFDRR and others must include work to make the world’s mountain asafe, resilient and livable place.

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