Nepal, The White Spot of Climate Change, and why we should be scared
It has always been difficult for man to comprehend a problem that he can’t see. This holds especially true if he thinks he is the cause of said problem and then has to change something he has already been doing. Thus man waits for a lesion to grow and a tooth to ache until he visits a doctor. He refuses to throw away his waste until the whole block stinks. If it does seem to hurt, why treat it? This belief is especially prevalent in the poor, who cannot afford to pay attention to what seems to not affect them. Like us Nepalese. And all this comes from a generally optimistic view that all problems can be solved as the symptoms appear. But what if they cannot be? Because there is a problem that is so terrifying and yet so silent growing in the midst of us.
All of us are familiar with climate change in one way or another. To us though, it is a rich man’s problem. Nepalese are far too involved in our own problems to worry about climate. After all the Chinese and the Indians are polluting the environment and burning fossil fuels way too much than us. So they should be worried first right? Well turns out we couldn’t have been more wrong.
When we hear of climate change we think mostly of melting polar ice caps. And penguins and polar bears. These poor animals are losing their homes and fast. Sad, yes, but not really the end of the world. But it seems the problem is much much closer, right in our homes.
Nepal has been denoted as the white spot of climate change. Meaning that not enough research has been done to suggest what exactly has been going on regarding climate change in Nepal. But one doesn’t need to research manually to know that things aren’t quite what they appear to be. One can feel that each year is getting warmer and warmer. Mosquitoes are appearing where they shouldn’t. And every year it seems, bring forth flood in Terai and late starting monsoon in the hills. Flood and drought. Two opposite extremes of weather. At once, in a single 365 day period. Repeating every year. Conclusion? Somewhere the climate is getting messed up.
For an agricultural country like Nepal, the problem can be serious. Though denoted as an agricultural country, only 17% of the total land area can be used for the said purpose. Most of this 17% lies in the Terai belt. Now traditionally, the Terai belt grew crops like paddy, jute, and sugarcane. The hills grew crops like maize and potato. However recent pieces of evidence suggest this trend is in change. The climate has been much more favorable for paddy even in hills in the last decade, much more than maize, owing to increased temperature and rainfall. For a short time, this can even be considered advantageous as rice is considered more valuable in all of Southeast Asia. However, two things should be taken into account first. With increasing temperature, the lower Terai region is at risk of desertification. This extreme condition does not even have to be reached. While man can easily wear a shed off an extra piece of cloth as per need, plants cannot do so, and a change of temperature of as little as 1ﹾ C for an extended period might cause the plants to die off. Combine that with the fact that most of our arable soil is in Terai and the soil in the hills is simply not good enough to sustain agriculture of multiple generations. So when the Terai soil stops yielding, a severe internal food crisis is bound to occur.
The other place where there is a direct impact is the mountains. The land has several of the world’s most known mountain peaks and the as such is a great pride for its people. The change is climate meanwhile seems to be targeting exactly this. The pattern of climate change is such that it is more pronounced in colder areas. Thus more effects can be seen in the arctic, the Antarctic and, you guessed it, the Himalayas. The effects seem trivial at first. It doesn’t seem to affect the mountains itself. A lake beside said mountain seems to increase in size. Slowly at first though, subtly. Doesn’t seem to affect anything. Elsewhere, a lake appears where there was no lake. A lake just beside a mountain beautifies the scene even more. So you do nothing. Then one day a torrent of water rains down on the unsuspecting victims one early morning and all of a sudden thousands of people are dead. And this is not just a wild theory. It has happened already in 1985. The bodies of the dead were carried as far as 85 km. That is nearly about half of the total width of Nepal. More terrifying is the fact that it was over 25 yrs ago. The temperature has been increasing by at least 0.2 degrees Celsius every year. The total number of lakes has increased by 37% during this time. The glaciers have been receding by at an average of 40cm/yr with as much as 30m/yr at some places. This directly puts in risk some 50,000 people who live and earn daily livelihood in the base of these very mountains. So apart from the fact that the mountains are being stripped naked, the very lives of people closest to the mountains, physically and emotionally, are at immediate risk.
However, the most relatable environment disaster is probably the onset and cessation of rain. The month of Jestha (May-June) has always been associated with the start of rain. That seems to be not the case in the last five years though. Rain starts as late as 2 months and continues way past its normally accepted limit. For those who wait for rain to water their crops, it means a lot of waiting, often putting an economical risk on then. Rain when it comes is becoming more torrential which sometimes destroys the very crops they are meant to water, especially when it rains out of season. These torrential rains are the culprit for the yearly flood that tortures the people in Terai. This series of drought followed by floods also damages the local ecology, becoming more severe each year until one day when it cannot correct itself, an eventual possibility.
The most problematic of this fact is that Nepalese might not even be in fault here. Sandwiched between the two big countries, India and China, both great economic powers, the amount of carbon emission is probably negligible. This also means that even if we were to stop all forms of environmental pollution at once, a daunting idea by itself, the emissions of both China and India will inevitably accumulate over Nepal. Even though the Paris environment accord has given a form of consolation, as long as everything is controlled and fast, we better be afraid. Very afraid.