Climate change displacing the most vulnerable

The impacts of climate change have affected multiple sectors and the daily lives of many people in Nepal, officials concede.

Arjun Poudel

Arjun Poudel

The Kathmandu Post


The country has been experiencing changes in temperature and precipitation at a rate faster than the global average, according to studies. Shutterstock

March 10, 2022

KATHMANDU – There was a village in Samjung of Lomanthang Rural Municipality-2, the northern end of Mustang district, bordering Tibet. Around 100 people of 18 households used to reside in the village for over four generations.

Agriculture and animal husbandry was the main occupation of the villagers. The land was fertile and there was no dearth of water for agriculture.

But over the years, mountain springs, which were the only source of water for the village, started drying up—and then soon they disappeared.

The lack of water not only resulted in drinking woes for locals, it also affected farming and animal husbandry. There was no option left for the villagers than to relocate.

“The entire Samjung village moved to Namsung in the same rural municipality,” Pasang Tsering Gurung, a local, who migrated from Samjung, told the Post over the phone from Mustang. “Availability of drinking water is good in Namsung.”

According to Gurung, all the villagers decided to resettle in a new area about 13 years ago.

Namsung is about three hours’ walk from Samjung.

Drying up of the streams and decreased flow of water is among multiple problems caused by climate change. Studies show close to 15 percent of the springs have dried up in some places and water flow has declined up to 70 percent in other places in the country.

A recent United Nations’ report titled “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” states that there is a good deal of evidence that the springs are drying up or yielding less discharge, threatening local communities who depend on spring water for their lives and livelihoods.

Human impacts including deforestation, road construction and natural causes including earthquakes, changes in rainfall regime, are other reasons, which contributed to the drying up of the water resources, according to the report.

“Water sources dried up in many places in our rural municipality after the devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015,” said Ratna Thami, a health coordinator of Bigu Rural Municipality of Dolakha. “Drinking water has been supplied through plastic pipes from long distances in some places and in other places, people have to walk for hours for water.”

In Bigu Rural Municipality, which lies in the northern end of the district bordering Tibet, the majority of the population is Sherpa. Other ethnicities living in the region are Thamis, Magars and Newars. among others.

The UN report stated that people living in deprivation and indigenous people have been disproportionately affected due to the climate change impacts. They often rely on rain-fed agriculture in marginal areas with high exposure and high vulnerability to water-related stress and low adaptive capacity.

“Due to change in climate pattern and erratic rainfall, the life of the villagers has changed significantly in our area,” Tenjing Nurbu Gurung, a local of Lomanthang Rural Municipality, told the Post over the phone from Mustang.

That Nepal is extremely vulnerable to climate change has been warned by experts for long. Drying up of the water resources threatens the livelihoods throughout the country but those residing in mountain and hilly regions have been affected the most.

The country has been experiencing changes in temperature and precipitation at a rate faster than the global average, according to studies.

Manang and Mustang are places where rainfall is always low. But in recent years, the area has been experiencing a prolonged drought, which resulted in a drinking water crisis and low production of staple crops and fruits. Green pastures for the cattle have dried up.

The change is visible in the way locals live. Due to unusual rainfall in the area, residents have switched to corrugated metal sheets from mud for roofing their houses.

“Climate change impacts have been visible in multiple sectors—health, agriculture, drinking water and hydropower development, among others. In recent years, the impact is being seen pretty quickly in Nepal,” said Meghnath Dhimal, chief researcher at the Nepal Health Research Council, whose PhD research has been cited in the UN climate report.

“Many vulnerable populations have been bearing the brunt of climate change. Authorities should bring programmes to address the problems of these vulnerable communities.”

Experts say drying up of water resources is not a story of any particular locality but of many places throughout the country, and it is impacting populations directly or indirectly.

“There is an urgent need to pay attention to the scale and omnipresence of the problems caused by climate change, as hundreds of thousands of people have been affected. Authorities should come up with strategies and implement them accordingly,” said Santosh Nepal, an expert on water resources and climate change, who is also a contributing author of the UN’s climate report. “Conservation of water resources, recharge of groundwater, supply of water in the affected villages could be some of the solutions to address the people’s woes.”

Nepal has made both short- and long-term strategies and policies to deal with adverse impacts of climate change but when it comes to implementing them, the approach has been lackadaisical. The impacts of climate change have affected multiple sectors and the daily lives of many people, officials concede.

“We have made a sectoral adaptation strategy, bringing policies to increase resilience capacity of the local people,” said Radha Wagle, chief of Climate Change Management Division at the Ministry of Forest and Environment. “But the problem is agencies under local levels are responsible for its implementation, which lacks expertise, knowledge and financial as well as human resources.”

As adverse impacts triggered by climate change intensify, resulting in the sufferings of thousands of people across the country, vulnerable communities like those in Samjung village will have no choice but to look for better options and migrate, according to experts.

In Namsung where Pasang and his fellow villagers migrated from the now deserted Samjung, water is not a problem at the moment, but the high elevation region is already witnessing swift changes as the earth continues to warm, bringing a new set of issues that directly affect lives and livelihoods.

“New diseases have started to emerge in the village. The production of staple foods has decreased due to drought or excessive rain,” said Pasang. “Herders have been struggling to find green pastures for their mountain goats.”

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