Nepal: Front Lines of Climate Change

The Nepalese people are fast realizing they need to adapt to climate change, and fortunately they are not alone in their plight. Nepalese-based charity Practical Action Nepal, which has support from charities and organizations worldwide, has identified and developed strategies to help the Nepalese cope with climate change and its consequences. And the key to their program is encouraging the local communities to work together to counter the problems rising temperatures is causing.

The work of Practical Action Nepal centers on empowering the communities to better adapt to the changing climate. In addition, the people of Nepal are adapting fast. Farmers, who have grown field-based produce for hundreds of years, are being encouraged to grow fruit, such as banana trees, which are more resistant to the increase in temperatures and resilient to flood waters. Other farmers are being helped to raise improved breeds of goats that can better make use of the sloped, mountainous lands and not rely on the fertile pastures, which are increasingly becoming arid and barren.

Another major aspect to Practical Action Nepal’s work is flood preparedness, which aims to reduce the impacts of flooding, especially for those communities living along riverbanks and below glacial lakes. Some of the projects that the charity is encouraging locals to participate in, include construction of dykes, to channel water from vulnerable communities; the building of protective structures, bridges, shelters; and installation of early warning systems.

Tangible Effects

There are very few countries feeling the effects of climate change more than Nepal, from communities in the freezing north of the country to those living in the hot, arid lowland plains. Studies have shown that temperatures in the Himalayas has increased on average 0.06 degrees each year for the last few decades, but away from the academia the effects are tangibly noticeable by the populace - the rise in temperature is accompanied by a rise in rainfall, both of which are creating problems for a nation where poverty and poor infrastructure already make life difficult enough.

In many lowland areas, already arid and barren, rising temperatures are having a dramatic impact on crops and farming. Many of the country’s fertile lands are becoming increasingly arid due to an increase in soil erosion caused by rising temperatures. Furthermore, an unprecedented amount of forest fires in recent year is also being blamed on climate change. These fires have devastated large swathes of the country, and while no concrete evidence has found global warming is the cause, many scientists are starting to make the assumption.


Picture: Some locations of Nepal are already barren and arid

Flooding

Floods to, have been on the rise, mainly due to erratic rainfall and an increase in intensity of the annual monsoon. In August 2003, destructive floods destroyed homes, cultivated land and took many lives. Ever increasing and erratic rainfalls are making flooding one of the biggest threats facing the Himalayan nation. In Nepal, glacial lakes have lain undisturbed for thousands of years but in recent years, water levels have risen to such heights, scientists fear many will soon burst their banks, leading to tragic consequences.

Currently flood warnings are passed on through word of mouth, but this often results in people learning of impending danger far too late, and with a growing risk of glacial flooding, could cause catastrophe. If glacial lakes burst their banks, which many scientist predict is inevitable, the people will receive little or no warning as water sweeps away everything downstream, descends the mountain, and at the last minute cruises into villages and farmland, causing untold damage to crops lives.

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