Impacts of Climate Change in Nepal

Despite its relatively small area, Nepal has very diverse climatic conditions, ranging from tropical in the south to alpine in the north.  The country’s three distinct geographies-the snow covered mountains, the mid hills and the tarai (plains)-embodies this diversity. These ecosystems are increasingly threatened by a rapidly growing population that is putting pressure on its fragile natural resource base including land, water, and forest resources.

The results of global climate scenario modeling suggest that the impacts of climate change may be intense at high elevations and in regions with complex topography, as is the case in Nepal’s mid-hills. More than a decade ago preliminary analysis by Mirza and Dixit (1997) found that climate change in the Ganga and Brahmaputra basins is likely to change river flows, which in turn will affect low flows, drought, flood and sedimentation processes. In 1999 Shrestha et al. suggested that temperatures are increasing inNepal and that rainfall is becoming more variable. A decade later, in 2009, a modeling exercise conducted by team of Nepali, American, British, Pakistani and Bangladeshi experts (NCVST, 2009) using the emissions scenarios in the IPCC’s special report (2007) found that the temperature will indeed increase in the mid-hills and that this region is likely to grow more arid in the non-monsoon seasons. It also suggested that precipitation is likely to be more uncertain and that storm intensity will increase.

On the ground, perceptions of farmers suggest that precipitation is growing more erratic, days are becoming hotter, the pattern of winds, fog and hailstorms have altered and that farmers are becoming more vulnerable. A review of adaptation research confirms their view, identifyingNepalas particularly likely to experience fluctuations in climate (ISET, 2008).Nepal’s National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) prepared in 2010 also recognizes that climate will be uncertain and vulnerability will increase. With change in climate, there is an impact on water resources, agriculture sector, impact on flora and fauna, impact on health sector and livelihood.

Global warming, which is hitting Nepal particularly hard, is causing glaciers to melt, raising the spectre of another disaster like the one in 1981, when the flow from a glacial lake in Tibet set off a flood that killed at least five people and caused widespread destruction. There are more than 32,000 glaciers inNepal, and 14 of them are at risk of bursting the dams which control the melting water that flows from them. “The melting of glaciers that forms lakes can only be attributed to climate change”, said Arun Bhakta Shrestha, climate change specialist at the Kathmandu-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, which studies climate change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas. According to ICIMOD, Nepal’s glaciers have shruck by 21 percent over the past three decades.

Climate change risks are noted by Nepal and the development partners but currently have a relatively low priority due to the ongoing peace and democratization process and overall post conflict situation. Nepal has formulated several national developments and sector plans (eg. Master Plan for Forestry Sector, National Water Plan, and Agriculture Perspective Plan), relevant to adaptation to climate change, although the climate change risks are not directly addressed. In the 9th and 10th Plans, climate-relevant issues were indirectly mentioned, eg. energy switching has been emphasized with several alternative energy sources to reduce the domestic use of wood and fossil fuels and encourage greater use of hydro power and bio gas.

A cabinet meeting was held in Kalapatthar dates December 4, 2009 to show the effect of climate change and global warming. Nepal government plans to host a conference of mountainous countries in Kathmandu this year to discuss the vulnerable situation generated by climate change. So far, the government’s role is focused on making publicity by doing unique activities like sending senior bureaucrats to climb Everest among others. The concentration now should be on ground work, like making assessment of the risks and ways to tackle and minimize the dangers that could be created in the ecosystem by this unwanted phenomenon.

It is very crucial to increase awareness to the people on safe habits. Sandwiched between two giant neighbors, India and China, Nepal should remain active in the foreign forums to pressure the powerful countries for adopting measures to control the emission of carbon gas. The survival of the Himalayan and Mountainous Ecosystem depends upon how the international community particularly countries in the South Asia responds to this crisis.

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