Nepal is a low-carbon-emitting country, but it still bears a significant burden of its impacts.
The rapid melting of snow is causing mountains to become darker. In addition, the frequency and severity of landslides and floods are increasing. Some parts of the country have been suffering from long periods of drought, and water springs are drying out.
Climate-induced disasters will only get worse due to rising temperatures. Disasters can’t be completely avoided but adequate measures can still be taken, say experts.
The recent spate of disasters in Nepal has prompted authorities to address the climate crisis with greater urgency and more seriousness than ever before. Many of the recent disasters in Nepal could be linked with climate change.
For instance, on 15 June, Melamchi Bazar of Sindupalchowk district was ravaged by a flash-flood that claimed five lives—and 20 are still missing. It caused damage to private and public property, and caused havoc on the newly completed Melamchi water supply system.
Anil Pokhrel is the chief executive of National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority. Although there is rarely any heavy rain during monsoon, this June, Sindhupalchowk received unprecedented amounts of rain.
Rising temperature is intensifying the earth’s water cycle and increasing evaporation, also resulting in more precipitation. Heavy rainfall in small areas is leading large-scale flooding and landslides.
On June 14, a debris flow in the Upra valley of Jomoson ravaged many villages and disrupted road access to the area. The Himalayas have also been severely affected by climate change.
An avalanche occurred in Thasan Rural Municipality-2, Mustang district on 15 November. It swept away more 125 yaks and left some people injured.
Also, read: ‘ApEx for climate’ Series | Nepal makes its case. But to what effect?
According to a report titled ‘Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, 2021’ prepared by the Ministry of Forest and Environment, about eight percent of Nepal is flood-prone and about 59 percent of its land area is landslide-prone.
The report states that Nepal’s droughts affect 56 percent of the population. A drought lasting on average 3.4 months (102 days per year) is the average. The report says, “Based on the available data on losses and damage from different climate-induced disastrous events between 1971 and 2019, about 647 people on average die from climate-induced disasters in Nepal each year.”
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an UN body in 2021, predicted that extreme precipitation would increase in major mountainous areas, with potential consequences for floods, landslides and lake outbursts.
Still another report ‘Climate Change Scenarios in Nepal’ prepared by the Nepal government, says annual precipitation is likely to increase in both the medium- and long-term: by 2-6 percent in the medium-term and by 8-12 percent in the long-term.
The average annual temperature is also likely to rise. It could increase by 0.9-1.degrees Celsius in medium term, and 1.3-1.8 C long term. The Himalayan region would be directly affected by the temperature rise.
A 2020 joint study by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development and the United National Development Programme (UNDP), identified 47 potentially hazardous glacial lakes (PDGLs), within the Koshi and Gandaki river basins of Nepal, Tibet Autonomous Region in China, and India. The study identified 3,624 glacial lakes within the three basins. 2,070 lakes were found in Nepal, 1,509 lakes are in China and 45 lakes are in India.
The flood of June 15 that decimated the Melamchi Bazar, Sindupalchowk and ApEx Archives
The final report says: “As many as 1,410 lakes are larger than or equal to 0.02 km, which are considered large enough to cause a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF). Lakes associated with a large, retreating glacier and steeply sloping landforms in their surroundings are susceptible to a GLOF.”
Economically, the effects of climate change can also prove costly. Nepal’s gross domestic product (GDP) is highly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, water, and tourism. According to the Ministry of Forest and Environment, GDP will likely take a hit due to climate change.
The report predicts huge social impacts such as extreme climatic events, water scarcity-driven immigration, loss of employment opportunities and decline in production.
It also leads to increased workload for women (who must travel longer distances in order to fetch water), school dropouts and forced resettlement. According to the report, concurrent male migration also causes an increase in the number of female-headed homes, which further burdens women. It adds that climate change disproportionately impacts women—especially those who are pregnant, household heads, illiterate, and belong to ethnic and poor communities—as well as the elderly, children, and infants with health issues.
The rapid drying up of water sources in hilly regions is a sign that the area’s water supply is rapidly depleting.
Madhukar Upadhyay is a climate and watershed management expert
After 2010, when the government prepared the National Adaptation Program of Action, (NAPA), to address the immediate climate change threats, the debate on climate in Nepal grew.
Rainfall patterns are the key to change. We are also beginning to see the impacts of climate changes in various sectors.
Water-sources are one of the most detrimental impacts. In the past small water-sources sprung up in the hills, providing water to households. These water sources can also be used to supply water in winter. These water sources have become increasingly scarce over the last few decades. This means that villages are facing many challenges. The total rainfall volume is not changing, but the window time is shorter.
Temperature increases can have serious consequences for both humans and plants. There are changes to the characteristics of plants and their diseases. Reports indicate that black stains can be seen on apples and oranges from the Koshi Basin. The warmer climates are also affecting paddy crops at Jumla. The pests are growing in Syangja district.
There are also some changes happening in the Himalayan area. We need to pay close attention to the high-altitude Himalayan areas that are becoming dry.
We experienced the kind of extreme events we hadn’t seen in the past 40-50 years
Anil Pokhrel, Chief Executive, National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Authority
There are two types of climate-induced natural disasters. The first is water-related hazards like floods and landslides. The second are climatological hazards like droughts, lightning and gale-force wind gusts. Climate change does not cause new disasters; it only amplifies existing ones to extreme levels. Climate change increases the impact, volume, and severity of disasters.
Take what happened in Melamchi this June, even before the monsoon’s onset. We also see such disasters at Manang, not just Melamchi.
We were told by concerned agencies that this year’s monsoon would be above average. However, the monsoon began to work on the first day.
We experienced extreme events of a kind we hadn’t experienced in the past 40-50 years. High rainfall has occurred where there was once average or below-average rainfall for the past 100 year. Extreme events can be triggered by such rain. Similar to this, we are seeing unprecedented droughts in some parts of the country. The pattern of wildfires is also changing fast.
These disasters can severely affect our agriculture, infrastructure, and livelihood. They also destroy our water system, which eventually impacts the production of food grains. It could also cause climate migration and create conflict.
We are doing everything we can to adapt to climate change. We are quick to offer assistance to victims when disaster strikes. Next on our agenda is reconstruction of destroyed houses and resettlement for human habitats.
Nearly 5,000 houses were destroyed by floods or landslides during the past year. We are expanding early-warning systems to both.