It has been two years since a devastating debris flood caused widespread destruction in the upstream area of Helambu and the downstream area of Melamchi in Sindhupalchowk. This disaster occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, when my own house and the entire community were inundated with debris. This was not a typical water flood but rather a debris flood triggered by heavy rainfall, landslides, and melting glaciers in the upstream region. The flood wreaked destruction on roads, bridges, trout farms, livestock, and households, forcing people to seek shelter in schools and public places. The long-term consequence of this catastrophic event is that survivors cannot return to their former land as everything has been washed away.
This real-life example illustrates how climate change, profoundly affects ecosystems and human lives such as the agro-food system, disrupting farming practices, crop production, and food availability resulting in forced migration. Melamchi has significantly addressed drinking water scarcity in the capital city. However, it is disheartening to see that authorities benefiting from Melamchi water supply have overlooked the genuine concerns of the indigenous people affected by floods.
This story is not just my own; it represents the bizarre experiences of the entire community from upstream to downstream in the area where the massive displacement of people happened. Moreover, it highlights the global issues in terms of climate-induced vulnerability. These issues seriously impacted the entire food system and migration in a developing country like Nepal, ultimately affecting the poorest among the poor and trapping them in a vicious circle of poverty. The victims and indigenous community of Melamchi have been overlooked by the federal government, despite their significant contribution in fulfilling the water demand of the capital city.
Instead of prioritising the reconstruction of the bridges that collapsed due to flooding, the recent budget speech for FY 2022/2023 by the government focused on improving the distribution of water supply in Kathmandu. This neglect leaves the affected communities vulnerable during the monsoon season. The parliament's budget speech gives priority to diverting water from the Yangri and Larke rivers to the Melamchi water distribution system, overlooking the concerns of the indigenous community regarding bridge construction. Such actions highlight a failure to uphold the essence of climate financing, which should prioritise the well-being and sustainability of affected communities at first.
The Melamchi flood destroyed many things, including the harvest, post-harvest losses, and farming land. It also affected the agricultural lands nearby the river basin, leading to the need to import necessary commodities from the external market, thereby reducing domestic production. To cope with these challenges, people have been compelled to migrate to nearby capital city and even abroad in search of livelihood opportunities. Families dependent on subsistence agricultural farming have no choice but to leave their home country to sustain their livelihoods. This heartbreaking reality reveals the consequences of climate change and global warming. Debris flooding, landslides, and other disasters disproportionately affect the most vulnerable communities, highlighting the urgent need for collective action to address these challenges.
Over the past decade, Nepal has witnessed a series of complex and interconnected phenomena that have had an impact on the entire food system and migration patterns. Earthquakes weaken mountainous lands, triggering landslides that form artificial dams and effectively block rivers. Additionally, the presence of numerous glacial-lakes in the vulnerable Himalayan foothills is a major concern, as emphasised by various scientific studies. These lakes pose potential hazards that can lead to multiple disasters. Furthermore, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2014) predicts a high possibility of 200 million displacements from their place of origin worldwide by 2050 due to climate-induced risks and vulnerabilities.
Despite the risks, people are compelled to live in these dangerous areas as they lack viable options for migration to safer places. It is the responsibility of the authorities to address these critical issues related to climatic vulnerability. Climate-induced disasters are increasing due to changing climatic patterns and global warming. Nepal, identified as one of the most vulnerable nations, continues to face a significant risk of potential hazards, both upstream and downstream, despite its scattered geography. The government has been implementing climate adaptation plans and raising awareness of disaster preparedness and mitigation to minimise the adverse effects of climate change.
During this year's budget speech, the Finance Minister emphasised the importance of initiatives such as Secondly Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), National Adaptation Plan. Nepal has already developed effective policies, guidelines, and acts to mitigate and address climate-related risks. The country has a comprehensive set of guiding documents, including the National Climate Change Policy 2019, National Adaptation Plan of Action 2010, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act 2074, Climate Change Financing Framework 2017, and many more. These initiatives provide a solid foundation for addressing each stage of the disaster cycle. In this regard, strengthening local governments and communities is crucial in promoting agro-biodiversity, nature-based solutions, and effective climate adaptation plan.
In conclusion, the example of the Melamchi disaster alerts to the global impact of climate-induced disasters on a large scale. For this, proactive measures such as promoting biodiversity, adopting sustainable farming practices, investing in agro-ecology, and promoting the green economy are crucial. Equally important is the need to co-learn with the local community about the adverse effects of climate change and enhance the capacity of local government authorities to respond effectively to future crises. The time has come for stakeholders at all levels, from local communities to national governments, to come together and take immediate action. This will ultimately help to address climate change effects, promote resilient agro-food systems, and minimize forced migration.
(The author is a M.Phil. researcher at the Department of Development Studies at Kathmandu University, School of Education.)