Melting Snow And Future Of Himalayas

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Conquering Sagaramatha (Mt Everest), the world’s tallest peak, is normally considered a feat of mountaineering. Alpinists from all over the world aspire to set foot on it once in their life time. But the rush of climbers towards Mt Everest has badly disturbed the ecology of mountains and polluted the Everest watershed. The way the people are damaging the pristine mountain implies that climbing Mt Everest is not an adventure but an aberration and affront to the sacred Himalayan range. The crowd of men and women atop Mt Everest has only added fuel to the already burning mountains.

According to a geological study, the Hindu Kush Himalayas were formed 60 million year ago as a result of the collision of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates. Whatever the reason behind the emergence of the Himalayas, it has two significant values: first, it is a water depository to the South Asia and other regions and second, it has contributed to evolve different geographical, biological and human-cultural diversity. As the Atlantic Ocean is important to the American and European continent, the Himalayas are equally essential for the South Asia. However, there is apathy among the governments of this region towards the worth of Himalayas. With a view to earning some in form of trekking fee, Nepal government is arbitrarily granting permission even to the low quality climbers who are not much aware of the environmental hazards in the Everest region. 

Emotional attachment

Ancient texts show that the people have emotional attachment with the Himalayas. Sanatan mythology has deeply acclaimed that the mountains as the king of the 'Giri Raja' which stands for hills as per Pali language. Himalayas were mysterious, unconquered and were thought as the source of wellbeing, happiness and peace. For the Sherpas, who are famous for climbing high Himalayas and guiding the audacious trekkers up to Mt Everest's summit, consider the Himalaya to be sacred. The Shaiva cult that consists of a large portion of ethnic population recognises the Himalaya as an abode of the lord Shiva. This writer sees the mighty Himalaya ranges as the defender of the sovereignty of the country. They have also become a sensational phenomenon of politics and geography in the international forums.

A few years ago, a National Geographic scientist asked this scribe as to what would happen if there is no snow in the Himalayas. My answer was: What would happen if there is no soul in a human? This was published in the American Scholar magazine. Snow is the soul of Himalayas that are melting fast. Nepal government has been making a passionate call for preserving the Himalayas in almost every international eco-political platform. "Our mountains are melting," Nepal is telling the nations but its voice has been lost in the wilderness. It is wise for Nepal to come up with an action plan for saving mountains. Do we have such sort of document that contains a systematic plan of protecting the Everest and enables it to forge partnership with the neighbours and friendly nations to restore the mountain ecosystem?

The dearth of credible data on the impact of the climate change is a major problem in analysing the state of the mountains. The government should have scientific data to map the hazards caused by the global warming. Without having our own data and analysis based on it, we would not be able to develop our own narratives of climate change and global warming and study their impacts on Himalayan ecology, agriculture and societies. Having scientific proof in hand, Nepal can bolster its position to ask the global communities to support for the ecological conservation of the region.  It is known fact that the global warming is caused by the economic superpowers, not by the countries like Nepal.

Every year one hundred thousand people visit Everest Base Camp (EBC). The staying duration of the trekkers varies from one to several nights depending upon weather condition to climb Mt Everest. The trekkers heading from EBC en route to Everest pollute the Everest watershed. A scientific study has found coliform bacteria in the water flown from Everest watershed. In comparison with the safety of trekkers and porters, the protection of ecology has largely been overlooked. This recklessness is also accelerating the melting of the Himalayas.

Last year Nepal government permitted 461 expedition teams to ascend Mt Everest. In the last 70 years from 1953 to 2023, a total of 6,664 have reached the roof of the world. Nepal has the largest number of climbers – 1,856 – followed by the USA (783), India and China (each 544), the UK (421), Japan (209), Russia (192), Canada (148), France (138) and Australia (127) climbers. These top ten countries must be serious about preserving the ecosystem of Mt Everest and other Himalayas of Nepal. As earlier said, Himalayas are the key to maintaining temperature and causing monsoon rain while contributing to biological diversity. The livelihood and survival of Nepalis is determined by the Himalayas in the future. Developed countries have greater role to protect the disappearing snow-clad mountains. 

Indifference 

Every peak has several glaciers. Many rivers originate from the mountains and the glaciers. Saving the Himalayas means saving the glaciers. To devise proper policies of saving Himalayas, it is imperative to communicate with the political actors about the speedy decline of mountains.  Most of the political parties and their leaders lack knowledge about the climate change and its adverse impact on the mountains. The political parties and state institutions wield the sweeping decision-making powers but they appear indifferent to the ecological crisis roiling the country.

All actions taken to save Himalayas in isolation have not been significantly effective. Those organisations advocating the life of the Himalayas have largely disregarded the symbiotic relationship between the mid hills, Chure and Terai. To make the initiatives result-oriented, it is essential to bring the aforementioned elements including the communities living near the Everest region to the forefront of the politics, climate and environmental discourses.

(Sharma is a Right of Nature advocate. sharma.shrawan@gmail.com)

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