Nepal Turning Into Disaster Hotspot


Approximately 62 people died and about 90 got injured in the past month due to monsoon impacts. Landslides, floods, and lightning strikes have caused these fatalities, primarily affecting the whole country and most recently in the far western region. Homes, daily commodities, including food and drinking water, stored food, and cultivated land have been swept away by the rains. Television and social media vividly depict people desperately seeking shelter, food, water, medicine, and other life-saving support in the affected areas. Unfortunately, political parties and elected representatives are preoccupied with forming yet another coalition government, rather than focusing on supporting the victims. 

The monsoon in Nepal started late but has created havoc. The risk of flooding is continually increasing due to climate change, which includes rising sea levels, wildfires, and changing precipitation patterns. In the book Climate Change Modelling for Local Adaptation in The Hindu Kush Himalayan Region, a chapter on floods, landslides, and adapting to climate change in Nepal highlights that climate change data and predictions for the Himalayas are sparse and uncertain due to the region's topographical complexities. This research, published on ResearchGate, predicts significant changes for Nepal, including shorter monsoon seasons, more intensive rainfall patterns, higher temperatures, and droughts. Farmers have confirmed these patterns, noting increasing temperatures over the past decade and erratic rainfall. The research states that hazards such as droughts, floods, and landslides are increasing, causing approximately 100 deaths annually in Nepal.

Crop-growing pattern 

While traveling in the Himalayan districts, including Humla, Jumla, Manang and Mustang, conversations with local people reveal that their life and crop-growing patterns have changed significantly compared to their grandparents' time. In Humla, where people migrate to warmer places during winter, the timing of this migration has changed since their grandfathers' era. Many men migrate to other parts of Nepal, India, or other countries for work, leaving behind elderly people, women, and children. Apart from climate change, crop patterns are also affected by the knowledge and capacity of those planting crops in these regions.

Calamities have led to drinking water shortages and shifting agricultural patterns, as locals mention. Many communities are struggling to meet basic food security needs even before the climate conditions began changing. The aforementioned research concludes with a critical analysis of climate change modelling and the gap between scientific data and the low-tech, low-capacity nature of local planners to implement adequate adaptation measures. It recommends bridging gaps between scientific models, local political realities, and local information needs.

The research quotes climate change predictions for Nepal, based on Khan, NVSCT, Tse-Ring et al., stating that the average annual temperature increased by 0.01 degrees Celsius in the foothills, 0.02 degrees Celsius in the middle mountains, and 0.04 degrees Celsius in the higher Himalayas, with a 1.4-1.7 degrees Celsius increase for the country predicted by the 2030s. This increase is much higher than the mean global rate of predicted increase, forecasting wetter monsoons and drier winters, less monsoonal rain in the high mountains, and more monsoonal rain along the southern hills. The predictions also include a rapid decrease in snow cover and glacier retreat.

Although Nepal may not contribute significantly to major climate change factors, it is known as a disaster hotspot and one of the world's most sensitive countries to climate change effects due to its social vulnerability, governance issues, topography, and heavy monsoon rains. The research concludes that Nepal's current development model focuses on infrastructure development rather than capacity building. Without capacity building of local governments, climate change models will remain inaccessible. Sustainable local development plans should include long-term strategies incorporating climate knowledge for disaster risk management.

Adverse impacts

The conclusion of the cited research clearly states that governance issues are a major reason for the lack of proper planning to mitigate climate change-related disasters in Nepal. The data also highlights that rising temperatures and climate change impacts could have some of the most adverse effects on the country's future. Now is the time to unite across political boundaries, private sector, and the international community to support the affected and plan for implementing climate change models that lead to sustainable progress.

However, this will only be possible when we have a stable government that serves the full term for which it was elected. The continuous change of government negatively affects the country and its development. The current infrastructure-focused development model results in infrastructure being wiped out annually, leading to a significant loss of resources. In 2009, according to DWIDP and MoHA, there was a direct economic loss estimated at USD 480,000 during the monsoons. Although recent data is unavailable, this figure has likely increased over the years. With changes in coalition governance, the local governance structure in seven provinces is once more in limbo. Local governments should focus on building their capacity and that of their people to adopt a climate change model that helps them manage climate change disasters and ensure a safe future.

(Sharma is a senior journalist and women's rights advocate. Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)

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