Climate Crisis

Written by Haseeb Ahsan  •  Features  •  June 2013 PDF Print E-mail

Nepal’s rapidly changing climate is affecting the agricultural sector and the well-being of its people. Can the government take the necessary steps to fight this phenomenon before it is too late?

Located in the Himalayan mountain range with India situated in its south, east, and west, and the Republic of China in its north, the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal has a rich geography, featuring the world’s eight tallest mountain ranges.

Nepal is situated in one of the most climate-sensitive regions of the world. Its eco-system is fragile and is mostly dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Similarly, the uncertain topology makes the country more prone to flooding. The dilemma is that even if Nepal’s contribution of gas emissions (CO2 emission) is negligible, these drastic climatic changes make it one of the most badly affected countries in the world.

Climate changes increased the occurrence of flashfloods in the country, which mainly occur due to intense rainfall and rapid snowmelt. Furthermore, Nepal’s temperature on average is increasing by 0.6 degrees per decade, which further raises concerns of the increased frequency of flashfloods. Glacier lakes outbursts also cause water eruption from the trapped marines resulting in subsequent flooding that badly affects the lower lying areas.

It is ironic that Nepal experiences water scarcity even with water streams and lakes running across the country. An inappropriate irrigation and water storage system is the main cause behind this predicament.  Most of Nepal’s poor communities reside near the Ganges basin areas. Although there is abundant water available in the country the irregular distribution  decreases water discharge from the rivers and causes water scarcity. There are nearly 6,000 rivers in Nepal but only 72% of the population has access to safe drinking water and only 24% of the total land is irrigated through proper irrigation mechanisms. Life expectancy of 63 years is one of the lowest in Nepal. One of the reasons is the improper sanitation system which is available to only 27% of the population. Similarly, 75% of pregnant women are anemic and 50,000 children die every year due to curable diseases, where contaminated water is the cause of such ailments.

Nepal is among the least developed countries across the globe and hence suffers from food security. The country’s population is dependent on agriculture for their living. Nepal’s agriculture sector, which is dependent on weather patterns and with no proper irrigation system plus poor water storage mechanism, is adversely affected due to these climatic changes, which in turn affects food availability in the country.

More than 30% of Nepal’s population lives below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is 46%, one of the highest in comparison with other nations (190th out of 200). The literacy rate is below 60% and the job market heavily lacks a skilled force. Under these circumstances only 13% of the agricultural production reaches the market while the rest is consumed by the growers themselves, which limits the flow of the ecosystem. Similarly, Nepal’s reach is also limited to India which is why it is heavily dependent on food imports from the country.

The above mentioned challenges can only be improved if the Nepalese government is willing to implement effective policies, follows best practices, and takes corrective actions at the earliest. The decade long armed conflict also diverted Nepal’s attention from core issues when climate problems were of major significance.

Nepal’s critical need is the development of its basic infrastructure for energy, food and water security. Similarly, the government and NGOs should work in the country’s isolated communities and motivate and guide the population to access global markets. In addition, research and development is also important to device methods and grow crops which are resilient to climatic change.

Nepal will march towards progress when its leaders and decision makers will think beyond their personal gains and reduce the influence of a bureaucratic culture. The future of Nepal will brighten only when its leaders will be willing to bring change. 

Haseeb Ahsan contributes to various publications on entrepreneurship and skill development.

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