Nepal has mountain tall vulnerability

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Kathmandu, Dec. 11International Mountain Day 2023 is going to be marked on Monday (December 11) with the theme ‘Revitalising Mountain Ecosystems’. 

This year's event urges the promotion of nature-based solutions, adoption of best practices, and strategic investments to strengthen resilience, reduce vulnerability, and enhance mountains' adaptability to daily challenges and extreme climatic events.

Nepal is one of the climate change-vulnerable countries that is home to the world's highest and most majestic mountains, including eight of the 14 peaks measuring above 8,000 metres. 

However, these mountains, which are sources of water, have been impacted by the effect of climate change. This was rightly mentioned by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, during his recent four-day visit to Nepal. 

Witnessing the impacts of climate change in the Everest and Annapurna regions, she urgently appealed to the global community to cease climate-related activities and support nations like Nepal, which suffer the consequences of climate change, despite being minor contributors to the issue.

The UN climate change summit, popularly known as COP 28, is now going on in Dubai, UAE. The COP 28 talks are also crucial for mountainous countries, especially the Himalayas, which face severe climate challenges.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ addressed COP 28, highlighting the alarming records of mountain region disasters. Prime Minister Prachanda called for the urgent protection of mountains.

Talking to The Rising Nepal, Miriam Jackson, Senior Cryosphere Specialist at Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), and IPCC lead author, said that although Nepal has contributed very little to global climate change, the country is now facing the impacts with very few resources available. 

“Nepal has a greater proportion of people living in the mountains or very close to the mountains. Seismic hazard (i.e. risk of earthquakes) is high in Nepal. Nepal is still dealing with the consequences of the 2015 earthquake, and now Nepal has one more thing to deal with,” said Jackson.

According to him, some of the hazards related to the cryosphere are transboundary, so a glacier flood may originate in China, but have the greatest impact in Nepal. “This means that mitigation of the risk is difficult to carry out,” she added.  

Changes in snowfall and snowmelt patterns can have many impacts. Many communities rely on the melting of snow for irrigation or agriculture in general. 

If the water comes too early in the season or comes over a much shorter period, then it has a big effect on crop production, she said.

“Infrastructure is very susceptible to floods (from glacier lakes or rapid snowmelt), avalanches and many more cryosphere-related hazards. 

Infrastructures are usually constructed in the areas that are safe from natural calamities, but climate change has altered the pattern of rain causing sudden floods and landslides that immensely harm the infrastructures” Jackson added.

According to Sunita Chaudhary, Ecosystem Services Specialist at ICIMOD, most of the high-elevation ecosystems like forests, peatlands, rangeland, wetlands and their inhabitant species are fragile and vulnerable to the changing cryosphere. 

Endemic species, in particular, are at increased risk as a slight change in the combinations of temperature and precipitation leads to a sharp decline in their survival rate and ultimately leads to their extinction. 

For instance, Abies spectabilis, Pinus wallichiana, Juniperus polycarpos have already been shifting towards higher elevation areas.  

Among the mountain fauna, some of the observed changes are elevational shifts, sharp population decline, decrease in species richness and habitat suitability, behavioural and genetic changes, and the emergence of new species. 

An estimated 129 million farmers in the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra basins depend on water that comes from glacier melt and snowmelt to irrigate their fields, according to Jackson.  The availability of meltwater flow is crucial to irrigate their crops, especially during the warm and dry months before the monsoon rains start, she added. 

Meltwater from glaciers and snow plays an important role as a buffer during drought periods and in the spring. Furthermore, dependency on glaciers and snowmelt is likely to increase in future, she said.

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