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Himalayan People Feel Heat of Climate Change

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When you think of the Himalayas what images come to mind – snow and rushing, cold mountain streams?

Well at the moment the area is in the midst of a drought and hills usually covered with snow are bare.

According to Nepalese Department of Metrology and Hydrology the temperature is increasing by more than half a degree every year.

And as Rajan Parajuli found out global warming is changing the way farming communities live and survive.


40 year old Basundhara Shrestha stops work in her mustard seed field.

She wipes her sweaty forehead and looks to the sky and then back at her crops.

“Look at my mustard flowers. They are so dry and the flower is too small. I cannot produce oil with this.”

Hemja Village in Kaski District has not had decent rain for two years. The nearest spring in the jungle has dried up.

“All my efforts seem useless. The main problem is water. I always look up at the sky with hope but the rain never comes. Last year’s rice crop was no good because there was no rain in the summer. This year is the same. If this continues how can I feed my children?"

Through her window you can see Mount Machhapuchhre. The seven thousand meter high peak is usually covered with snow this time of year but now it’s bare.

Basundhara and the 200 other farming families here are confused about why her land has suddenly become so harsh.

Agriculture researcher of Center for Environmental and Agricultural policy research, CEAPRED, Chiranjivi Adhikari says they are victims of climate change.

"We had the longest dry season and drought last year. Even this year, we expect our winter rain sometime in early January. But now it is mid February. And our wheat crop is almost damaged by this long drought. So the whole rain fall pattern is shifting at least 15 days or 20 days later than the normal pattern."

According to the Department of Metrology and Hydrology the temperature of the mountainous region in Nepal is increasing more than half a degree every year.  

55 year old farmer Bhagirath Dawadi is working with his cattle. He has spent his whole life in this village.

Bhagirath says he can feel the change.

"In the middle of winter I just wear a shirt. Our courtyards used to be covered with snow everyday during winter. Can you believe that looking at this now? We couldn't see the sun for months. Ten years ago we had to stay in front of the fire during the winter. What happened? Look at the mountain, there is no snow on it anymore. If it's this hot in the winter the streams become dry. I don't know what will happen in the spring. "

Villagers say the water level of their nearest rivers Mardi and Hwang has dropped dramatically.

These rivers are from the Annapurna Area.

Nepal's annual glacial melt is vital for the flow of Asia’s great rivers.

If rivers dry up, then it could affect more than one billion people in Asia.

Basundhara heads home after a day in the field.

She makes tea and takes biscuits out of a tin. Her daughter brought them in a shop six hours away.

Basundhara says their diet is changing.

"We used to eat grain bread and corn as snacks. Now we don’t farm those crops because of the drought. For six months of the year the farm has poor productivity. We have no choice. Children eat noodles for breakfast nowadays. I have started farming vegetables instead of local crops because they need less water but I need to spend more money on fertilizer."

Those who have money have started investing in crops to adapt to the new weather conditions.

Many others have given up.

Devilal takes me on the trail up to the windy Hemja Cliff.

We are looking down at the village where large areas of land are dry with no crops.

Five acres of Devilal’s land is barren.

"That single house with the stone roof is mine. Those bananas trees are also mine. I used to have mustard flowers, potato, and wheat in all that open land. But I quit because the nearest source of water dried  up. My family left for the city. There is no one interested in staying on the farm because its hard work and you don’t make much money from it.”

It’s a familiar story. These hill farms in Hemja are being deserted.

The young are moving into the city or overseas to find work. There is no-one to look after the farm and there is no water for irrigation.

"We don't have proper data on Climate change. But changing rain fall patterns have affected us a lot."

Agriculture Administration officer of Western Agriculture Office Nirmala Gurung says the only choice is adaptation.

"From our research in the southern belt and mountain region of Nepal, productivity has been damaged dramatically in the last few years. We are trying to encourage farmers not to abandon their farms. We are researching to find new alternative ways of farming and trying producing new seeds which can survive in this weather."

Nepal's agriculture is very much traditional and most of the farmers are illiterate.

Many agriculture experts say it will be hard for farmers to change their ways in the face of dramatic changes in their climate.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 11 May 2010 09:21 )  

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