Women Left Vulnerable as Flood-Hit Men Migrate


LAWPANI (ASSAM), INDIA: Whenever the villagers of Lawpani, a nondescript village in the North Indian state of Assam, organize meetings to discuss local issues, Rita Devi Magar, a 40-year-old illiterate woman, represents her family there. Her husband never attends local meetings.

Like Rita Devi, many women in Lawpani village, which is located by the Brahmaputra River, attend local meetings as de-facto heads of their families. Usually, they are the ones who decide what contribution their families can possibly make to dealing with recurring problems like flood, inundation and erosion by the Brahmaputra River, which is the source of both livelihood and misery for hundreds of thousands of people in Assam.

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One recent sunny afternoon, Krishna Maya Sharma, 42, was hoeing her crop field soaked in winter rain which lashed most parts of north India just a day before. “I used to plant paddy here,” says she, showing her land where the upper layer of soil looks covered with sand. “Now, I can grow just taro roots.”

In 2012, when a flood in the Brahmaputra River, seen as the most devastating since 2004, caused havoc in the north Indian state of Assam, Krishna Maya lost much of her fortune. “I was about to harvest my crops,” she says. “But the flood damaged everything.”

Not only did the flood damage Krishna Maya´s crop but also trigged a chain of effects, rendering her family poorer. When the flood retreated, her land was covered with such a thick layer of sand that she is still unable to grow paddy there. “After the flood, I tried to plant crops but nothing grew,” she says.

Krishna Maya´s family owned about 11 bighas of fertile land before the flood. “The land is still there but it’s just sand. Only a small plot of land is left for growing taro roots,” she says.

The flood, which reportedly killed at least 125 people and displaced thousands of families in Assam and Bangladesh, also damaged a vast area of grassland, adding to difficulty in collecting fodder. With no green pasture to graze on, all her five cattle died.

The severest aftereffect of the flood turned out to be the deaths of two oxen, which her husband, Punya Prasad Sharma, would use to plow the land. “After our oxen died, my husband couldn’t plow the land and now he works as a manual worker at a nearby construction site,” she explains.

Today, even for cultivating whatever land is left, Krishna Maya needs to purchase chemical fertilizers. Earlier, she used to grow plants by using compost fertilizers – mostly made up of cow dung. “As we have no cattle now, we can’t make compost fertilizers,” she says.

Krishna Maya´s is not a unique tale. In Lawpani, a nondescript village in Tinsukia District of Assam, which is mostly inhabited by people of Nepali origin, everyone has similar tales to tell.

Like Krishna Maya, most of people in Laowani, which now has more than 150 households of Nepali origin, are affected by floods, followed by inundation and erosion, every year. They find it very difficult to save their crops and livestock from floods in monsoon months.

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The Cost of Relying on Diesel

The Cost of Relying on Diesel

Reeling under power-outage, Nepal relies heavily on diesel to generate power in winter, adversely affecting public health and environment. Also, black carbon that diesel engines emit is accelerating glacier melt, rendering the mountain people more vulnerable to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs).

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Nepal maintains low greenhouse emission


KATHMANDU, Dec 27: In a reassertion of the fact that Nepal´s contribution to the world´s total greenhouse gas emission is still negligible, a yet-to-be published report states that the Himalayan nation emits less than 0.1 per cent of what scientists say causes climate change.

Nepal´s new report on National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, being finalized by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (MoSTE), confirms that Nepal, the chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), emits mere 0.027 per cent of global greenhouse gas emission.

Earlier, when Nepal submitted its first national communication report to the UNFCCC in 1998, its contribution to global emission was jut 0.025. Although the new report shows a slight increase in Nepal´s contribution to global emission, experts say it is still negligible.

“This means that we have done virtually nothing to increase the rate at which the Earth is warming up,” says Prakash Mathema, Chief of the Climate Change Division at the MoSTE. “It gives us more rights to seek financial support from the developed world to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”

Mathema adds, “It is an irony that a country, whose role in global emission is virtually non-existent, is one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.”

The report, which is likely to be submitted to the UNFCCC within the next few months as Nepal´s second national communication report, has taken into account just three major greenhouse gases and five major sources of their emissions.

According to Nitesh Shrestha, project manager of ADAPT Nepal, an NGO hired by the MoSTE as a consultant to prepare the country´s new greenhouse gas inventory, only carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emitted from sectors like energy (fossil fuel) consumption, industrial process, agriculture (livestock), land use change (deforestation) and waste generation were taken into account for the report.

As per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines-1996, which were followed to prepare the new inventory, it would be sufficient for the LDC countries to take into account just three major gases emitted from five major sources. The LDC countries also enjoy flexibility in time to prepare the inventory – a reason why Nepal has yet not finalized its second national communication report that was supposed to be submitted to the UNFCCC a couple of years ago.

The new report shows Nepal generated 24,856 Gg (gigagram) greenhouse gas during the period studied for preparation of the inventory. However, with forests sequestrating as much as 12,776 Gg greenhouse gas, Nepal´s net emission stands at just 12,080 Gg. When the first report was prepared, Nepal´s gross emission was 24,525 Gg. As a result of sequestration of 14,778 Gg gas, Nepal´s net emission stood at just 9,747 back then.

A careful analysis of two reports shows a slight decline in forest´s capacity to sequestrate carbon, hinting at rampant deforestation being reported from across the country. Nevertheless, irrespective of how forest´s sequestration capacity seems to have declined between the periods of two reports, the new inventory suggests that Nepal is very close to being carbon-neutral.

Nepal´s new inventory status may not just be a matter of pride. It also reveals how the country´s economy has been stagnant over one and half decade. “Carbon emission increases only when more fossil fuel is consumed,” says Ngamindra Dahal, an expert on climate change. “The fact that Nepal´s carbon emission was more or less the same between the reports of two reports shows how stagnant our economy is.”

Dr Bal Krishna Sapkota, a professor of Environment Science at the Institute of Engineering, says, “If we had gone for green economy and the indicators were same, it could have been a reason to rejoice.”

Published on 2013-12-27 06:24:33

Snow loss rate at Everest less than in Alps: Study


KATHMANDU, Dec 20: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its 2007 report, presented the startling projection that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 if the earth keeps warming at the current rate.

The IPCC report, which apparently lacked sufficient data to substantiate its projection, was criticized by scientists for what they said was an erroneous calculation of glacier melting rates. After a global furor over its erroneous statement, IPCC admitted its mistake.

Five years after the IPCC fiasco, a study being conducted by a team of experts at the Mera and Pokalde glaciers in the Everest region has come up with yet another finding that could possibly rub salt into the wound for the leading international body for assessing climate change.

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Nepal begins monitoring God’s pets

Nepal’s conservation officials hope that they might be able to understand the impact of climate change on the Himalaya glaciers through radio collaring of snow leopards. “As of now, snow leopards are generally found at an altitude of about 4,000 meters from the sea level,” explains Megh Bahadur Pandey, director general of DNPWC. “If those snow leopards whose activities are monitored through radio collaring gradually move upward over the years, we can possibly conclude that climate change is affecting their habitats by causing glacier retreat.”

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Once ignored, mountain agendas now draw global attention


Three years ago, Prof John Beddington, then chief scientist of the UK government, warned that shortages of food, water and energy would unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration by 2030.

At a recent conference on poverty and vulnerability in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region, organized by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and Nepal”s National Planning Commission (NPC) in Kathmandu, Dr Bruno Messerli, former rector of University of Bern, recalled what Prof Beddington had cautioned in the 2009 conference on sustainable development.

Putting Prof Beddington”s caution into perspective, Dr Messerli said, ´The food-energy-water security is intrinsically linked to the sustainability of mountains and mountain communities. Mountains could, therefore, play a very important political role in future.´ The opinion of Dr Messerli, who interacted with journalists on the last day of the conference, was unequivocal: much of resources like food, water and energy come from mountains and future public unrests cannot be averted without ensuring sustainability of mountains.

However, as the world marks the World Mountain Day on Wednesday, concerns over sustainability of mountains still remain largely unaddressed in much of the HKH region. This is mainly because mountains form just small parts of big and influential countries like India and China in the HKH region, which also includes Nepal and Bhutan, where mountains characterize the countries” distinctiveness.

Only in the last few years, issues of mountains and mountain communities have started to draw the global attention. The ICIMOD-NPC conference on poverty and vulnerability in the HKH region, which was attended by representatives of 19 countries apart from international organizations and the United Nations (UN) committees, is just an example of the increased global interest on the agendas of sustainable mountain development.

Global warming, which scientists say is accelerating glacier melting in the Himalayas, has also contributed to the increasing global interest in mountain agendas. In its 2007 report that sparked controversy across the world, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) had stated that the Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035 if the earth keeps warming up at the current rate. ´The IPCC may have got its mathematics wrong. However, it was right to highlight the threats to the Himalayan glaciers,´ said Phrang Roy, former Assistant President of International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), who delivered a key note address at the ICIMOD-NPC conference.

Experts, including Dr Messerli, say sustainability of mountains is a key to addressing poverty especially in the wake of global warming. They also add that inclusive development and strengthening democracy at the grassroots levels, among other factors, are imperative to enable the mountain communities to deal with the severe impacts of climate change. ´These are some recommendations put forth by experts in our conference,´ said Dr Dhrupad Chaudhary, program manager at the ICIMOD. ´We hope countries in the HKH region will take up these recommendations in formulating their development agendas.´

Published on 2013-12-11 09:07:25


Manpower crunch hampers forest fire fighting


KATHMANDU, Nov 14: Even after acquiring fire-fighting equipment and developing a system that instantly detects wildfires and alerts local authorities, the government faces an uphill task in fighting forest fires due to manpower crunch.

Early this year, the government received fire-fighting equipment worth about Rs 460 million from the Japan government, which was originally due for 2010.

In addition, the government, with technical support from the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), also developed an advanced system, which detects wildfires and alerts local government authorities as well as Community Forest User Group (CFUG) members within just a matter of few minutes. “This year, we are trying to develop a mechanism that alerts a wider group of concerned authorities,” said Pashupati Koirala, an officer at the Department of Forest (DoF).

However, despite such well-preparedness, it will still not be easy for the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC) to effectively protect forests from wildfires over the next few years as there is a lack of manpower required for controlling forest fires. MoFSC has not been able to fill hundreds of vacant posts of armed and unarmed forest guards for almost a decade now. About 500 out of the total 1,086 posts of armed forest guards have been lying vacant for a long time. Similarly, over 700 out of the total 2,756 posts of unarmed forest guards have also been lying vacant for years.

With such huge numbers of posts of armed and unarmed forest guards remaining vacant, it is yet to see whom the DoFSC will mobilize to use forest-fighting equipment. “Apart from armed and unarmed forest guards, we will also mobilize local people to fight forest fires,” said Gauri Shankar Timila, Deputy Director General of DoF.

However, Sundar Sharma, regional coordinator of the Southasia Wildland Fire Network of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), says it will be a huge risk to mobilize forest guards and local people without properly training them. “We have done well in terms of detecting and monitoring forest fires,” said Sharma. “But, we are still not capable of putting out forest fires as soon as they are detected. Due to lack of training, fire-fighting equipment could end up being useless.”

According to Ram Bhakta Malla, an officer at MoFSC, the Japan government has provided 120 sets of fire-fighting equipment, each set containing several tools like shovels and sprays. “If we distribute these tools to all District Forest Offices (DFOs), each will be entitled to a maximum of just two sets,” said Malla. “Two sets for one whole district will still be insufficient. In addition, we face serious challenges in finding people who can go into the woods and put out forest fires.”

In 2009, altogether 13 Nepal Army (NA) personnel were burnt to death when they were trying to put out a wildfire in Ramechhap district. Just two days later, six local villagers died while trying to save a community forest from a raging wildfire.

According to UNISDR-Southasia Wildland Fire Network, the damage caused by wildfires in 2009, not only to human lives but also natural resources, is the worst of recent history. That year, altogether 49 people perished in forest fires. And, about 146,000 hectares of forest were affected by fires.

Although proportions of damage by forest fires have never been the same since 2009, wildfires are still one of the major threats to forest, biodiversity and ecosystem. Fires affect thousands of hectares of forest every year, thereby destroying not only timber but also precious herbs and rare species. Forest fires are also one of the causes of deforestation and forest degradation, which contributes to about 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Published on 2013-11-15 22:31:00