Climate change and its impact on Mountains

Whenever we talk about climate change, we always say that climate change has hit homes, because the effect of climate change is in our way of life. The changes in our environment, because of the changing climate, have a very powerful impact on our daily livelihood as well. The Himalayan Region of Nepal is home to a diverse group of plants and animals and is a very renowned hotspot home to so many species. There are so many ethnic groups living with close proximity and connection with the mountains. As the climatic conditions change, so does the constituent of the biodiversity and livelihood of the people.
Mountain always signifies beauty and mysteries, with so many scenic places and so many ancient traditions. Our mountain range is very renowned for the diverse flora and fauna it holds.  The eastern Himalayan region is home to globally significant species of flora and fauna and contains more than 1,000 endemic species. Most of the species found in the area are specialist kinds, that is, they are adapted to only a certain kind of climatic condition, from which if deferred, they cannot survive.

The changes in the Himalyan Hindu Kush region alone affect more than 1.3 billion people, according to International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). One of the major difficulties of changing climate is shorter but highly intense rainfall which causes problems like floods and landslides. The Himalayas area is the origination point of nine big river systems all of which have been affected due to global warming and climate change. Apart from posing flood problems to millions of peoples along the banks, the altered hydrological cycle also triggers landslides in many places. The topography of the Himalayan Region and Siwalik is very weak in itself, and the increasing flood instances only make it weaker and more vulnerable to huge landslides.
With eight out of 15 highest peaks of the world, including the highest peak on Mt. Everest, lying in its territory, the Nepal Himalayas is a major tourist destination attracting hundreds and thousands of tourists every year. It sustains the livelihood of many people along the route. Climate change has its effect through fiercer storm and the Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs). Because of the changes in the hydrological cycle, storms and downpours are getting very intense. GLOFs are major risks in mountainous areas. Glaciers always carry stones and rocks along with the ice and snow. Due to increasing temperature, glaciers are retreating at a very fast pace, and when they retreat, they leave this moraine as a form of dam. The melting ice continues to build up water content in this lake until the moraine cannot handle the pressure any more, and then it bursts, causing flood and damages in many areas downstream. As it is difficult to predict when glacial lakes bursts, it even things even difficult.
All these risks in the mountain areas make serious impact on tourism sector. For example, the 2014 blizzards in the Annapurna Region claimed over 40 lives. Tourism activities came to a halt following the incident, resulting to loss of economic activities of people living in mountain areas. Climate change may induce more severe forms of storms more frequently, making adverse impact on the number of tourists visiting each year.
The mountain people are adapted to live in the harsh climatic conditions, and have rich knowledge on the biodiversity of the mountain and the way to use these resources. They know the secrets of herbs and medicines that can cure a lot of illness. When we lose these resources because of changing climatic conditions, we lose the possibility of cures, and we lose the economic benefit these herbs and biodiversity may bring to the indigenous community as well as to the country. Most of the households in the Himalayan region are considered to be vulnerable, with many floods and landslides occurring every year.
The climate change is causing the problem of too much water and too little water. That is, there is flood in some places and droughts in other, making it very difficult to sustain agriculture. The collapse of agriculture in Himalayan region can prove to be very dangerous to the mountain communities, as these areas lack good transport system. This isolation of mountain communities due to topographical difficulties makes it more difficult for the people to get immediate relief should disasters occur.
With many evidences of changes along the Himalayan region, many organizations are working to increase the adaptive capacities of the mountain ecosystem. Community groups are proving to be the most effective way to improve the resilience of the mountain communities. These groups take care of forests, and make rules to use and sustain forest for longer terms. When climate change starts affecting the ecosystem, deforestation only makes it worse. Larger forest areas with higher biodiversity make the region more resilient, and protect it from flood and landslides by holding the soil very strongly and acting as a natural dam. If deforestation continues in these vulnerable mountainous areas, topography will be weaker and it will be more dangerous for the people. So, the community forest user groups are playing a very important role in checking this. Similarly, these groups also take care of emergency funds provided by different organizations and use it in case of emergency, for example during disasters. The organizations are also trying to build up resilience of these places by building dams across the flood and landslide prone areas and are also trying to improve the adaptive capacity of the mountain people by introducing them to alternative income generating activities like goat farming, stone carving etc.
As climate change continues to affect the Himalayas, it is important to take conservation, tourism and socio-economic activities of the mountain people side by side, ensuring sustainable income generating activities for the local populace while conserving the resources. Mountains are an intricate part of the indigenous mountain people as well as people living elsewhere. It is necessary to act not just to prevent the disasters that will arise but also to ensure that our beauty and our culture always stay with us.

published in Image Nepal.

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