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Perspectives on Climate Change from Nepal and Sri Lanka

Joe Qian's picture

In the course of my daily life here in Washington, climate change is discussed in small conversations, seen and heard on the news, and is an occasional contentious political issue. But truth be told, it feels like a remote subject. Rush hour traffic is as thick as ever, thermostats continue to be turned up, and the recent snow piled as high as I’ve ever seen.

It wasn’t until on a recent trip to Nepal and Sri Lanka for work that I could truly perceive some tangible effects and possible negative impacts of climate change. While driving through dimly lit Kathmandu, which was plagued by 9 hours of blackouts a day, I wondered what was affecting water tables so that less than optimal amounts of hydro power were being generated.

While flying along the Himalayas towards Mount Everest, I was stunned by the natural beauty around me. The world's tallest mountain range with over 2000 glaciers were truly breathtaking. However, I was perplexed by the lack of snow in comparison with what I had previously seen on television and photographs based on casual observation. I was not alone. According to National Geographic in 2002, glaciers on Everest had retreated three miles since Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary first made the climb to the top in 1953. A recent news story cites from a UN report from January 2010 that “widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century."

According Apa the Sherpa (Nepali mountain guides) who has scaled Everest a record 19 times, melting glaciers are creating lakes that might flood villages and making routes for mountaineers less stable and more difficult to follow.

In Sri Lanka, it was hard not to notice the hundreds of miles of low lying coastlines and continuing reconstruction from the tsunami in 2004 (unrelated to climate change).

Sri Lanka has a richness of wildlife including elephants and monkeys, along with 26 endemic species of birds that may be affected by climate change. In a conversation with Environmental Specialist, Darshani de Silva, I was told that, “rising temperatures over the next couple of decades will devastate Sri Lanka's dry zone agriculture, the increased magnitude and frequency of rainfall will threaten the lives of people who are living in low lying, flood and land slide prone areas and a possible sea level rise will affect the coastal urban centers and coastal economy.”

What’s even more disturbing is the situation in the Maldives which is comprised of about 1,200 islands. The highest point on any island is only 2.4m. As my colleague Benjamin Crow pointed out in November, the president held an underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the potential disaster of rising sea levels on its archipelagos.

As a result of my trip to Nepal and Sri Lanka, it dawned on me that climate change has much broader implications than the eye can see from here in Washington, and it’s imperative that we see the issue from a global perspective.

Regardless of the current dynamics on the issue, there are many effortless things we can do to minimize our impact on the environment.

Comments

Submitted by Vivi on
Good article. I'm surprised to see Everest with such little snow cover. Well its funny how people here like Ms. Sarah Palin call the global warming studies ‘snake oil science.’ People can be so narrow minded.

Submitted by Jacquelyn on
This is a great article. It's easy for all of us here in the US to forget about the implications of global warming when we do not have to face the consequences on a daily basis. But when you examine communities that incessantly feel the impacts, even the most minute climate changes have harsh implications. For instance, more than half of Bangladesh is less than 20 feet above sea level. When you consider elevation alone, just a one meter rise in sea level would destroy at least 15 to 20 percent of Bangladesh's land, maybe even 30%. This would account for where about 20 million people live today. Even worse? Bangladesh is consistently affected by extreme weather conditions such as cyclones and heavy rain, affecting the sea levels along with melting ice caps and glaciers. Considering Bangladesh's low elevation as well as the dense population, climate change could easily leave Bangladesh with the most refugees resulting from the changing weather patterns than anywhere else. It's difficult to put all of this in perspective as we sip our lattes from urban high rises in the US. But, the the more direct experience we have with these communities, such as the experience you had during your work travels, the more real these problems seem. We need these experiences to remind us that we can affect climate change, but it must be approached on a global scale.

Submitted by Prajwol on
Hi Joe, Sorry to hear that you too had to deal with the record snow blizzard, I jealously was thinking you still were having trip of :) I am sick of shoveling too, and I am very glad the recent one just brought winds and rain in Baltimore/DC (sorry for people in Philly and New England). You have provided a great insight on how different geography are (or will be) dealing with the effects of climate change. The climate change hurts those people more because they have immediate exposure to it (like few examples that you cited), but more importantly they also seem to be incapable institutionally of dealing with any abrupt climate changes. On side note: Water table has very less to do with Load Shedding in Kathmandu. It's the lack of foresight by the policy makers. As the population grows coupled with economic growth, people now have different gadgets to consume energy. I still remember how my parents in Kathmandu used firewood for cooking, that's changed now. People have more "basic" electronic stuffs that they never had before (primarily thanks to cheaper electronic goods from Tibet). The ratio of consumption Vs the new energy production graph does not look very good. The river might have dried too, but the "policy makers" should take lot more heat for it, not Mother Nature.

Submitted by Joe Qian on
Thank you for your comment Vivi. There seem to be more skeptics here than in most other places I've been, we'll keep my opinions of Palin for another day.

Submitted by Joe Qian on
Thank you for your insightful outlook and sharing your research on Bangladesh, which is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change along with the Maldives in South Asia. I believe that a globally scaled response is necessary and overdue, as individual, we can only do our best to minimize our carbon footprint.

Submitted by Joe Qian on
Hi Prajwol. Thank you for following and commenting on our entries, your insight and perspectives are much appreciated. The snow is something new for me as I've lived in Florida most of my life. It's interesting that you bring up load shedding in Kathmandu as blackouts seemed to be typically blamed on the water table instead of capacity constraints. I hope that World Bank support can assist in alleviating some of these challenges. Nepal Power Development Project: http://web.worldbank.org/external/projects/main?Projectid=P043311&theSitePK=40941&pagePK=64283627&menuPK=228424&piPK=73230 Energy Crisis Management Action Plan http://www.worldbank.org.np/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/SOUTHASIAEXT/NEPALEXTN/0,,print:Y~isCURL:Y~contentMDK:22217210~menuPK:286955~pagePK:2865066~piPK:2865079~theSitePK:223555,00.html Best, Joe

Submitted by Prajwol on
Hi Joe, I moved to Maryland 15 months ago from Louisiana, so I can somewhat understand how you feel about the snow :) Coming back to the electricity issue in Nepal, I am commenting based on a layman perspective not based on scientific studies; so my comments might not be an accurate representation. I had left Nepal almost seven years ago, when the problem of load shedding was still evident, but not as chronic as now. During my life time, I saw how we started from 24x7 electricity to certain hours of load shedding; and now load shedding hours are more than electricity availability hours. I remember we just had a radio, couple of bulbs at our house, and we lived in Putalisadak (like a Downtown in Kathmandu) not in some remote area. Now my house has almost all basic electronic gadgets that you get in US homes. The population growth is not helping either. Almost all of the electricity in Nepal is generated from Hydropower (over 90%). All are from flowing waters, except one (at Kulekhani) which is a reservoir based system. I can't dispute the water table drying the flowing water as I don't have scientific data to back it up, but I can get away without scientific data to suggest that we lack energy production. When I was a small kid, it was less than 300 MW of total electricity production in Nepal, and today it is about 600 MW. Nepal has a population growth of 1.28%, and the current population is almost 30 million. A total of 600 MW to 30 million people, unfortunately that doesn't add up :( The electricity authority always tries to shun the problem by blaming the water table, that’s true but is just a short term problem (especially during the winter time). But I strongly believe that the "wise" leadership of Nepal should be competent enough to foresee the increased demand and the possible limitations of hydropower structures. But a big big thanks to you for bringing this up and providing us a platform to have a constructive discussion, and also thanks to WB for their continued support to the developing world. I really hope things like these succeed no need to invest on Grids and transmission lines, and get a clean and sustainable energy :) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/18/60minutes/main6221135.shtml?tag=cbsContent;cbsCarousel

Submitted by Joe Qian on
Thank you for sharing your very extensive knowledge on power in Nepal and I'm sorry to hear that power shortages are more extensive. Yes, I was there during the winter so they told us that power cuts were longer and more widespread due to low water tables. I think that's the advantage of having a platform such as the blog, it provides an opportunity for more transparency, information sharing, and opportunities for us to learn from readers who in some cases are more knowledgeable than we are on certain subjects. Maybe you can get in touch with Michael Haney, the Task Team Leader for the Power Development project to see what's in store for power generation in Nepal. His email is Mhaney@worldbank.org. Cheers, Joe

Submitted by Shaky Sherpa on
Hi Joe, Greetings and Namaste!! I want to thank you for sharing this idea of a need to look at the issue of climate change from a global perspective. As a native of Nepal , i must say that the current black out situation in our capital that you noticed is indeed very sad given that we are the land of the Himalayas and one of the richest in fresh water resources of rivers that are mountain fed. Having grown up in the foothills of Everest, I have just begun to realize how the snow clad mountains and glaciers that we Sherpas consider so sacred as a source of our livelihood is interconnected to other parts of the region. With climate change causing glaciers to retreat rapidly it is likely to have immediate threat in the villages downstream as Apa mentioned through glacial lake outburst flooding. Moreover, this rapid melting of snow and glaciers will also have an adverse effect on the availability of water resources for other regions primarily around the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. Having said this, i just want to again reemphasize the point that you mentioned of a need to look at the issue climate change from a global perspective is indeed very integral if we were to collectively work to find solutions to this great challenge that is upon us. Thank you. Best, Shaky Sherpa

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Submitted by real soft on
I think that's the advantage of having a platform such as the blog, it provides an opportunity for more transparency, information sharing, and opportunities for us to learn from readers who in some cases are more knowledgeable than we are on certain subjects.

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