Posts by tdolma

At the world’s highest battleground, India and Pakistan fight over a glacier

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in All Posts, News, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

At the world’s highest battleground, India and Pakistan fight over a glacier

Spread the News:ShareThe highest battleground in the world is over an un-demarcated glacier in the Himalaya’s Karakoram range. For three decades, India and Pakistan’s military dispute has incuded the militarization and control of Siachen glacier. Amid calls of demilitarization of the area from Pakistan and international actors, the Indian government has vowed to continue supporting the armed troops stationed on Siachen Glacier. With India’s recent general elections, the changing leadership in Indian parliament could directly impact the militarization of Siachen. Siachen Glacier is the second longest glacier outside polar regions. The Indian government has spent the equivalent of $1.3 billion alone on keeping a presence on the glacier, or an estimated $1 million a day to occupy Siachen. While the glacier is an important source of water for both sides, the glacier symbolizes the violent partition and relations of the two countries that have been beleaguered with hostility and suspicion. The conflict between the two powers began after India successfully gained control of the Siachen Glacier in 1984, marking the first time that the barren and inhospitable terrain was militarized. Pakistan claims it lost almost 900 square miles of claimed territory, and attempted several costly and failed missions to reclaim positions there. A cease-fire went into effect in 2003. By then, both sides had lost more than 2,700 personnel, not in combat, but primarily due to frostbite, avalanche and other hazards in this harsh region “Beyond NJ9842: The Siachen Saga“, a new book by Indian journalist, Nitin Gokhale, contains accounts of Indian soldiers on the glacier. The soldiers call Siachen “the toughest call of duty” as survival on the glacier rrequires combating long periods of isolation, struggling to find clean drinking water, living in cramped temporary shelters without electricity and making do with canned food. Working at 17,000 feet above sea level, the soldiers are also exposed to extreme health hazards such as blood clots in lungs, brain, and limbs. Many return home as amputees. At any time, each side has 3,000 troops posted along the glacier. The area is a high priority for both nations; important officials from both India and Pakistan have made official visits to the area. In 2012, 130 Pakistani troops on Siachen died in an avalanche. Since then, Pakistan has been calling for the demilitarization of the region, while India has opposed it and instead called for increased patrolling. Most recently, India’s Minister of Defense, Jitendra Singh, conducted an aerial survey of the entire glacier in February 2014. He promised the best operational preparedness resources for his country’s troops to survive the hostile environment. The outgoing Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, leader of Indian National Congress party, had been pushing to make Siachen “a zone of peace”. Top officials from the Ministry of Defense, however, are keen to keep Siachen well-manned. Over the past three decades, India and Pakistan has had 13 rounds of talks about Siachen. In the last two talks, agreements on demilitarization were nearly reached but ultimately prevented by political interests. The victorious Indian People’s Party in the April-May election has pledged harder stance on dealing with border “enemies” and anti-Indian terrorism. Experts from both sides fear BJP will have harsher crisis management, compared to the Congress Party, leaving an uncertain future for the region as BJP’s Narendra Modi begins his tenure as India’s 15th prime minister. Spread the...

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Afghanistan’s newest national park is bigger than Yellowstone

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in All Posts, Tourism | 0 comments

Afghanistan’s newest national park is bigger than Yellowstone

Spread the News:ShareAmid war-torn Afghanistan, the glaciers that isolated the locals for centuries are now attracting tourists. Earlier this year, officials designated the Wakhan District in the Pamir Mountains as the country’s second national park, bringing more outsiders to the remote region. National parks were first proposed in Afghanistan in the 1960s. However, due to decades of war and political crises, the idea of the parks never came into fruition until 2009, when Band-e Amir was recognized as the first national park. Nearby Tajikistan established a national park in the Pamir Mountains in 1992. The Wakhan District is home to about 15,000 people, most of them ethnic Wakhi or Kyrgyz. It is a 350-kilometrerstrip of land jutting out from north-eastern Afghanistan towards China, bordered by Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south, and surrounded by the Pamir range on all sides. The Wakhi live in the lower highlands, while the Kyrgyz are completely isolated in the high pastures.  Due to its towering glaciers, remoteness and inaccessibility by vehicular transportation, this region has had little to no impact from the Taliban insurgency. The Kyrgyz people in Wakhan practice Ismaili Islam; the women do not wear burqas and are treated as equal to men. The new national park, one quarter larger than Yellowstone, aims to open Wakhan to tourists and regional development, while supporting the locals’ traditional subsistence lifestyle and herding of livestock such as domesticated yaks, sheep, and goats. The locals will co-manage it with the federal government and many will get jobs as rangers, managers and other park personnel. Wakhan has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and life expectancy is a grim 35 years. Poverty is widespread, so tourism has been encouraged to bring much-needed money into the local economy. The area’s tourism industry is in its infancy, but there is much to attract visitors to this part of the world, where cultural traditions and lifestyles have changed little over centuries. Though the introduction of tourism and the end of the region’s isolation may have unanticipated consequence. In nearby Nepal, these changes led to outmigration, particularly among the young. Whether they will have this effect in Wakhan remains to be seen.   Spread the...

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Melting ice threatens to also disappear a small Nepal village

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in All Posts, Communities, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Melting ice threatens to also disappear a small Nepal village

Spread the News:ShareI was growing impatient waiting for the village of Samzong to appear. After spending hours on horseback climbing over several mountain passes at 12,000 feet, my friend then pointed it out to me. I still could not find it. When I looked forward more carefully, I realized that Samzong had been in front of my eyes for an hour now. My eyes missed because it was camouflaged with the stark background of towering Himalayan ranges. I was shocked to see how different it looked from the nearby Nepalese villages. Everything was brown. Samzong has been living a paradoxical existence for the past decade. The village had just welcomed the harvest season with a three-day festival, though there was no harvest to celebrate. This was the growing season and nothing was coming in. No green fields were visible. The ancient village of Samzong, located inside Mustang district in the Himalayas of northwestern Nepal, is facing disappearance as acute water shortage for irrigation and livestock in the area is forcing the villagers to consider a future elsewhere. Nhubine Himal Glacier’s melt is the main source of water for Samzong. Most if not all Nepalese glaciers studied by scientists are shrinking. With rising temperatures, lower snowfall and unpredictable weather patterns, the stream of glacial melt to Samzong has disappeared. The walk to the nearest water source and back takes more than 10 hours. On my journey to Samzong, I spotted several villages because their large green fields stood out sharply against the harsh landscape. I could see the people laboring in the fields while the children were shepherding livestock. For these villages, it was the busiest season of the year. However, almost nobody in Samzong ventured out of their houses.  little to no one outside in Samzong. The village had once been the main port connecting the northern Tibetan civilization and the southern Indic neighbors. Cultural records of Samzong date back to 3,000 years. Today, Samzong villagers are the Himalaya’s first climate refugees as the entire village is (quite literally) taking the foundations from their ancestral home to a new location. Samzong villagers have decided that their home is no longer habitable and they plan to move by summer 2014. KAM for SUD, a Swiss NGO that works for sustainable development in Nepal, and Lo-Mustang Foundation, a local NGO, are assisting in the relocation. There was not much to do during my last visit to Samzong in May 2013, but sit around with rest of the villagers. They joked about how much free time they had now that they do not have to farm for a living. The villagers sing local work songs about farming and harvest; one young woman pointed out that she could not relate to these songs, which she had once liked very much, because she felt they were not about Samzong any more. As a funny rebuttal, a local 50-year-old man started making up lyrics to folk tunes about dry brown fields, wat Spread the...

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In a small area of Nepal, it’s China that steps in to give aid

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in All Posts, Communities, News, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

In a small area of Nepal, it’s China that steps in to give aid

Spread the News:ShareEncroaching on its neighbor, China has been building roads and providing grain to Nepal. As most, if not all, Nepalese glaciers studied by scientists are shrinking, traditional ways of subsistence living has become increasingly difficult. With warming, lower snowfall and unpredictable weather patterns, the streams of glacial meltwater that supplies several Himalayan villages have disappeared. For the past decade or so , harvest yields have been dwindling in some Upper Mustang villages due to an acute water shortage. Upper Mustang in northwestern Nepal is surrounded by Tibet to the west, east and north. The region’s main source of water, the Nhumina Himal glacier, is becoming unreliable as some meltwater streams have already dried up. Today, instead of farming, the villagers wait for aid from China. China provides rice, other grains, sugar and salt in aid. In recent years, most Upper Mustang villages have declined the help; they say that the aid products are very low quality. Only a few villages, out of desperation to survive, have to accept aid. Locals claim that their houses are inspected by Chinese officials to make sure that items they do not approve of, such as photos of the Dalai Lama, are taken down before they receive the aid. The Samzong villagers, for example, mentioned that they disdain accepting aid from China. They think that China is using the aid to slowly gain control of the Nepal Himalayas, especially regions like Upper Mustang which were historically part of Tibetan Buddhist culture. “What China is doing to us is exactly what China did to Tibet pre-1959,” said one 40-year-old woman. “They first come in, pretending to be nice by giving us grains. They pretend that they are building us roads for our welfare. These are all lies. Slowly but surely they are going to gain control of our land and subjugate us to oppression as they did to the Tibetans. The Nepali government is not going to defend us because they are accepting bribes from China too.” The Chinese infrastructural influence is already present in Upper Mustang. Because there is no road from the low-lying Nepali districts to the district, most of the goods and services are brought from China, including motorcycles, soft drinks and chocolate. The Chinese are currently funding a road to connect Upper Mustang, expected to be complete by 2015. The Nepali government’s development efforts have long been absent in this region. Last December, China announced that it will be increasing aid to Nepal with the condition that anti-China activities are removed and fleeing Tibetan refugees are returned to China. As nearby glaciers were used in 1960s-70s by the Tibetan Resistance Army as refuges from which they carried  out covert guerrilla actions against   Chinese army units, Upper Mustang is of special interest to China. For those in Upper Mustang, fear comes from not just the melting glacial ice, but their neighbor to the north. Spread the...

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Documentary “Snows of the Nile’ tracks disappearing Uganda glaciers

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in All Posts, Art/Culture | 1 comment

Documentary “Snows of the Nile’ tracks disappearing Uganda glaciers

Spread the News:Share Glaciers are melting everywhere, but none so much as the rare equatorial ones that lie on the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda in east Africa. The new documentary Snows of the Nile follows Neil Losin and Nate Dappen, two scientists and photographers whose ambitious expedition is to return to the original sites documented in  historical glacier photographs from the Uganda’s glaciers, the Rwenzoris. Retracing the steps of the Duke of Abruzzi’s legendary 1906 ascent, the images bear witness to a century of climate change. Losin and Dappen, who won a “Stay Thirsty Grant” from Dos Equis (yes, the beer), produced, filmed and edited the documentary. Uganda’s glaciers, at the heart of Africa, are expected to completely disappear in a decade or two. The Bakonjo people call the Rwenzoris home. They rely on the glaciers not only as a source for water but also as an attraction that generates tourism revenue. Rapid deglaciation results in reduced access to water in rural areas. Women now have to walk longer distances to get water from rivers, lakes and wells, and there is no guarantee that the new sources of water are as clean as the glacial meltwater. Moreover, reduced water availability deepens frequent and prolonged droughts; food security is affected, as rural farmers heavily depend on rain for their crops. Deglaciation also results in a decline of mountain tourism, which leads men to travel long distances in the search for jobs. Moreover, the receding glaciers now contribute less to water flow in the Nyamwamba River, leading to noticeable declines in hydroelectric power. A group of researchers from a Ugandan university and international organizations just returning from the Rwenzories have predicted the glaciers there may cease to exist in two decades, possibly as early as the mid-2020s, following an expedition to the mountains named the Doomed Glaciers of Africa expedition. Studies have shown that from 1906 to 2003, the area covered by glaciers has reduced from 7.5 square kilometers to less than 1 square kilometer -a small fraction of the original area. Snows of the Nile and the researchers highlight the fragility of an equatorial glacier, in which all the ice in an the entire mountain range is disappearing. As is the case around the world, the future of the communities who rely on the glacial melt remains uncertain. Snows of the Nile is available on iTunes and Vimeo. Spread the...

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