Climate Refugees of Nepal Himalayas


The ancient village of Samzong located inside Mustang district in northwestern Nepal Himalayas, is facing disappearance as acute water shortage for irrigation and livestock in the area is forcing the villagers to consider a future elsewhere.

Samzong had once been the main port connecting the northern Tibetan civilization and the southern Indic neighbors. Cultural records of Samzong date back to 3000 years. Today, Samzong villagers are the Himalaya’s first climate refugees as the entire village is (literally) taking the foundations from their ancestral home to a new location.

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 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 over 10 hours.

During my last visit, May 2013, there was not much to do but to sit around with rest of the village. The villagers joked about how much free time they had now that they do not have to farm for a living. In their free time, the villagers sing local work songs about farming and harvest; one young woman pointed out that she could not relate to these songs anymore because she felt like it was about not about Samzong anymore. As a funny rebuttal, a local 50-year old man started making up lyrics to folk tunes about dry brown fields, water shortage and sitting around with nothing to do.

For the past decade, harvest yields has been dwindling and this past year most of the locals did not even bother to farm. Instead they were waiting for aid from China.

Samzong villagers have decided that their home is no longer habitable and they plan to move by Spring 2014. KAM for SUD, a Swiss NGO that works for sustainable development in Nepal, and Lo-Mustang Foundation, a local NGO, is assisting in the relocation.

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