Greenhouses bring hope to vulnerable mountain communities in Nepal

Growing up in a Tibetan refugee camp in Nepal, I vividly remember how food insecurity impacted our everyday lives. Floods, droughts, and landslides would immediately determine what we ate. We ate high carb with little nutritional value when things got really bad. I dreaded those days. I looked forward to the rare days when we had lots of vegetables. As a result, many in my community grew up malnourished. But things started changing once my mother started growing vegetables using plastic covering in small spaces. A small change, which shifted the trajectory of my four siblings and my life.

That was my first exposure to improvised greenhouses. It has stayed with me all these years and now the need for it is only growing. Due to climate change, climate-induced disasters are a daily reality in Nepal and food insecurity is rampant. Nepal is climate disaster vulnerable and projected to import more food.

This past growing season my nonprofit organization, Mountain Resiliency Project, with funding from American Jewish World Services, has been working on building greenhouses with our community partner, Himalayan Community Committee, in Langtang valley, Nepal.

Kimjung glacier inches from Kyangjin Gumba, Langtang (3870m asl). The above glacier had also released an air-snow blast avalanche that blew off all standing homes nearby. (Source: Tsechu Dolma)
Kimjung glacier inches from Kyangjin Gumba, Langtang (3870m asl). The above glacier had also released an air-snow blast avalanche that blew off all standing homes nearby. (Source: Tsechu Dolma)

In the past, I have led greenhouse projects in Tibet, Mustang and Baglung. These are high altitude communities that were directly being impacted by climate change. The greenhouses provided protection from extreme and erratic precipitation. And they support growing a diverse range of vegetables that would not survive outside in high altitude climate.

High peaks surround Langtang valley, villages inches away from glaciers, with the Tibetan Plateau bordering north and east. Langtangpas are people of Tibetan descent. The nearest road is three days of strenuous hike away. The April 2015 earthquake broke off a hanging glacier above Langtang village and caused an air-snow blast that hit and broke free rock and ice that came down 1000m and buried the village. Some scholars believe climate change has increased hanging glaciers and rock falls in the region.

Lakchung Tamang, 61, with his home in Mundu, Langtang (3500m asl) destroyed by the April 2016 Nepal earthquake. He lost 12 immediate family members, son, daughter, son-in law, daughter-in-law and 5 grandchildren. (Source: Tsechu Dolma).
Lakchung Tamang, 61, with his home in Mundu, Langtang (3500m asl) destroyed by the April 2016 Nepal earthquake. He lost 12 immediate family members, son, daughter, son-in law, daughter-in-law and 5 grandchildren. (Source: Tsechu Dolma)

The Langtang survivors of 160 households were relocated to a temporary shelter in Kathmandu. My colleague, Chhime Renzin Tamang, 21, a native Langtangpa, shared his grievance of losing 12 members in his immediate family. We brainstormed ideas of how to rebuild lives and I proposed building greenhouses. There had been a few greenhouses in the area before but the avalanches had wiped them away.

After all the pain and loss, it was difficult convincing families to think about farming. Many had just sowed their seeds before the catastrophic earthquake. They were in the fields preparing for a growing season when tragedy hit.

Tharchen Tamang, 62, and Lakchung Tamang, 61, with author in their home in Mundu, Langtang. (Source: Tsechu Dolma).
Tharchen Tamang, 62, and Lakchung Tamang, 61, with author in their home in Mundu, Langtang. (Source: Tsechu Dolma)

 “After the earthquake, our small field was covered by heavy landslides and it had hardened, since we spent a year without cultivating the fields. We have to carry in our food from a town three days walk away; it is very expensive and strenuous. How can we survive like this?” questioned Tharchen Tamang, 62, of Mundu, Langtang.

When I asked Chhime’s mother about rebuilding, she responded: “Everything my family had worked towards has been wiped out. I lost my eldest son, his whole family, my eldest daughter, and her whole family, too. Twelve members. How can we restart our lives again at this old age?” – Tharchen Tamang, 62, of Mundu, Langtang.

Tharchen Tamang, 62, starting to sow her family greenhouse in Mundu, which sits at 3500m above sea level. (Source: Chhime Tamang).
Tharchen Tamang, 62, starting to sow her family greenhouse in Mundu, which sits at 3500m above sea level. (Source: Chhime Tamang)

We provided psychosocial counseling with strong Tibetan Buddhist influences to mentally prepare the families for rebuilding. Together with the villagers and local leadership, Tempa Lama, president of the local Langtang Reconstruction Management Committee, our greenhouse project was welcomed.

“It has been a year and the government still hasn’t delivered its promise on rebuilding. The greenhouses are being built before the houses. We have stomachs to fill! It’s a sign of hope and a new future for Langtang,” as said Tempa Lama, a local leader.

Langtang community members volunteering at the greenhouse construction. (Source: Chhime Tamang).
Langtang community members volunteering at the greenhouse construction. (Source: Chhime Tamang)

My hope and Chhime’s hope for greenhouses is to fortify our local food system, expand local ownership and enhance community resiliency. It is a small project, compared to larger development projects, but it is a viable opportunity that makes a huge impact in our community. The same impact it made on my upbringing.

“The greenhouse is now our main source of food.  The food grown from my greenhouse is directly feeding my family and my community members who are helping me rebuild my home. I am growing onion, watercress, mustard greens, cabbage, chili, garlic, squashes and celery.  We can rebuild our lives again,” as said Lakchung Tamang.


Nuns in Nepal Rebuild Sustainably

Two hundred nuns sleeping under one big blue tarp. (Photo: Tsechu Dolma)

For more than eight months I have been working on a project to help restore a remote mountaintop Tibetan nunnery in Nepal, which was devastated by the earthquake last year. These activities draw directly on the religious traditions of the nuns and on indigenous building practices of the region.

Four days after the earthquake on April 25, 2015, I took a private rescue flight to Bakhang, Sindhupalchowk district in Nepal. I found a ghostly landscape of flattened and damaged buildings.  The earthquake killed one nun and left all the others, about 200 in all, homeless. Thirty of them were seriously injured.  All the nunnery houses—which had been hand-built by the nuns—were destroyed. Sixty-four residents of nearby villages were also killed. In this rugged landscape, with glaciated mountains reaching over 5000 meters in elevation, active landslides created additional damage.

Construction of the model home using containment reinforcement with wires. Local Sherpa masons and carpenters were hired and trained. (Photo: Tsechu Dolma)

The conditions were extremely difficult. Two hundred of us slept under one large blue tarp. Many nuns kept crying, mourning the dead and expressing great distress. Moving out from the shells of their homes created a spiritual crisis for the nuns, because they felt they violated their faith; according to Buddhist beliefs, it is not permitted to leave in the middle of spiritual practice, even in the face of a disaster like a fire or a flood.

I was soon joined by my colleague from the Mountain Resiliency Project, a social enterprise dedicated to strengthening remote mountain communities in Nepal, and by others from the Hunnarshala Foundation and the Tibet Fund. We stayed for three weeks, providing psychosocial counseling to the nuns and assisting them with the first steps of the recovery. During that time, we did not receive any assistance from any government or international aid group. The members of our Tibetan and Sherpa communities in Kathmandu were the first to mobilize support. To date, more than half of the funds we have gathered are individual donations from within our community. American Jewish World Services, a non-sectarian humanitarian and emergency relief non-profit organization, has granted also $287,000 to our rehabilitation effort.

Tibetans face difficulties in seeking help from the Nepali government, since they are largely refugees who lack legal documents. As refugees, they were also cut off from their families. The majority of the nuns come from my mother’s home district in southern Tibet, Dingri, the northern base of Mt. Everest. Many of them are my relatives. The nunnery itself is less than a day’s walk from the border between Nepal and Tibet, five to seven days’ walk to Dingri. The nunnery is located high on a mountain, a day’s walk from the nearest road. Where cars cannot travel, mountain people journey on foot. The nunnery has sheltered many Tibetan refugees who fled Chinese occupation to exile in India.

3D image of the design and construction of a home. (Image: Hunnarshala Foundation)

The nuns were sent by their parents to Nepal at early ages— typically in their teens— because of the lack of prospects for them in Tibet. Their average age is now around 38.  Isolated from their relatives for decades, they lack familial support systems. Nonetheless, their childhood memories of home and strong cultural ties are central to their lives. In recognition of this identity and affiliation, our team emphasized the importance of reconstruction with a strong inclusion of traditional Tibetan building techniques while also incorporating techniques to make the buildings resilient in the face of earthquakes. This team included the Mountain Resiliency Project, along with the Hunnarshala Foundation and the Tibet Fund, and a local service society that supports the nunnery.

“Many people in Nepal are lulled into this false sense of security with reinforced cement buildings and put off natural building materials as poor man’s resources. However, if another big earthquake hits the region, the cement homes will cause devastation of catastrophic measures,” Mahavir Acharya, Managing Director at Hunnarshala Foundation, stated.

At present, we are building a nunnery that will house up to 207 women. It is made of 99 percent naturally-sourced, sustainably-acquired and locally-available resources. Each home is built with stone masonry mud mortar that is held with thin wire extended from foundation to ceiling and wrapped around the house. This process creates reinforcement. We started in January, and with a completed model house and dug foundations, we plan to finish 40 houses per month.

Nuns digging mud clay to use for their home construction. (Photo: Tsechu Dolma)

Initially, I was very worried about how to make sure the nuns were at the forefront of the decision-making. At the Mountain Resiliency Project, we spent many hours leading small focus groups and having individual conversations to make sure the nuns understood the importance of their voices and leadership. As the project developed and construction started, the nuns spontaneously emerged forward. The nuns are leading the building process as they have been salvaging wood and stones from fallen homes. They have also been digging clay mud 10 hours a day, seven days a week, with the hope that they can return home and resume their spiritual practices as soon as possible.

Tibetans have unique, traditional construction songs that date back centuries. There are songs and dances specific to every stage of construction, from excavating the planned building area to pounding the mud on roofs. Currently, the nuns are singing earth excavation songs that are filled with messages of hope and determination to rebuild.

༄༄ས་འདི་ཁྱེམ་གོ་གང་ལ་ སྒྲུབ་པའི་ལྷ་ཁང་བཞིང་ཡོད་།

On this very earth we are consecrating a religious home

ལྷ་ཁང་ནང་དུ་བཞུགས་མཁན་ སྐྱབས་མགོན་ཡིད་བཞིན་ནོར་བུ་།

Inside the home lives the Great Protector Wish-fulfilling Gem

སྐྱབས་མགོན་ཡིད་བཞིན་ནོར་བུ་ འགྲོ་བ་ཡོངས་ཀྱིས་སྐྱབས་གནས་།

The Great Protector Wish-fulfilling Gem is the protector for all beings

ཁྱེད་ཀྱི་གཟི་བརྗིད་འོད་ཟེར་ བོད་མི་ཡོངས་ལ་ཁྱབས་ཡོད་།

Your rays of brilliance has spread to all Tibetans

During my most recent trip to the nunnery, nuns were starting to put small religious materials in the foundations of their homes, a traditional practice blessing the building. One of my nun relatives told me, “This is a start of a new beginning with traditional aspects for us. This type of construction work almost feels like being back in our motherland [Tibet]. We are the first mass permanent housing project [post-earthquake] to start in Sindhupalchowk and hopefully the region can use us as an example of sustainable and resilient building.”

Many of the hired masons and carpenters from nearby villages are also directly learning from the nunnery construction. Bal Bahadur, a local hired mason for the nunnery, told me “We are waiting to build our permanent homes after the nunnery not only because our salary here pays for our houses, but also because this type of natural technology seems very feasible and resilient.”

For now the nuns are laboring hard and singing, feeling a closer connection to a sense of home. Knowingly or unknowingly, the Bakhang nuns are setting a model of inclusive rehabilitation unprecedented in our community. As a Tibetan woman myself, I find it deeply heartening.

Photo Friday: A Visit To Amdo, Tibet

Khashem Gyal is a photographer who recently documented residents of Amdo, Tibet, located in the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau in the series included here. Amdo’s glaciers are the source of Asia’s major rivers including the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong rivers. Gyal is one of the core members of Plateau Photographers, a participatory multimedia project that trains “ethnic minority” students on the Tibetan Plateau in digital storytelling and culture documentation.

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Plateau Photographers’ three-part mission is to train members in still photography and video capture, culture documentation, visual storytelling, and multimedia technology skills, to disseminate locally-generated media in Plateau communities, and to present information and knowledge about Plateau communities to a larger audience.

Khashem Gyal graduated from Qinghai Nationalities University with a major in Tibetan Literature. Aside from his work with Plateau Photographers, he is founder of the Amilolo Film Group, dedicated to educating young Tibetans about digital video production and encouraging a new generation of Tibetan filmmakers. Khashem Gyal has directed numerous short films about Tibetan life and culture. Valley of the Heroes is his first full-length documentary film.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at

India PM Modi Visits World’s Highest Battleground

On October 23, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Siachen Glacier lauding the Indian soldiers based there. Modi tweeted “From the icy heights of the Siachen Glacier and with the brave jawans and officers of the armed forces, I wish all of you a happy Diwali.”

The Indian soldiers are based in heights of 22,000 ft above sea level on the Siachen Glacier. Both sides have lost thousands of personnel, not in combat, but primarily due to frostbite, avalanche and other hazards in this harsh region. Read more on the India Pakistan dispute of Siachen Glacier here.
India and Pakistan have thousands of troops stationed on the Siachen glacier. (Prashant Panjiar/BBC)

Modi’s visit to Siachen Glacier was right after the two sides exchanged gunfire and the 2003 ceasefire was violated. Just this past month, intense gunfire exchange in Kashmir cost 20 civilian lives and wounded dozens. Media interpreted Modi’s Siachen Glacier visit as a message for Pakistan that the status of the disputed border areas is “non-negotiable”.

Diwali is, the “festival of lights”, the largest South Asian holiday of Hindu origins, celebrating the victory of light over darkness. Happy Diwali!

Hundreds of Millions of South Asians At Risk from Glacier Melt

A roadside market along the way from Kabul to Mazer-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. Hundreds of millions of people in countries near the Hindu Kush mountain range are affected by glacial melt. (Susan Novak/Flickr)
A roadside market along the way from Kabul to Mazer-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. Hundreds of millions of people in countries near the Hindu Kush mountain range are at risk from glacial melt. (Susan Novak/Flickr)

Few regions on Earth depend as heavily on glaciers for food, energy and water as South Asia’s Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem. A new research paper in the journal Environmental Science and Policy highlights some of the challenges downstream communities face when glacier water from upstream communities becomes scarce.

The greater South Asian region accounts for two-thirds of the world’s population and consumes roughly 60 percent of the planet’s water. Hundreds of millions of people in South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh depend on the Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem for direct and indirect sustenance.

“The Hindu Kush Himalayan mountain system is often called the ‘third pole’ or ‘water tower of Asia’ because it contains the largest area of glaciers and permafrost and the largest freshwater resources outside the North and South poles,” wrote lead researcher Golam Rasul in the May 2014 paper. “Food, water, and energy security in South Asia: A nexus perspective from the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.”

The Hindu Kush range extends some 800 kilometers in a northeast-to-southwest direction from the Pamir Mountains near the Pakistan-China border, through Pakistan, and into western Afghanistan. This 1879 map shows the passes between Kabul and Oxus. (Royal Geographical Society/Wikimedia Commons)
The Hindu Kush range extends some 800 kilometers in a northeast-to-southwest direction from the Pamir Mountains near the Pakistan-China border, through Pakistan, and into western Afghanistan. This 1879 map shows the passes between Kabul and Oxus. (Royal Geographical Society/Wikimedia Commons)

Rasul, the head of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s Economic Analysis division, said the best approach to the situation is a nexus approach. In other words, equal attention must be paid to watersheds, catchments, river system headwaters and hydropower.

The mountainous area is home to tens of thousands of glaciers whose water reserves are equivalent to around three times the annual precipitation over the entire regions. These glaciers – a study from International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development put the number at 54,000 – are a crucial component of the region’s ecosystem, and in many ways central to providing energy, food and water to the glacier communities and those downstream.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem is under threat from unsustainable resource use. Rapid population growth, increased urbanization, and increased commercial activity are driving increasing pressure on ecosystem services, as higher demand for energy and resource intensive goods are met with little regard for sustainable resource use.

(<a href="">Meandering Mammal/Flickr)
The glaciers of the Hindu Kush mountain range are heavily relied on for water, food, energy, and more. A new study says hundreds of millions of people are at risk from the glaciers melting. ()

Rasul notes that reversing this trend is inherently difficult, given that mountain communities bear the cost of conservation, but receive only a few of the benefits due to “a lack of institutional mechanisms and policy arrangements for sharing the benefits and costs of conservation.”

In order to maximize benefits to upstream and downstream communities, the authors say a nexus approach that looks to understand the interdependencies of food, water, and energy, can maximize synergies and manage trade-offs. As the water intensity of food and energy production increases, the recognition of the role of glaciers and other hydrological resources in the Hindu Kush Himalayan ecosystem will be vital in promoting its sustainable use.


Climate change worsens gender inequality in the Himalayas

A woman in Pothala, Nepal, enjoys the view of terraced rice fields, whose potential ecosystem services include groundwater recharge and flood and erosion mitigation.  Climate change in the Himalayas has affected women more disproportionally than men. (Bas Bouman/IRRI Photos/Flickr)BAS BOUMAN
A woman in Pothala, Nepal, enjoys the view of terraced rice fields, whose potential ecosystem services include groundwater recharge and flood and erosion mitigation. Climate change in the Himalayas has affected women more disproportionally than men. (Bas Bouman/IRRI Photos/Flickr)BAS BOUMAN

In the Himalayas, when a flash flood rips through a village or when a glacial lake flood outburst wipes one out entirely, surviving families relocate to new settlements, where women are often burdened with more labor and kept away from school, or sent off to an early marriage. Climate impacts have made gender and ethnic inequality more acute in terms of access to education, health care and food security.

Men have more opportunities for wage labor and better access to government services. Some women can obtain resources for themselves and for their children through the men they have ties to, but that dependence can leave them in an unfavorable position. Other women are left with little or no possibility of mobilizing ties to men to obtain resources.

Activists with the ACHA Himalayan Sisterhood walk in the People's Climate March on September 21 in New York City. (photo: Tsechu Dolma)
Activists with the ACHA Himalayan Sisterhood walk in the People’s Climate March on September 21 in New York City. (photo: Tsechu Dolma)

At the People’s Climate March on Sunday, the Himalayan women of New York marched in solidarity with women who are affected by climate change. Himalayan communities from the Tibetan Plateau to the South Asian plains have firsthand experience of the adverse impact of climate change, including flash floods, reduced water access and erratic weather patterns.

ACHA Himalayan Sisterhood, an emerging international network of Himalayan women working towards women empowering women in creating safe, supportive space for all, presented demands for climate justice. The Himalayan women called for immediate expansion of resources to build climate resilience through domestic and international policies that rest on local control of land and other resources.

Woman farmer gathering harvested rice after drying in the field for three days. (Sajal Sthapit/Flickr)
Woman farmer gathering harvested rice after drying in the field for three days. (Sajal Sthapit/Flickr)

Women are at the center of climate change impact as they are disproportionally impacted. In mountain communities and rural villages around the world, women are the ones who collect water, firewood and other resources to feed families. This August, torrential rainfall in Nepal led to flash floods and mudslides which claimed more than 180 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands. Events such as this recur often, and are becoming more frequent as climate change progresses.

Himalayan communities must deal with flash floods, reduced water access and erratic weather patterns as a result of climate change. (Tsechu Dolma)
Himalayan communities must deal with flash floods, reduced water access and erratic weather patterns as a result of climate change. (Tsechu Dolma)

In Kyrgyzstan, not all glacier lakes are monitored equally
Two people riding horse in Ala Archa National Park, about 40km south of Kyrgystan’s capital Bishkek. Glacier lake levels in the mountains surrounding the city are monitored by the government, especially considering that lake outbursts are on the rise. (Thomas Depenbusch/Flickr)

As the temperature rises and glacial lakes grow, the Kyrgyzstan government is monitoring some glaciers while neglecting others.

Kyrgyzstani officials are closely studying the 18 growing glacial lakes on the Adygene Glacier to predict glacial hazards. Since these glacial lakes are located above Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, glacial lake outburst floods could potentially flood the valley, endangering a million people.

As glaciers are retreating, glacial lakes are growing and forming. This poses the risk of a glacial lake outburst, a kind of megaflood that occurs when dams holding back glacier lakes fail. Incidences of glacial lake outbursts are increasing. In 2007, the United Nations Environment Program classified floods from glacial lakes as the largest and most extensive glacial hazard with the highest potential for disaster.

The rock-dammed Ala-Kul lake in the Terskey Alatau mountains. (Evgeni Zotov/Flickr)
The rock-dammed Ala-Kul lake in the Terskey Alatau mountains. Floods from glacial lakes are the largest glacier-related disaster.(Evgeni Zotov/Flickr)

An additional threat comes from the underground ice plugs that dam these lakes. These plugs thaw slowly, feeding water into the Ala-Archa River. But a sudden melting could create an outburst of water and develop into a large, destructive mudslide and debris flow.

In recent history, glacial lake outbursts have already impacted Central Asia. In 1998, one such event claimed more than a hundred lives in Batken Province in western Kyrgyzstan. In 2002, an outburst at Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains claimed 23 lives. In both cases, early warnings of floods were not available. If a similar disaster occurred on the Adygene Glacier, many thousands of lives could be claimed, since the capital downstream is densely populated.

Today, the Kyrgyzstani government is closely monitoring the glacial lakes above Bishkek and preparing organized emergency plans for evacuation. The government has allocated $15 million to build a drainage channel and automatic monitoring stations. When the sensors detect a critical increase in the water level, they trigger alarms in the valley to warn people to flee to safer ground away from the river valley.

Glaciers above the capitol Bishkek are closely monitored in case of flooding. (Jessica Gardner/Flickr)
Glaciers above the capitol Bishkek are closely monitored in case of flooding. A potential flood could endanger a million people. (Jessica Gardner/Flickr)

The government has not allocated resources equally for all hazardous glacial lakes in the country. Officials blame the unequal monitoring on the lack of government funds. In particular, there is no monitoring in the southern province of Osh, which has a population of one million. The province has been scarred with ethnic tension between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Kyrgyz make up 68 percent of the population and Uzbeks account for 30 percent. Over the years, the conflict cost thousands of lives on both sides. After the 2010 Osh riots, Uzbeks have been strategically disenfranchised and internally displaced by the dominant Kyrgyz who dominate the government. Disputes over natural resources, land and water could easily escalate ethnic violence. The lack of preparation for glacial lake outburst floods creates a risk of a disaster that could worsen the existing ethnic tensions.

Glaciologists predict glacial lakes will continue to around the world. Developing monitoring systems for glacial lakes near glacier communities is necessary to prevent massive loss. These initiatives should extent to all communities regardless of their economic, political or ethnic status.

New book measures changes in China’s glaciers
The Number One Glacier in the mountains outside Urumqi, China, the largest glacier in Xinjiang province. The hydrological resources from glaciers like this one drive development in China’s remote northwest province. (Remko Tanis/Flickr)

In far northwestern China, in the province of Xinjiang, the Altai, Pamir, Kunlun, and Karakorum mountain ranges rise massively out of the earth, creating peaks that rival their famous neighbor to the south, the Himalayas. The mountains are home to some 18,000 glaciers, which have sustained the famous steppe nomadic hordes of antiquity with their annual summer melts into the rivers of the arid region.

These hydrological resources are driving the development of this remote province. A chapter from the recent book, Water Resource Research in Northwest China seeks to quantify the changes occurring to glaciers in Xinjiang.

The chapter’s authors, Zhongqin Li, Puyu Wang, and Meiping Sun, conclude that the region’s glaciers are particularly sensitive to climate change and the warming that has occurred over the past three decades. In “Glacier Change and Its Impact on Water Resources”, the researchers write that 11.7 percent of the total area of glaciers has been lost over that time. And with temperatures projected to increase over the next century by 1.2 degrees Celsius to 3.8, glacier loss is expected to accelerate rapidly.

The loss of glaciers in the region is limited in its impact on the region’s water resources (due to an increase in precipitation). Though the area now receives somewhat more rainfall than it did before, it still suffers because of the loss of glaciers. Glacier meltwater had been an important supplement to rainfall during the dry season, and also during years of below-normal rains, but it can no longer perform this role. Hydropower development is also limited because of the decline in meltwater. Paradoxically, the risk of floods has grown, because occasional pulses of meltwater course down streambeds. Other negative impacts include a higher risk of flooding.

Ultimately, the book does little to identify how changes in the region’s water resources will impact economic and social development in Xinjiang. This is particularly important, because this region—poised to experience economic and industrial development—will face increased demand for water resources at the same time that the supply of these resources will be threatened by glacier retreat.

You can find the chapter here.

Privatizing the world’s tallest peaks
A climber hikes in Nepal’s Annapurna Sanctuary (Andrew Miller/Flickr)

While the rise in commercial mountaineering has been generating valuable income for Nepal, it has also resulted in pollution and local disturbance. Now the Nepalese tourism ministry is planning to lease exclusive access to many of its highest mountains to private tourism companies.

The government claims that the privatization of the mountains is necessary so that they can maximize their tourism revenue and the local people can benefit through tourism revenue and new jobs.

Of the nation’s 3,310 mountains, only 310 are currently open to commercial climbing. Around 1,600 peaks in Nepal have never been summited.

Tourism has already been piling trash on the mountains. The problem has escalated so badly that the government has initiated a new regulation for climbers. If climbers return 18 lbs. (6.2 kg) of waste, in addition to their own gear, they get back their $4,000 garbage deposit. Failure to comply with garbage regulations result in loss of future climbing privileges.

Sunrise over Mount Machhapuchchhre, Nepal (Tsechu Dolma/GlacierHub)
Sunrise over Mount Machhapuchchhre, Nepal (Tsechu Dolma/GlacierHub)

Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation generated $3.16 million from Mt. Everest royalties in 2013. Foreign tourists have to pay $500 for 10 days in Upper Mustang, which is managed as part of the Annapurna Conservation Area.

The Nepal’s push for tourism growth has been neglecting regional development at the expense of national development. Despite years of protest, locals receive less than 40 percent of the tourist entry revenues.

Both people who benefit and do not benefit are affected by tourism growth. Locals living near the glaciers express their appreciation of tourists’ expenditures; however, they are conflicted by how the tourist use sacred local areas and disturb the mountain spirits with littering. Most of these areas do not have a waste management system so they face an especially high concentration of toxic substances when tourists discard their plastic wrappers and batteries. Many of these villages burn the waste, which releases toxic polychlorinated byphenyls (PCBs) in the air, exacerbating de-glaciation, which in turn affects local access to water.

There are many questions about how the privatization of glaciers will affect nearby communities, especially since the state-run tourism sector in the Nepal Himalayas has been overridden with corruption. Will privatization of tourism be more sustainable than the earlier state-run tourism? Because privatization creates access to the remotest glacier communities in Nepal, how it will change those areas remains to be seen.



If you build (an artificial glacier), they will come
Oregon’s Mount Hood has seen the decline of three of its glaciers, Flickr/Ken Lund

The concept of geoengineering artificial glaciers is starting to gain traction among glacier communities around the world. Advocates recently hosted a presentation on “Artificial Glaciers in the Northwest”

The presentation, delivered in April 2014 in Hood River, Oregon by Emily Smith and Tom Bennett of Portland State University, discussed the possibility of importing those techniques to the north side of Mount Hood. The mountain has seen the decline of its Eliot, Coe and Langille glaciers, and the presentation organizers hope that the method can offset the loss of those glaciers.

That method was created by Chewang Norphel, a civil engineer in Ladakh, India, who pioneered a way to “grow” glaciers in the Himalayas. A short film about Norphel’s mission to create small glaciers in Nepal, “Beyond Prayer”, shows the retired engineer describing his technique, which relies on the redirection of streams in the winter to cool areas, and constructing breaks to slow the flow of water. The water freezes along the mountain slope at regular intervals. During the winter, an ice sheet covers these frozen pools, creating small, artificial glaciers.
Civil engineer Chewang Norphel created a technique to restore melting glaciers. (Flickr/Kiran Jonnalagadda)

Norphel had the irrigation of villages in mind when he developed the artificial glaciers, so it is unclear if it will be used in Oregon. That low cost geoengineering techniques from Nepal are finding their way to glacier communities of the Pacific Northwest U.S. speaks to the common challenges and threats faced by communities throughout the world, and to the growing awareness within these communities that they can benefit from more contact with each another.



At the world’s highest battleground, India and Pakistan fight over a glacier
India and Pakistan have thousands of troops stationed on the Siachen glacier. (Prashant Panjiar/BBC)

The 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.

Afghanistan’s newest national park is bigger than Yellowstone
The Wakhan District is Afghanistan’s second national park. (Ben Paarman/Flickr)

Amid 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.