Melting ice threatens to also disappear a small Nepal village

Upper Mustang village of Ghami (Tsechu Dolma/GlacierHub)
Upper Mustang village of Ghami (Tsechu Dolma/GlacierHub)

I 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.

Upper Mustang village of Samong (Tsechu Dolma/GlacierHub)
Upper Mustang village of Samong (Tsechu Dolma/GlacierHub)

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

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

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tigermuse/5115870612/in/photostream/
Villages in Nepal’s Upper Mustang are receiving support from an unlikely source: China. (Manfred Lentz/Flickr)

Encroaching 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.

Documentary “Snows of the Nile’ tracks disappearing Uganda glaciers

Snows of the Nile

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.

Rongbuk Mountains

https://www.flickr.com/photos/22596675@N05/10539935903/
Prayer flag with sunset (dotstone/Flickr)

Growing up in exile and spending a majority of my life as a stateless refugee, I tried to deconstruct my identity through asking my parents about their experiences and stories. My mother was crucial in shaping my identity.

Her stories always revolved around the Rongbuk Glacier. She was born raised in the shadows of the Rongbuk Glacier in southern Tibet. Many high peaks fall near the Rongbuk Glacier, the most famous one is Mount Everest. During her teenage years in Tibet, in the 1950s, she met the first few foreigners in her little town of Dingri, trying to visit/scale Mt. Everest. She could not understand why anyone would want to climb up the mountains and risk disturbing the mountain spirits. For her Rongbuk Glacier was sacred in that it had very powerful spirits and she would go up to Rongbuk monastery every year to make offerings to the mountain spirits.

After the 1959 Chinese occupation of Tibet, along with her family, she fled to exile through Lhalung Pass which is also part of Rongbuk. While the glacier is dangerous to the refugees fleeing, my mother always mentions how she felt safer under the glacier’s cloak then she does in the plains of Nepal and India.

After reaching Nepal, she spent the 1960s working as a porter near the Everest base camp. At that point, it was comforting for her to understand that her home was just behind Rongbuk and that she was now experiencing it from the other end.

Arriving in Kathmandu in her twenties, when people asked her where she was from, she would not respond by saying Tibet, due to political reasons. She would always respond as being from the Rongbuk mountains.

Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/h4nVJP

Climate Refugees of Nepal Himalayas

Nepal

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.