In this week’s Video of the Week, an automatic weather station (AWS) is installed on Yala Glacier in Nepal, one of the world’s most studied glaciers. In the video shared by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) on October 16, a young researcher, Anushilan Acharya, is identified with the hashtag #girlsonice.
The installation is part of a push by ICIMOD to increase data collection on glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. Of the 54,252 identified glaciers in the HKH, only seven are monitored by ICIMOD researchers. The information is essential to understanding how climate change might affect the region’s water resources.
The weather stations provide data points for glacier monitoring. Last year, GlacierHub reported on a study which found approximately 21 percent of Yala’s annual snowfall was returned to the atmosphere via sublimation, a rate higher than most glaciers on Earth’s tallest mountain ranges.
Fieldwork on Yala is notoriously difficult. The glacier is a four-day hike from the start of the Langtang Valley, which is a day’s drive from Kathmandu. In the sublimation study, an eddy covariance system was installed to measure the rate of snow loss to the atmosphere. The instruments required so much energy to power that the team had to lug a car battery up the glacier to ensure it would have sufficient energy to run during the research.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.