GlacierHub Writer Tsechu Dolma Wins Major Award

GlacierHub Writer Receives Youth Award

Tsechu Dolma at Himalayan grasslands in Nepal
Tsechu Dolma at Himalayan grasslands in Nepal (source: Tsechu Dolma).

The Asia Society recently announced the 2018 class of its Asia 21 Young Leaders program. Among the new awardees is Tsechu Dolma, a former GlacierHub writer.

Dolma’s award highlighted her achievements as the founder of Mountain Resiliency Project. As its name suggests, the NGO works to build climate resilience in vulnerable mountain communities. It focuses on the Himalayan region of Nepal, where economic and political marginalization are compounded by climate change impacts, particularly drought and glacier retreat. The strategy of the organization is to focus on supporting resilience through women’s empowerment in sustainable agricultural enterprises. These include honeybee farms, orchards, and greenhouses, all using locally available materials and drawing on traditional architectural forms and craft skills. They seek as well to promote opportunities for youth, as a way of stemming the outmigration from the region.

Tsechu Dolma during work with UNDP in Colombia
Tsechu Dolma during work with UNDP in Colombia (source: Tsechu Dolma).

Dolma grew up in a Tibetan refugee camp in Kathmandu, Nepal. She and her parents fled political violence in that country, coming to Queens, New York, when she was in her early teens. A graduate of Barnard College and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Dolma has also worked as a natural resource management consultant for the United Nations Development Programme in Latin America and climate change strategist for the Timor Leste Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Environment. She has received a number of other awards, including a Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship, an Echoing Green Fellowship, and a Brower Youth Award, as well as being recognized as one of the Forbes 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs.

Dolma worked as a writer for GlacierHub from 2014 to 2016. As a fluent speaker of Nepali and Tibetan, she conducted a number of interviews with community members and activists in the Himalayas. Her posts addressed challenges created by climate change, including impacts in a small village and the persistence of gender inequality in the Himalayas. She noted social obstacles as well, including policies which limit local engagement in small-scale tourism enterprises. She focused in detail on concrete activities to promote sustainability and social inclusion. One examined the construction of village greenhouses, and another discussed a post-disaster recovery program, which drew on local skills, knowledge and resources, rather than relying on contracting the work of rebuilding to outside firms.

GlacierHub spoke with Dolma about her award. She described what it means to her:

I was born and raised in a refugee camp. I spent the first 19 years of my life as a stateless person, until I became an American. It’s why I am so deeply honored and humbled to be recognized as one of Asia Society’s 21 Young Leaders, an unparalleled network of accomplished young Asian professionals representing the new generation of leaders in government, business, arts, media and the nonprofit sector. Having this level of recognition so early in my career is incredibly emboldening. I am so proud to fight alongside refugees and displaced peoples for equality, dignity and freedom. Leadership is the grit, vision, and communication skills to be a positive and effective steward to our community and environment. It is the tool to address inequities and development gaps, and improve livelihoods.

Asia 21 Young Leaders Program

Tsechu Dolma at community meeting in Nepal
Tsechu Dolma (standing) at community meeting in Nepal (source: IYFNET).

The Asia Society is a global non-profit organization that seeks to address issues of importance for Asia, and to build a deeper understanding of Asia around the world. It has long promoted international awareness of Asian art, and it has worked to advance public discussion of economic and policy issues in Asia. Well known for its architecturally striking headquarters in New York, which houses the Asia Society Museum, it also has centers in Hong Kong and Houston as well, with offices across Asia, the United States, Europe and Australia.

The Asia 21 Young Leaders Program honors professionals under the age of 40 from many different fields who demonstrate leadership and collaborative efforts, at local, national and global levels. This year’s group includes a number of women who are active in fields long dominated by men, including Bulgantuya Khurelbaatar, the deputy finance minister of Mongolia, and Ernestine Fu, an American venture capitalist who draws on her experience in cybersecurity and data science to provide guidance to philanthropic foundations. It also includes activists who work on social justice issues of ethnic discrimination, inclusion of people with disabilities and LGBT rights. Other awardees work on peace-making, poverty reduction and social entrepreneurship.

Sanjeev Sherchan, executive director of the Global Initiatives Group at the Asia Society, also spoke with GlacierHub about Dolma.

GlacierHub: What are the goals of the ASIA 21 Fellows Program?

Sanjeev Sherchan: To build a network of young leaders (under the age of 40) across the Asia Pacific as a way to promote mutual understanding and effective collaboration among the next generation’s most important and influential leaders. This will contribute towards creating a more connected, better integrated Asia-Pacific region with leaders capable of drawing on vital connections to move the region forward, for the betterment of all.

 

GH: How are the fellows nominated and selected?

 The people of Namgyal Village in Upper Mustang with donated tarpaulins in their hand
Tsechu Dolma (middle row, center, in red jacket and white scarf) at meeting in Namgyal Village in Upper Mustang, Nepal (Source: Tsechu Dolma).

SS: Nominations are sent by the Asia 21 Alumni community and Asia Society’s various networks. Selection process goes through two sets of reviews – first, by Asia 21 Secretariat and then, Asia 21 Selection Committee comprised of Asia 21 alumni

A typical Asia 21 Young Leader is someone who embodies the change that he/she wishes to see in the world and strives to create a wildfire of innovative approaches to addressing shared challenges within the region and beyond. Asia 21 Young Leaders endeavor to mobilize his/her counterparts locally, regionally, or globally to take action in affecting change—multiplying the number of people impacted, and extending the reach of Asia 21 through the power of the idea and the power of the people behind it.

 

GH: Are there any ways in which the class of 2018 is distinctive?

SS: The diversity of the expertise and their backgrounds is the distinctive feature of the Class of 2018.  The newest members of the Asia 21 network include activists and visionaries, policymakers and lifesavers, technology entrepreneurs and innovators—all affecting change in their own unique ways.

 

Readers can learn more about Tsechu Dolma and the Mountain Resiliency Project at the project’s website.

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China’s Promotion of Everest Tourism

Mount Everest is the highest peak in the world, sitting at 29,029 feet, roughly 5.5 miles above sea level. Though the south side of Everest is located in Nepal, about 100 miles from Kathmandu, the north side of Everest lies within the Tibet Autonomous Region and is governed by China. Earlier this year, China finished construction on a paved road up to Everest’s north side base camp, bordering on a 14,000 foot elevation gain. This was the first step in a larger commercialization goal for the Chinese in Tibet. China has proposed commercializing the north side of Everest by 2019 in order to make the mountain more accessible, according to China Daily, China’s state-run English-language news site. With this move, China may further divide the Everest region, already struggling from political tensions and significant urbanization. China’s success in this venture will rest on the incorporation of approved standards of environmental, cultural and mountaineering practice.

China opened a new paved road to Mount Everest (Source: Mudanjiang Regional Forum).
China opened a new paved road to Mount Everest (Source: Mudanjiang Regional Forum).

Traditionally, Nepal has been the preferred route to Mt. Everest because of its political stability, slightly warmer climate, less severe elements and helicopter rescue capabilities, as well as government policies that offer access to the site. However, recent issues with overcrowding and growing litter on Everest’s south side has provided China with new opportunities to become more competitive in the mountaineering market, as pointed out by Tsechu Dolma, a Nepali and frequent contributor to GlacierHub. With this recent development, China hopes to bolster the local tourism and mountaineering industry in Tibet, which China claims would have positive impacts on local economies and accessibility. This includes plans for a 84,320 square meter mountaineering center in Gangkar worth $14.7 million (100 million yuan) that would contain hotels, restaurants, a mountaineering museum, a search-and-rescue base and other services.

“These jobs should and would go to locals,” Jamie McGuinness, owner of  the small private trekking firm Project Himalaya, pointed out to GlacierHub, referring to the ethnic Tibetan population of the region. “With the approximate 5,000 meter altitude, other ethnic groups cannot handle living there. Initially, it could be that some of the locals would lose some business briefly; however, over time more income would be generated for everyone.”

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Everest base camp, Nepal (Source: Hendrik Terbeck/Creative Commons).

Increasing search-and-rescue capabilities would also help to reduce risks notorious to the mountain. Summiting attempts cater to a very small portion of the population capable of extreme athleticism. Despite climbers’ skill, Everest attempts still pose a great risk to all involved; in the case of Nepal, the local Sherpas  face higher risks due to increased exposure and the pressures associated with route preparation. Having an established mountaineering center could prove beneficial to tourists, and perhaps to guides as well, if the north side of Everest becomes the more preferred route for summiting attempts. Climbing risks can be reduced by having well-funded search-and-rescue teams. This might help reduce the risk of tragedies like the one in 2014 when an ice avalanche from the Khumbu glacier in Nepal claimed the lives of 16 Sherpas.

Having spent the last 25 years trekking through the Himalayas, McGuinness says, “Nepal is lucky that so many expeditions still climb from the obviously more dangerous icefall route, the price of which is roll-of-the-dice deaths. Climbing Everest from the north is significantly less dangerous, and the day of reckoning is coming within the next few years.” The switch needs to happen, McGuinness added, but whether Sherpas and guides climb from the north or from the south, they will still get paid.

Khumbu Glacier
Khumbu Glacier, Nepal (Source: Mahatma4711/ Creative Commons).

As climates continue to change, increased temperatures experienced in Nepal could expand dangers posed to climbers and the Sherpa guides. The Khumbu Glacier regularly releases large,  deadly ice chunks, which fall along climbing routes. The 2014 ice avalanche that killed the 16 Sherpas had a mass that was the size of a ten-story building. The Khumbu Glacier greatly increases the risks from summiting in Nepal, and these risks may only increase as climates continue to shift.

As McGuinness suggests, the dangers associated with climbing routes from the south side of Everest may start to become too great, causing a shift in preferred routes to summiting Everest. However, the north side is not without dangers, nor without glaciers. Tibet’s Mount Everest base camp currently sits below the terminal moraine (furthest point of advance of a glacier) of the Rongbuk Glacier. The Rongbuk Glacier is fed by two upper sections, the East Rongbuk Glacier and the West Rongbuk Glacier, which are also affected by climate change. According to McGuinness, these glaciers pose a lower risk for the mountaineers and guides attempting the ascent than the Khumbu Glacier. The establishment of a mountaineering center may make the climbing route more appealing to outside climbers, with increased technologies, improved capabilities to manage waste, and easier access to critical resources.

Rongbuk glacier, Tibet (Source: Gaurav Agrawal)
Rongbuk Glacier, Tibet (Source: Gaurav Agrawal/Creative Commons).

While the creation of a mountaineering center might certainly be beneficial to the mountaineering and tourism industry in the area, this commercialization would need to be considerate of the environment and culture it would be occupying. For Sherpas as for other indigenous communities of the region, the snow-capped peaks and glaciers of Everest are inextricably tied to deep-rooted religious beliefs. For example, before an ascent attempt from the north side, climbers pass Rongbuk Monastery, built in 1909 and currently the highest monastery in the world, home to 30 Buddhist monks and nuns. Largely reduced to rubble during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s,  this site has seen significant rebuilding and restoration in recent decades. Disrespecting the local culture of Tibet could negate the positive impacts China hopes to achieve in the region.

Rongbuk Monastery, Tibet- home to 30 Buddhist monks and nuns. (Source: Göran Höglund)
Rongbuk Monastery, Tibet: home to 30 Buddhist monks and nuns (Source: Göran Höglund/Creative Commons).

China’s ability to respect the values and needs of the Tibetan people would be a positive step to helping heal a complicated history between the two countries. Tensions between China and Tibet have remained high since the 1950s. Large commercial projects could further these animosities by threatening sacred sites that have helped define the local culture of Tibet for centuries. China has the opportunity to work with local communities in Tibet to not only help them build sustainable infrastructure, but also to help improve the lives of the mountain peoples who have otherwise been historically disregarded.

McGuinness comments, “The commercialization of Everest is as inevitable as urbanization. It is a question of managing it with sensitivity and balancing commercial interests against local and environmental interests.” As shown by a recent restriction which China placed on the travel of its citizens to Nepal, geopolitical interests are also likely to be at play.

 

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PhotoFriday: GlacierHub Writer Supports Nepal Recovery

© IOM 2015
© IOM 2015

On April 25, 2015, a catastrophic earthquake rattled Nepal killing over 8000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Areas of Nepal continue to remain unstable as a result of continuous landslides. According to the International Centre of Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu, five out of six critical landslides that blocked rivers since the earthquake are located in Nepal. Hundreds of people died from a landslide in Langtang, which was triggered by the quake. Landslides will easily cause disastrous impacts in local mountain communities who have already suffered from the quake.

© DFID
© DFID

The quake also cracked a huge hydroelectric dam and damaged many others. With the monsoon weeks away, there are growing concerns that heavy rainfall will cause the landslides tobecome even more destructive. Coupled with melting glaciers, intense monsoon rainfall is expected to trigger flooding in a country that’s already broken from the aftershocks of the devastating earthquake.

The government has made little progress in mapping landslide-prone areas, said Bishal Nath Upreti, a retired geology professor and chairman of the Disaster Preparedness Network in Nepal, in Malaymail Online. “It’s very hard to convince the government. They didn’t think it was so important,” Upreti said. “It’s urgent to start now.”

© DFAT
© DFAT

“Donating money to Nepal immediately after the crisis is the easy part”, Tsechu Dolma, a GlacierHub writer, emphasized in a post recently published on NBC News. More importantly, local governments should concentrate on reaching rural families who need fast support, and building long-term strategy for Nepal.

Dolma proposed a three-phase plan to build resilience in Nepal. In the early phase, she strongly recommended channeling funds to trustworthy local organizations, which are capable of providing direct relief in mountain communities. In the middle phase, she believes that reconstructing essential infrastructures, including local schools and hospitals, is extremely important. Lastly, attention should be paid towards developing “grassroots community resilience” to increase Nepal’s adaptive capacity to extreme weathers and disasters.

Here are photographs of Nepal after the earthquake, provided by Tsechu. Read more about her article on NBC News.

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