Tag Archives: Himalayas

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Nepal wins hearts and minds with biogas boom

Villagers in Nepal are increasingly being persuaded that small biogas installations using human waste to provide fuel are not only desirable but are also helping to reduce deforestation of the Himalayas and carbon emissions. KATHMANDU, 2 July, 2014 − Sunita Bote, a 30-year-old housewife from the small village of Kumroj in eastern Nepal, was far from convinced when energy specialists from the capital city, Kathmandu, talked about the benefits of constructing a small biogas plant near her house. “At first, I shuddered at the thought of connecting my cooking stove with a toilet’s septic tank,” Sunita recalls. But she was eventually persuaded – and now realises the multiple benefits of the biogas system. The plant not only produces enough energy for cooking for her family of seven, it also gets rid of both human and animal waste. “It is no longer seems disgusting to me,” Sunita says. “Instead, it has eased my household chores.” Most of Sunita’s neighbours feel the same way, and Kumroj has now been named by the government as Nepal’s first model biogas village, with more than 80% of households having their own biogas installations.

Frequent blackouts

Nepal, a landlocked country of just over 26 million people, has big energy problems. Its cities and towns, reliant on imported fossil fuels for energy, suffer frequent electricity blackouts due to ageing infrastructure and shortages of funds. With its mountain ranges and many rivers, there is great potential for hydropower, but tight budgets mean there has as yet been little investment in these big, capital-intensive projects. However, the energy outlook is slowly changing. Instead of building big hydropower plants, local groups − helped by NGOs and outside funders − are constructing micro hydro projects all over the country. So far, more than 1,000 such plants have been built. There has also been investment in developing solar power. Meanwhile, thousands of biogas projects are being put in place in backyards and fields throughout the country.

Fuel needs

According to the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), a government agency responsible for promoting renewable energy, there are now more than 300,000 biogas plants providing for the fuel needs of nearly 6% of Nepal’s households. “At first, people were wary about getting energy from their toilet septic tanks,” says Professor Govinda Pokharel, vice-chairman of the government’s National Planning Commission and, until recently, a director of AEPC.

“In some cases, those who installed biogas plants were even ostracised by their neighbours”

“It was human faeces that caused the trouble. People, especially those who were not educated and were living in remote villages, were against the idea of using their faeces for cooking food. In some cases, those who installed biogas plants were even ostracised by their neighbours. But attitudes have changed. When animal dung is mixed with human faeces, greater power is generated.” Traditionally, wood has been the main source of fuel for cooking and heating. But deforestation – with the resulting landslides and floods – has been a big problem.

Trees saved

The Biogas Sector Programme, a Kathmandu-based organisation that promotes the use of biogas, says every biogas plant can save 1.25 trees each year, That means that, due to biogas, nearly 400,000 trees a year throughout the country are saved from being chopped down. Biogas not only replaces wood for fuel, it can also help reduce carbon emissions. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) calculates that a standard biogas plant saves greenhouse gas emissions of between three and five tons each year, compared with other energy sources such as wood. The AEPC says that Nepal, through the use of biogas and by not cutting tree cover, is helping to reduce the country’s overall emissions by more than one million tons a year. “It may not be a huge contribution at the global level, but it is not negligible either,” Prof Pokharel says. There are plans to install at least 26,000 biogas plants around the country each year. “The more we install, the more we save trees,” Prof Pokharel says, “And the saving of each tree is important in combating climate change.” – Climate News Network

 

• Om Astha Rai is a reporter with Nepalese national newspaper, Republica Daily. Follow him on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/omastharai

Villagers in Nepal are increasingly being persuaded that small biogas installations using human waste to provide fuel are not only desirable but are also helping to reduce deforestation of the Himalayas and carbon emissions. KATHMANDU, 2 July, 2014 − Sunita Bote, a 30-year-old housewife from the small village of Kumroj in eastern Nepal, was far from convinced when energy specialists from the capital city, Kathmandu, talked about the benefits of constructing a small biogas plant near her house. “At first, I shuddered at the thought of connecting my cooking stove with a toilet’s septic tank,” Sunita recalls. But she was eventually persuaded – and now realises the multiple benefits of the biogas system. The plant not only produces enough energy for cooking for her family of seven, it also gets rid of both human and animal waste. “It is no longer seems disgusting to me,” Sunita says. “Instead, it has eased my household chores.” Most of Sunita’s neighbours feel the same way, and Kumroj has now been named by the government as Nepal’s first model biogas village, with more than 80% of households having their own biogas installations.

Frequent blackouts

Nepal, a landlocked country of just over 26 million people, has big energy problems. Its cities and towns, reliant on imported fossil fuels for energy, suffer frequent electricity blackouts due to ageing infrastructure and shortages of funds. With its mountain ranges and many rivers, there is great potential for hydropower, but tight budgets mean there has as yet been little investment in these big, capital-intensive projects. However, the energy outlook is slowly changing. Instead of building big hydropower plants, local groups − helped by NGOs and outside funders − are constructing micro hydro projects all over the country. So far, more than 1,000 such plants have been built. There has also been investment in developing solar power. Meanwhile, thousands of biogas projects are being put in place in backyards and fields throughout the country.

Fuel needs

According to the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), a government agency responsible for promoting renewable energy, there are now more than 300,000 biogas plants providing for the fuel needs of nearly 6% of Nepal’s households. “At first, people were wary about getting energy from their toilet septic tanks,” says Professor Govinda Pokharel, vice-chairman of the government’s National Planning Commission and, until recently, a director of AEPC.

“In some cases, those who installed biogas plants were even ostracised by their neighbours”

“It was human faeces that caused the trouble. People, especially those who were not educated and were living in remote villages, were against the idea of using their faeces for cooking food. In some cases, those who installed biogas plants were even ostracised by their neighbours. But attitudes have changed. When animal dung is mixed with human faeces, greater power is generated.” Traditionally, wood has been the main source of fuel for cooking and heating. But deforestation – with the resulting landslides and floods – has been a big problem.

Trees saved

The Biogas Sector Programme, a Kathmandu-based organisation that promotes the use of biogas, says every biogas plant can save 1.25 trees each year, That means that, due to biogas, nearly 400,000 trees a year throughout the country are saved from being chopped down. Biogas not only replaces wood for fuel, it can also help reduce carbon emissions. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) calculates that a standard biogas plant saves greenhouse gas emissions of between three and five tons each year, compared with other energy sources such as wood. The AEPC says that Nepal, through the use of biogas and by not cutting tree cover, is helping to reduce the country’s overall emissions by more than one million tons a year. “It may not be a huge contribution at the global level, but it is not negligible either,” Prof Pokharel says. There are plans to install at least 26,000 biogas plants around the country each year. “The more we install, the more we save trees,” Prof Pokharel says, “And the saving of each tree is important in combating climate change.” – Climate News Network

 

• Om Astha Rai is a reporter with Nepalese national newspaper, Republica Daily. Follow him on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/omastharai

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Soot 'melted Alps glaciers, not heat'

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Alps of central Europe began melting many years before there was any influence from climate change. Scientists now say it was not rising temperatures that triggered the melt, but pollution.

LONDON, 4 September – Scientists think they know why some European glaciers started to shrink decades before climate change had begun to raise temperatures.

It wasn’t warming that attacked the glaciers, they say in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was soot from industry, steam locomotives and domestic fires.

Glaciologists have for years been puzzled by the sudden start in the middle of the 19th century of the retreat of the Alpine glaciers, which number around 4,000.

They had survived in good condition from the 13th century throughout the fairly cool 500-year period called the Little Ice Age. They reached their greatest extent in the mid-1800s, about double what they are now.

But even though it remained cool the glaciers suddenly began shrinking, leading scientists to believe that the Little Ice Age had ended around 1850.

Average global temperatures, though, did not rise significantly – until the end of the 19th century. In fact, Alpine climate records – among the most extensive and reliable in the world  – suggest that the glaciers should have continued to grow for another 50 years or more, until about 1910.

Risk of dirty washing

The scientists acknowledge that other parts of the world may also have been affected, but point out that the decline was well documented only in the Alps.

However, soot is also a big concern in the Himalayas, at high altitudes in some regions bigger than temperature rises. The burgeoning economies of China and India contribute huge amounts.

“Something gnawed on the glaciers that climate records don’t capture,” said Georg Kaser, a glaciologist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and a member of the team that identified black carbon, or soot, as the cause.

“A strong decline in winter snowfall was often assumed to be the culprit. But from all that we know, no such decline occurred.”

Because darker surfaces absorb more heat than lighter, more reflective ones, if enough soot is deposited on snow and ice it can accelerate melting.

Records suggest that by the mid-19th century the air in some Alpine valleys was laden with pollution. “Housewives in Innsbruck refrained from drying laundry outdoors,” says Kaser.

Gone by 2100?

Scientists used to think soot was unlikely to have been carried high enough to start the glaciers melting, but they now appear to have been mistaken.

When Kaser’s team looked at ice cores previously drilled at two sites high in the western Alps – the Colle Gnifetti glacier saddle 4,455 m up on Monte Rosa near the Swiss–Italian border, and the Fiescherhorn glacier at 3,900 m in the Bernese Alps – they found that in around 1860 layers of glacial ice started to contain large amounts of soot.

The team measured the effect the soot would have had on glaciers at the time in terms of  equivalent changes in air temperature. They found that the melting effect of black carbon provided a good explanation of the observed glacier retreat.

Andreas Vieli, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland (who was not involved in the study) said: “…[T]his study offers a very elegant and plausible explanation for the glacier conundrum. It appears that in central Europe soot prematurely stopped the Little Ice Age.”

Only after around 1970, when air quality began to improve, did accelerated climate warming become the dominant driver of Alpine glacier retreat, Kaser says.

He says that if glaciers in the region continue to melt at the rate seen during the past 30 years, there is a risk that nearly all of them will vanish before the end of the century. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Alps of central Europe began melting many years before there was any influence from climate change. Scientists now say it was not rising temperatures that triggered the melt, but pollution.

LONDON, 4 September – Scientists think they know why some European glaciers started to shrink decades before climate change had begun to raise temperatures.

It wasn’t warming that attacked the glaciers, they say in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was soot from industry, steam locomotives and domestic fires.

Glaciologists have for years been puzzled by the sudden start in the middle of the 19th century of the retreat of the Alpine glaciers, which number around 4,000.

They had survived in good condition from the 13th century throughout the fairly cool 500-year period called the Little Ice Age. They reached their greatest extent in the mid-1800s, about double what they are now.

But even though it remained cool the glaciers suddenly began shrinking, leading scientists to believe that the Little Ice Age had ended around 1850.

Average global temperatures, though, did not rise significantly – until the end of the 19th century. In fact, Alpine climate records – among the most extensive and reliable in the world  – suggest that the glaciers should have continued to grow for another 50 years or more, until about 1910.

Risk of dirty washing

The scientists acknowledge that other parts of the world may also have been affected, but point out that the decline was well documented only in the Alps.

However, soot is also a big concern in the Himalayas, at high altitudes in some regions bigger than temperature rises. The burgeoning economies of China and India contribute huge amounts.

“Something gnawed on the glaciers that climate records don’t capture,” said Georg Kaser, a glaciologist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and a member of the team that identified black carbon, or soot, as the cause.

“A strong decline in winter snowfall was often assumed to be the culprit. But from all that we know, no such decline occurred.”

Because darker surfaces absorb more heat than lighter, more reflective ones, if enough soot is deposited on snow and ice it can accelerate melting.

Records suggest that by the mid-19th century the air in some Alpine valleys was laden with pollution. “Housewives in Innsbruck refrained from drying laundry outdoors,” says Kaser.

Gone by 2100?

Scientists used to think soot was unlikely to have been carried high enough to start the glaciers melting, but they now appear to have been mistaken.

When Kaser’s team looked at ice cores previously drilled at two sites high in the western Alps – the Colle Gnifetti glacier saddle 4,455 m up on Monte Rosa near the Swiss–Italian border, and the Fiescherhorn glacier at 3,900 m in the Bernese Alps – they found that in around 1860 layers of glacial ice started to contain large amounts of soot.

The team measured the effect the soot would have had on glaciers at the time in terms of  equivalent changes in air temperature. They found that the melting effect of black carbon provided a good explanation of the observed glacier retreat.

Andreas Vieli, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland (who was not involved in the study) said: “…[T]his study offers a very elegant and plausible explanation for the glacier conundrum. It appears that in central Europe soot prematurely stopped the Little Ice Age.”

Only after around 1970, when air quality began to improve, did accelerated climate warming become the dominant driver of Alpine glacier retreat, Kaser says.

He says that if glaciers in the region continue to melt at the rate seen during the past 30 years, there is a risk that nearly all of them will vanish before the end of the century. – Climate News Network

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Soot ‘melted Alps glaciers, not heat’

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The Alps of central Europe began melting many years before there was any influence from climate change. Scientists now say it was not rising temperatures that triggered the melt, but pollution. LONDON, 4 September – Scientists think they know why some European glaciers started to shrink decades before climate change had begun to raise temperatures. It wasn’t warming that attacked the glaciers, they say in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was soot from industry, steam locomotives and domestic fires. Glaciologists have for years been puzzled by the sudden start in the middle of the 19th century of the retreat of the Alpine glaciers, which number around 4,000. They had survived in good condition from the 13th century throughout the fairly cool 500-year period called the Little Ice Age. They reached their greatest extent in the mid-1800s, about double what they are now. But even though it remained cool the glaciers suddenly began shrinking, leading scientists to believe that the Little Ice Age had ended around 1850. Average global temperatures, though, did not rise significantly – until the end of the 19th century. In fact, Alpine climate records – among the most extensive and reliable in the world  – suggest that the glaciers should have continued to grow for another 50 years or more, until about 1910.

Risk of dirty washing

The scientists acknowledge that other parts of the world may also have been affected, but point out that the decline was well documented only in the Alps. However, soot is also a big concern in the Himalayas, at high altitudes in some regions bigger than temperature rises. The burgeoning economies of China and India contribute huge amounts. “Something gnawed on the glaciers that climate records don’t capture,” said Georg Kaser, a glaciologist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and a member of the team that identified black carbon, or soot, as the cause. “A strong decline in winter snowfall was often assumed to be the culprit. But from all that we know, no such decline occurred.” Because darker surfaces absorb more heat than lighter, more reflective ones, if enough soot is deposited on snow and ice it can accelerate melting. Records suggest that by the mid-19th century the air in some Alpine valleys was laden with pollution. “Housewives in Innsbruck refrained from drying laundry outdoors,” says Kaser.

Gone by 2100?

Scientists used to think soot was unlikely to have been carried high enough to start the glaciers melting, but they now appear to have been mistaken. When Kaser’s team looked at ice cores previously drilled at two sites high in the western Alps – the Colle Gnifetti glacier saddle 4,455 m up on Monte Rosa near the Swiss–Italian border, and the Fiescherhorn glacier at 3,900 m in the Bernese Alps – they found that in around 1860 layers of glacial ice started to contain large amounts of soot. The team measured the effect the soot would have had on glaciers at the time in terms of  equivalent changes in air temperature. They found that the melting effect of black carbon provided a good explanation of the observed glacier retreat. Andreas Vieli, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland (who was not involved in the study) said: “…[T]his study offers a very elegant and plausible explanation for the glacier conundrum. It appears that in central Europe soot prematurely stopped the Little Ice Age.” Only after around 1970, when air quality began to improve, did accelerated climate warming become the dominant driver of Alpine glacier retreat, Kaser says. He says that if glaciers in the region continue to melt at the rate seen during the past 30 years, there is a risk that nearly all of them will vanish before the end of the century. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The Alps of central Europe began melting many years before there was any influence from climate change. Scientists now say it was not rising temperatures that triggered the melt, but pollution. LONDON, 4 September – Scientists think they know why some European glaciers started to shrink decades before climate change had begun to raise temperatures. It wasn’t warming that attacked the glaciers, they say in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was soot from industry, steam locomotives and domestic fires. Glaciologists have for years been puzzled by the sudden start in the middle of the 19th century of the retreat of the Alpine glaciers, which number around 4,000. They had survived in good condition from the 13th century throughout the fairly cool 500-year period called the Little Ice Age. They reached their greatest extent in the mid-1800s, about double what they are now. But even though it remained cool the glaciers suddenly began shrinking, leading scientists to believe that the Little Ice Age had ended around 1850. Average global temperatures, though, did not rise significantly – until the end of the 19th century. In fact, Alpine climate records – among the most extensive and reliable in the world  – suggest that the glaciers should have continued to grow for another 50 years or more, until about 1910.

Risk of dirty washing

The scientists acknowledge that other parts of the world may also have been affected, but point out that the decline was well documented only in the Alps. However, soot is also a big concern in the Himalayas, at high altitudes in some regions bigger than temperature rises. The burgeoning economies of China and India contribute huge amounts. “Something gnawed on the glaciers that climate records don’t capture,” said Georg Kaser, a glaciologist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and a member of the team that identified black carbon, or soot, as the cause. “A strong decline in winter snowfall was often assumed to be the culprit. But from all that we know, no such decline occurred.” Because darker surfaces absorb more heat than lighter, more reflective ones, if enough soot is deposited on snow and ice it can accelerate melting. Records suggest that by the mid-19th century the air in some Alpine valleys was laden with pollution. “Housewives in Innsbruck refrained from drying laundry outdoors,” says Kaser.

Gone by 2100?

Scientists used to think soot was unlikely to have been carried high enough to start the glaciers melting, but they now appear to have been mistaken. When Kaser’s team looked at ice cores previously drilled at two sites high in the western Alps – the Colle Gnifetti glacier saddle 4,455 m up on Monte Rosa near the Swiss–Italian border, and the Fiescherhorn glacier at 3,900 m in the Bernese Alps – they found that in around 1860 layers of glacial ice started to contain large amounts of soot. The team measured the effect the soot would have had on glaciers at the time in terms of  equivalent changes in air temperature. They found that the melting effect of black carbon provided a good explanation of the observed glacier retreat. Andreas Vieli, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland (who was not involved in the study) said: “…[T]his study offers a very elegant and plausible explanation for the glacier conundrum. It appears that in central Europe soot prematurely stopped the Little Ice Age.” Only after around 1970, when air quality began to improve, did accelerated climate warming become the dominant driver of Alpine glacier retreat, Kaser says. He says that if glaciers in the region continue to melt at the rate seen during the past 30 years, there is a risk that nearly all of them will vanish before the end of the century. – Climate News Network

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Himalayas to be wetter and warmer over next century

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE There have been dire warnings about melting glaciers in the Himalayas leading to falling flows in some of Asia’s major’s rivers. Now scientists are turning some of their original research on its head. LONDON, 10 August – The river systems fed by the glaciers of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau are a vital source of water, food and energy for hundreds of millions of people downstream. Trying to predict the impact of climate change on glaciers in such a large and inaccessible area as the Himalayas – with research made more difficult by bitter intra regional rivalries – is no easy task.  While some studies say rising temperatures in the mountains and the melt of glaciers will lead to falling river levels downstream and drought in what is one of the most densely populated regions on the planet, other reports paint a more sanguine picture. In a study in the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists say that in two of the region’s most important river basins – the Ganges and the Indus – water levels are unlikely to drop over the next century.  This contrasts with earlier studies – including one by the same authors – suggesting water levels in these rivers would drop significantly by 2050, threatening the livelihoods of millions. The new report, Rising river flows throughout the twenty-first century in two Himalayan glacierized watersheds, says that in some parts of the Himalayan region, river flow losses as a result of less glacial meltwater will be compensated by an increase in monsoon rains. The lead author of the report is Dr Walter Immerzeel, a mountain hydrology and climate change specialist at Utrecht University  and at present a visiting scientist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal. Four years ago Immerzeel and his colleagues published a report predicting a considerable drop in water levels in the same rivers by 2050. “We are now using a more advanced glacier model that takes into consideration how slowly glaciers respond to climate change” says Dr Immerzeel. Marc Bierkens, professor of Hydrology at Utrecht and a report co author, says the modelling research shows the size of the glaciers in the watershed of the Indus and the Ganges will decrease during the 21st century. “Yet, surprisingly enough, water discharge in this region is increasing, rather than decreasing. The reasons vary greatly from one watershed to another. Bierkens told Climate News Network that the latest research findings were the result of using a more sophisticated ice model together with a new set of climate models and the fact that, especially in the western Himalayas, the increase in rainfall with height is larger than previously thought. To understand the impact of climate change on river discharge, researchers created computer models of glacier movements and water balance in both the Indus and the Ganges watersheds. The models indicated that in the eastern watershed – in Langtang in Nepal where the Ganges has its source – the relatively smaller glaciers melt quite quickly but an increase in monsoon rains leads to a growth in water discharge. In the western watershed – in Baltoro in Pakistan where the Indus has its source – the climate is dryer and colder and has much larger glaciers. The models show discharges in the area are increasing, mainly as a result of more glacial melting. Such melting, says the study, will peak around 2070 and thereafter drop but will  be compensated for by an increase in precipitation. “While the results of the research predict a somber future for the Himalayan glaciers, they offer some good news for water and food security in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan” says a report summary. – Climate News Network      

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE There have been dire warnings about melting glaciers in the Himalayas leading to falling flows in some of Asia’s major’s rivers. Now scientists are turning some of their original research on its head. LONDON, 10 August – The river systems fed by the glaciers of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau are a vital source of water, food and energy for hundreds of millions of people downstream. Trying to predict the impact of climate change on glaciers in such a large and inaccessible area as the Himalayas – with research made more difficult by bitter intra regional rivalries – is no easy task.  While some studies say rising temperatures in the mountains and the melt of glaciers will lead to falling river levels downstream and drought in what is one of the most densely populated regions on the planet, other reports paint a more sanguine picture. In a study in the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists say that in two of the region’s most important river basins – the Ganges and the Indus – water levels are unlikely to drop over the next century.  This contrasts with earlier studies – including one by the same authors – suggesting water levels in these rivers would drop significantly by 2050, threatening the livelihoods of millions. The new report, Rising river flows throughout the twenty-first century in two Himalayan glacierized watersheds, says that in some parts of the Himalayan region, river flow losses as a result of less glacial meltwater will be compensated by an increase in monsoon rains. The lead author of the report is Dr Walter Immerzeel, a mountain hydrology and climate change specialist at Utrecht University  and at present a visiting scientist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal. Four years ago Immerzeel and his colleagues published a report predicting a considerable drop in water levels in the same rivers by 2050. “We are now using a more advanced glacier model that takes into consideration how slowly glaciers respond to climate change” says Dr Immerzeel. Marc Bierkens, professor of Hydrology at Utrecht and a report co author, says the modelling research shows the size of the glaciers in the watershed of the Indus and the Ganges will decrease during the 21st century. “Yet, surprisingly enough, water discharge in this region is increasing, rather than decreasing. The reasons vary greatly from one watershed to another. Bierkens told Climate News Network that the latest research findings were the result of using a more sophisticated ice model together with a new set of climate models and the fact that, especially in the western Himalayas, the increase in rainfall with height is larger than previously thought. To understand the impact of climate change on river discharge, researchers created computer models of glacier movements and water balance in both the Indus and the Ganges watersheds. The models indicated that in the eastern watershed – in Langtang in Nepal where the Ganges has its source – the relatively smaller glaciers melt quite quickly but an increase in monsoon rains leads to a growth in water discharge. In the western watershed – in Baltoro in Pakistan where the Indus has its source – the climate is dryer and colder and has much larger glaciers. The models show discharges in the area are increasing, mainly as a result of more glacial melting. Such melting, says the study, will peak around 2070 and thereafter drop but will  be compensated for by an increase in precipitation. “While the results of the research predict a somber future for the Himalayan glaciers, they offer some good news for water and food security in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan” says a report summary. – Climate News Network      

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Climate change: One more problem for Pakistan

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Sunday 24 March The growing menace of deadly bombings, attacks by US drones, continuing tensions with neighbouring India, power and food shortages and political instability as a general election looms in May –  as if Pakistan doesn’t have enough troubles, climate change is threatening the country. The Indus river, originating on the Tibetan Plateau and flowing for nearly 2,000 miles through the disputed  territory of Jammu and Kashmir and finally down to the province of Sindh and out into the Arabian Sea, is key to life in Pakistan. The majority of Pakistan’s 190 million people are involved in agriculture: the Indus, fed by glaciers high up in the Hindu Kush-Karakoram Himalaya mountain range, provides water for 90% of the country’s crops. Meanwhile hydro-power facilities based on the Indus generate around 50% of Pakistan’s total electricity. Climate change is now threatening this vital waterway – and the future of millions in Pakistan. In recent weeks it has launched, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), its first ever national policy on climate change. “Pakistan is among the most vulnerable countries facing climate risks”, says Marc-Andre Franche, the UNDP’s Pakistan director. ”Mechanisms need to be devised for greener, more resilient options for growth and sustainable development… the climate change clock is ticking too fast and the time to act is here and now.” Pakistan’s scientists say that in order for the new policy to be effective a number of steps need to be urgently taken to mitigate the impacts of climate change. These include developing high temperature-tolerant crop strains, comprehensive flood warning systems and more reservoirs on the upper Indus. But there are serious doubts about funding for such schemes. Ghulam Rasul, chief meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department, says weather patterns are becoming increasingly erratic. In the 1999 to 2002 period Pakistan was hit by severe droughts as the flow in the Indus and its tributaries fell dramatically. But from 2010 to 2012 a series of unusually intense monsoons caused the Indus to burst its banks, resulting in widespread floods: thousands were killed and millions displaced. “Pakistan’s climate-sensitive agrarian economy now faces larger risks from variability in monsoon rains, floods and extended droughts”, says Rasul. “I urge the world to assist Pakistan to deal with climate change.”

Economy at risk

  According to data gathered from 56 meteorological stations throughout Pakistan, there has been a marked increase in heat waves and rising temperatures in the vast Indus Delta in recent years. In an article in the Pakistan Journal of Meteorology, Rasul and others say there is a greater incidence of tropical cyclones and of saline intrusion in coastal regions. Already wheat and banana harvests in the Indus Delta are being affected. Rising temperatures are also causing health problems among the area’s population. In many cases farmers in the region –  among the poorest people in the world – are abandoning their lands and migrating to already overcrowded cities. If this trend continues it could have devastating consequences for the wider economy. Sindh and the Indus Delta have become one of the world’s premier cotton-producing areas, feeding Pakistan’s economically vital textile industry. Falling cotton production in the region would not only hurt Pakistan: it would also trigger a substantial rise in world cotton prices. Meanwhile in the mountainous far north most glaciers are in retreat, though some in the Karakoram range are stable or even – for as yet unknown reasons – expanding. Experts say that while melting glaciers might offset temperature rises and act as a form of insurance against drought in the short term,  the long term prognosis is not good. David Grey, former senior water advisor at the World Bank and now visiting Professor of Water Policy at Oxford University, says that although there is insufficient data to come to an accurate long term assessment of what will happen to the Indus, there are deep anxieties. “We all have very nasty fears that the flows of the Indus could be severely, severely affected by glacier melt as a consequence of climate change. Now what does that mean to a population that lives in a desert – without the river, there would be no life? I don’t know the answer to that question”, he says. “But we need to be concerned about that. Deeply, deeply concerned.” – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Sunday 24 March The growing menace of deadly bombings, attacks by US drones, continuing tensions with neighbouring India, power and food shortages and political instability as a general election looms in May –  as if Pakistan doesn’t have enough troubles, climate change is threatening the country. The Indus river, originating on the Tibetan Plateau and flowing for nearly 2,000 miles through the disputed  territory of Jammu and Kashmir and finally down to the province of Sindh and out into the Arabian Sea, is key to life in Pakistan. The majority of Pakistan’s 190 million people are involved in agriculture: the Indus, fed by glaciers high up in the Hindu Kush-Karakoram Himalaya mountain range, provides water for 90% of the country’s crops. Meanwhile hydro-power facilities based on the Indus generate around 50% of Pakistan’s total electricity. Climate change is now threatening this vital waterway – and the future of millions in Pakistan. In recent weeks it has launched, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), its first ever national policy on climate change. “Pakistan is among the most vulnerable countries facing climate risks”, says Marc-Andre Franche, the UNDP’s Pakistan director. ”Mechanisms need to be devised for greener, more resilient options for growth and sustainable development… the climate change clock is ticking too fast and the time to act is here and now.” Pakistan’s scientists say that in order for the new policy to be effective a number of steps need to be urgently taken to mitigate the impacts of climate change. These include developing high temperature-tolerant crop strains, comprehensive flood warning systems and more reservoirs on the upper Indus. But there are serious doubts about funding for such schemes. Ghulam Rasul, chief meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department, says weather patterns are becoming increasingly erratic. In the 1999 to 2002 period Pakistan was hit by severe droughts as the flow in the Indus and its tributaries fell dramatically. But from 2010 to 2012 a series of unusually intense monsoons caused the Indus to burst its banks, resulting in widespread floods: thousands were killed and millions displaced. “Pakistan’s climate-sensitive agrarian economy now faces larger risks from variability in monsoon rains, floods and extended droughts”, says Rasul. “I urge the world to assist Pakistan to deal with climate change.”

Economy at risk

  According to data gathered from 56 meteorological stations throughout Pakistan, there has been a marked increase in heat waves and rising temperatures in the vast Indus Delta in recent years. In an article in the Pakistan Journal of Meteorology, Rasul and others say there is a greater incidence of tropical cyclones and of saline intrusion in coastal regions. Already wheat and banana harvests in the Indus Delta are being affected. Rising temperatures are also causing health problems among the area’s population. In many cases farmers in the region –  among the poorest people in the world – are abandoning their lands and migrating to already overcrowded cities. If this trend continues it could have devastating consequences for the wider economy. Sindh and the Indus Delta have become one of the world’s premier cotton-producing areas, feeding Pakistan’s economically vital textile industry. Falling cotton production in the region would not only hurt Pakistan: it would also trigger a substantial rise in world cotton prices. Meanwhile in the mountainous far north most glaciers are in retreat, though some in the Karakoram range are stable or even – for as yet unknown reasons – expanding. Experts say that while melting glaciers might offset temperature rises and act as a form of insurance against drought in the short term,  the long term prognosis is not good. David Grey, former senior water advisor at the World Bank and now visiting Professor of Water Policy at Oxford University, says that although there is insufficient data to come to an accurate long term assessment of what will happen to the Indus, there are deep anxieties. “We all have very nasty fears that the flows of the Indus could be severely, severely affected by glacier melt as a consequence of climate change. Now what does that mean to a population that lives in a desert – without the river, there would be no life? I don’t know the answer to that question”, he says. “But we need to be concerned about that. Deeply, deeply concerned.” – Climate News Network

*

Nepal's glaciers retreat – but why?

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT Saturday 23 February
One of the Climate News Network’s editors, Kieran Cooke, was among a group of journalists recently investigating the impact of climate change in Nepal and the Himalayas. In the last of his reports from the region he describes the difficulties of establishing why so many of Nepal’s glaciers appear to be shrinking.

KATHMANDU, 21 February – Mohan Bdr. Chand is at the sharp end of glacier research. A climate researcher at Kathmandu University, Chand is carrying out vital field work, looking at high mountain glaciers as indicators of climate change.

The work involves spending time clambering up and down the ice, taking measurements and readings to calculate mass balance – the sum of the snowfall which builds up on a glacier and the melting that shrinks it.

“Getting to a glacier can take five days from Kathmandu – two days driving and three days trekking”, says Chand, one of only a few native glacier specialists in Nepal. “We stay on the glacier for over two weeks at heights of between 5,000 and 6,000 metres. Conditions are tough, with altitude sickness a big problem.

“What we’re seeing is that almost all glaciers in Nepal are in retreat”, says Chand. “There are a few in the far west of the country which appear to be stable or increasing in size, but these – influenced by westerly winds rather than the Indian monsoon – are very much the exception.”

Calculating mass balance is seen as critical to understanding a glacier’s long-term behaviour. According to a 2011 study by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), there are an estimated 54,000 individual glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, an area of mountains stretching from Afghanistan in the west to Yunnan in southwest China in the east.

“The glaciers in much of the region show signs of shrinking, thinning and retreating”, said the study.

What is noteworthy is how little detailed knowledge there is of this region, which is considered to be highly vulnerable to climate change and to be warming faster than many other areas on the planet.

Retreat rates vary

 

“A serious lack of reliable and consistent data severely hampers scientific knowledge about the state of Himalayan glaciers”, said a late 2012 report by the United Nations Environment Programme’s global environmental alert service.

The region has been referred to as a “white spot”, a term in the 2007 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s) Fourth Assessment Report used to describe an area with “little or no data”.

Confusion was added to the debate when, in the same IPCC report, it was suggested that the probability of  the Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2035 “is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the present rate.”

It was a claim the IPCC later said should never have been published, but one that was eagerly seized on by climate sceptics in efforts to try to undermine the whole body of the Panel’s work.

Mohan and his team are investigating two glaciers – one at Rikhashambha in north-central Nepal at 6,000 metres, described as a valley glacier, and one at Yala to the east, on the border with Tibet at between 5,100 and 5,700 metres, described as a plateau-type glacier.

“In general plateau-type glaciers – mostly found in Tibet – seem to be retreating faster than valley types”, says Dr Mohan. “The number of glacial lakes at high altitudes is increasing, with between 20 and 26 in Nepal. If these burst, they pose a serious danger.

“Rising temperatures and sudden rainfalls of great intensity are factors that seem to be causing the retreat of some glaciers. But recently it’s been realised that black carbon could have a major impact on the mass balance of glaciers.”

Black carbon – particulate matter that in South Asia comes mainly from the burning of wood and waste and from cooking fires, or from coal-burning and diesel exhausts – falls on snow and darkens the surface, in the process reducing reflectivity and causing the surface to absorb more heat.

Data too sparse

 

Most of the black carbon falling on the Himalayas and the south of the Tibetan plateau comes from the plains of India, while that of the eastern and northern sections of the plateau comes mainly from China.

According to recent ICIMOD estimates, black carbon is probably responsible for a large part – around 30% by some calculations – of glacial retreat in the region.

ICIMOD and other bodies admit there is far too little field data available to draw solid conclusions, whether on overall glacial melt or on the influence of black carbon. Part of this is to do with the inhospitable terrain. Also, in a tense region where transboundary cooperation is severely limited, studies that have been done often use differing methodologies.

Advances in satellite technology have significantly increased the volume and quality of data gathering across the region. However, satellite survey results have shown considerable variation, with one survey finding large glacial retreat and another a much smaller rate of melt. Scientists say there is often no substitute for fieldwork but admit that the extent of such activity is still woefully inadequate.

“We will return to the glaciers in May to take more measurements”, says Chand. It is gruelling work but needs to be done if a full picture of what’s going in the glaciers of the Himalayas is to emerge. – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT Saturday 23 February
One of the Climate News Network’s editors, Kieran Cooke, was among a group of journalists recently investigating the impact of climate change in Nepal and the Himalayas. In the last of his reports from the region he describes the difficulties of establishing why so many of Nepal’s glaciers appear to be shrinking.

KATHMANDU, 21 February – Mohan Bdr. Chand is at the sharp end of glacier research. A climate researcher at Kathmandu University, Chand is carrying out vital field work, looking at high mountain glaciers as indicators of climate change.

The work involves spending time clambering up and down the ice, taking measurements and readings to calculate mass balance – the sum of the snowfall which builds up on a glacier and the melting that shrinks it.

“Getting to a glacier can take five days from Kathmandu – two days driving and three days trekking”, says Chand, one of only a few native glacier specialists in Nepal. “We stay on the glacier for over two weeks at heights of between 5,000 and 6,000 metres. Conditions are tough, with altitude sickness a big problem.

“What we’re seeing is that almost all glaciers in Nepal are in retreat”, says Chand. “There are a few in the far west of the country which appear to be stable or increasing in size, but these – influenced by westerly winds rather than the Indian monsoon – are very much the exception.”

Calculating mass balance is seen as critical to understanding a glacier’s long-term behaviour. According to a 2011 study by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), there are an estimated 54,000 individual glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, an area of mountains stretching from Afghanistan in the west to Yunnan in southwest China in the east.

“The glaciers in much of the region show signs of shrinking, thinning and retreating”, said the study.

What is noteworthy is how little detailed knowledge there is of this region, which is considered to be highly vulnerable to climate change and to be warming faster than many other areas on the planet.

Retreat rates vary

 

“A serious lack of reliable and consistent data severely hampers scientific knowledge about the state of Himalayan glaciers”, said a late 2012 report by the United Nations Environment Programme’s global environmental alert service.

The region has been referred to as a “white spot”, a term in the 2007 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s) Fourth Assessment Report used to describe an area with “little or no data”.

Confusion was added to the debate when, in the same IPCC report, it was suggested that the probability of  the Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2035 “is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the present rate.”

It was a claim the IPCC later said should never have been published, but one that was eagerly seized on by climate sceptics in efforts to try to undermine the whole body of the Panel’s work.

Mohan and his team are investigating two glaciers – one at Rikhashambha in north-central Nepal at 6,000 metres, described as a valley glacier, and one at Yala to the east, on the border with Tibet at between 5,100 and 5,700 metres, described as a plateau-type glacier.

“In general plateau-type glaciers – mostly found in Tibet – seem to be retreating faster than valley types”, says Dr Mohan. “The number of glacial lakes at high altitudes is increasing, with between 20 and 26 in Nepal. If these burst, they pose a serious danger.

“Rising temperatures and sudden rainfalls of great intensity are factors that seem to be causing the retreat of some glaciers. But recently it’s been realised that black carbon could have a major impact on the mass balance of glaciers.”

Black carbon – particulate matter that in South Asia comes mainly from the burning of wood and waste and from cooking fires, or from coal-burning and diesel exhausts – falls on snow and darkens the surface, in the process reducing reflectivity and causing the surface to absorb more heat.

Data too sparse

 

Most of the black carbon falling on the Himalayas and the south of the Tibetan plateau comes from the plains of India, while that of the eastern and northern sections of the plateau comes mainly from China.

According to recent ICIMOD estimates, black carbon is probably responsible for a large part – around 30% by some calculations – of glacial retreat in the region.

ICIMOD and other bodies admit there is far too little field data available to draw solid conclusions, whether on overall glacial melt or on the influence of black carbon. Part of this is to do with the inhospitable terrain. Also, in a tense region where transboundary cooperation is severely limited, studies that have been done often use differing methodologies.

Advances in satellite technology have significantly increased the volume and quality of data gathering across the region. However, satellite survey results have shown considerable variation, with one survey finding large glacial retreat and another a much smaller rate of melt. Scientists say there is often no substitute for fieldwork but admit that the extent of such activity is still woefully inadequate.

“We will return to the glaciers in May to take more measurements”, says Chand. It is gruelling work but needs to be done if a full picture of what’s going in the glaciers of the Himalayas is to emerge. – Climate News Network

*

Weather changes frustrate Nepal's farmers

EMBARGOED till 0001 GMT on Tuesday 19 February
One of the Climate News Network’s editors, Kieran Cooke, was among a group of journalists recently investigating the impact of climate change in Nepal and the Himalayas. He reports on some of the problems facing farmers in the region.

KATHMANDU, 15 February – Life has been good in the past few years for Saraswati Bhetwal, a farmer in the small village of Lanndhi, about 50 kms north of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.

Better road connections with the city mean farmers in the area have switched from subsistence agriculture and growing rice to cultivating cash crops like potatoes, cauliflowers and beans. More cash has led to increased educational opportunities, better access to health care and a general improvement in livelihoods.

“Then, in early January, I saw frost on the ground”, says Saraswati, who, as generally with women in Nepal, does most of the agricultural work. “It destroyed all the potatoes and hurt the other crops. For days I was so upset I could not go to the fields – we’ve lost all we invested. It is very hard.”

Saraswati, 46, is not interested in debates about climate change and whether the glaciers in the high Himalayas are melting. But she and other villagers do know that something strange is happening with the weather in this mountainous, landlocked country of 30 million people, the majority of them farmers  struggling on or below the poverty line.

Lanndhi is among a group of low-lying villages tucked away on a valley floor with a year-round temperate climate – till now, a seemingly ideal area for vegetable growing.

“We never had a frost like that before”, she says. “The weather is changing. The monsoon comes later each year. There are more warm days and more pests. And the winter rains are less frequent.”

Less predictable weather

 

The Himalayas – the world’s biggest and highest mountain range, stretching from Afghanistan and Pakistan in the west to Yunnan in southwest China in the east – are, together with the Tibetan plateau and surrounding mountain ranges, often referred to as “the Third Pole”, containing more ice and water than any other area on the planet outside the Arctic and Antarctic. Overall it’s estimated that about three billion people – more than 40% of the world’s population – depend on the food and energy produced in the region’s river basins.

“While measurements indicate the total amount of monsoon rainfall in Nepal has not changed, the timing of those rains has altered”, says Dr Bed Mani Dahal of the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering at Kathmandu University.

“Overall the number of days it rains is less than in the past. But when it does rain, the volumes are greater: violent downpours and hail can destroy crops. The weather is just not as predictable as it was before.”

Dr Dahal says that besides changes in weather patterns, farmers are facing another serious problem. The rush into cash crops in recent years has led to overuse of land and loss of topsoil. Increased fertilizer and pesticide use is polluting water courses.

“We don’t know when the rains will come or if there will be enough water. It’s not like before”

Scientists say changes in climate are more evident in the Himalayan region than in most other areas of the planet. As part of a US$ multi-million programme funded by the Norwegian Government, the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and two Norway-based environmental and scientific organisations (GRID-Arendal and CICERO) are seeking ways to help Himalayan farmers – particularly those living in mountainous areas – to cope with an increasingly uncertain future.

“What’s clear is that while villagers may not be aware of  the concept of climate change, they are seeing changes on the ground and are asking us what it is they should do”, says Arun Shrestha, an ICIMOD project manager.

Nepal has made considerable progress in recent years in developing its agricultural sector and improving overall living standards. Changes in climate could now threaten that progress.

Saraswati Bhetwal looks at the black, dead stalks on hundreds of  her potato plants. Compared with many farmers, she is relatively prosperous but says that with a failed crop and little spare cash, finding the money to invest in tubers and seeds for sowing next season will be hard.

“Farmers have many problems”, she says. “Now we don’t know when the rains will come or if there will be enough water. It’s not like before – and it’s just one more problem to deal with.” – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED till 0001 GMT on Tuesday 19 February
One of the Climate News Network’s editors, Kieran Cooke, was among a group of journalists recently investigating the impact of climate change in Nepal and the Himalayas. He reports on some of the problems facing farmers in the region.

KATHMANDU, 15 February – Life has been good in the past few years for Saraswati Bhetwal, a farmer in the small village of Lanndhi, about 50 kms north of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.

Better road connections with the city mean farmers in the area have switched from subsistence agriculture and growing rice to cultivating cash crops like potatoes, cauliflowers and beans. More cash has led to increased educational opportunities, better access to health care and a general improvement in livelihoods.

“Then, in early January, I saw frost on the ground”, says Saraswati, who, as generally with women in Nepal, does most of the agricultural work. “It destroyed all the potatoes and hurt the other crops. For days I was so upset I could not go to the fields – we’ve lost all we invested. It is very hard.”

Saraswati, 46, is not interested in debates about climate change and whether the glaciers in the high Himalayas are melting. But she and other villagers do know that something strange is happening with the weather in this mountainous, landlocked country of 30 million people, the majority of them farmers  struggling on or below the poverty line.

Lanndhi is among a group of low-lying villages tucked away on a valley floor with a year-round temperate climate – till now, a seemingly ideal area for vegetable growing.

“We never had a frost like that before”, she says. “The weather is changing. The monsoon comes later each year. There are more warm days and more pests. And the winter rains are less frequent.”

Less predictable weather

 

The Himalayas – the world’s biggest and highest mountain range, stretching from Afghanistan and Pakistan in the west to Yunnan in southwest China in the east – are, together with the Tibetan plateau and surrounding mountain ranges, often referred to as “the Third Pole”, containing more ice and water than any other area on the planet outside the Arctic and Antarctic. Overall it’s estimated that about three billion people – more than 40% of the world’s population – depend on the food and energy produced in the region’s river basins.

“While measurements indicate the total amount of monsoon rainfall in Nepal has not changed, the timing of those rains has altered”, says Dr Bed Mani Dahal of the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering at Kathmandu University.

“Overall the number of days it rains is less than in the past. But when it does rain, the volumes are greater: violent downpours and hail can destroy crops. The weather is just not as predictable as it was before.”

Dr Dahal says that besides changes in weather patterns, farmers are facing another serious problem. The rush into cash crops in recent years has led to overuse of land and loss of topsoil. Increased fertilizer and pesticide use is polluting water courses.

“We don’t know when the rains will come or if there will be enough water. It’s not like before”

Scientists say changes in climate are more evident in the Himalayan region than in most other areas of the planet. As part of a US$ multi-million programme funded by the Norwegian Government, the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and two Norway-based environmental and scientific organisations (GRID-Arendal and CICERO) are seeking ways to help Himalayan farmers – particularly those living in mountainous areas – to cope with an increasingly uncertain future.

“What’s clear is that while villagers may not be aware of  the concept of climate change, they are seeing changes on the ground and are asking us what it is they should do”, says Arun Shrestha, an ICIMOD project manager.

Nepal has made considerable progress in recent years in developing its agricultural sector and improving overall living standards. Changes in climate could now threaten that progress.

Saraswati Bhetwal looks at the black, dead stalks on hundreds of  her potato plants. Compared with many farmers, she is relatively prosperous but says that with a failed crop and little spare cash, finding the money to invest in tubers and seeds for sowing next season will be hard.

“Farmers have many problems”, she says. “Now we don’t know when the rains will come or if there will be enough water. It’s not like before – and it’s just one more problem to deal with.” – Climate News Network

*

Weather changes frustrate Nepal’s farmers

EMBARGOED till 0001 GMT on Tuesday 19 February One of the Climate News Network’s editors, Kieran Cooke, was among a group of journalists recently investigating the impact of climate change in Nepal and the Himalayas. He reports on some of the problems facing farmers in the region. KATHMANDU, 15 February – Life has been good in the past few years for Saraswati Bhetwal, a farmer in the small village of Lanndhi, about 50 kms north of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. Better road connections with the city mean farmers in the area have switched from subsistence agriculture and growing rice to cultivating cash crops like potatoes, cauliflowers and beans. More cash has led to increased educational opportunities, better access to health care and a general improvement in livelihoods. “Then, in early January, I saw frost on the ground”, says Saraswati, who, as generally with women in Nepal, does most of the agricultural work. “It destroyed all the potatoes and hurt the other crops. For days I was so upset I could not go to the fields – we’ve lost all we invested. It is very hard.” Saraswati, 46, is not interested in debates about climate change and whether the glaciers in the high Himalayas are melting. But she and other villagers do know that something strange is happening with the weather in this mountainous, landlocked country of 30 million people, the majority of them farmers  struggling on or below the poverty line. Lanndhi is among a group of low-lying villages tucked away on a valley floor with a year-round temperate climate – till now, a seemingly ideal area for vegetable growing. “We never had a frost like that before”, she says. “The weather is changing. The monsoon comes later each year. There are more warm days and more pests. And the winter rains are less frequent.”

Less predictable weather

  The Himalayas – the world’s biggest and highest mountain range, stretching from Afghanistan and Pakistan in the west to Yunnan in southwest China in the east – are, together with the Tibetan plateau and surrounding mountain ranges, often referred to as “the Third Pole”, containing more ice and water than any other area on the planet outside the Arctic and Antarctic. Overall it’s estimated that about three billion people – more than 40% of the world’s population – depend on the food and energy produced in the region’s river basins. “While measurements indicate the total amount of monsoon rainfall in Nepal has not changed, the timing of those rains has altered”, says Dr Bed Mani Dahal of the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering at Kathmandu University. “Overall the number of days it rains is less than in the past. But when it does rain, the volumes are greater: violent downpours and hail can destroy crops. The weather is just not as predictable as it was before.” Dr Dahal says that besides changes in weather patterns, farmers are facing another serious problem. The rush into cash crops in recent years has led to overuse of land and loss of topsoil. Increased fertilizer and pesticide use is polluting water courses.

“We don’t know when the rains will come or if there will be enough water. It’s not like before”

Scientists say changes in climate are more evident in the Himalayan region than in most other areas of the planet. As part of a US$ multi-million programme funded by the Norwegian Government, the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and two Norway-based environmental and scientific organisations (GRID-Arendal and CICERO) are seeking ways to help Himalayan farmers – particularly those living in mountainous areas – to cope with an increasingly uncertain future. “What’s clear is that while villagers may not be aware of  the concept of climate change, they are seeing changes on the ground and are asking us what it is they should do”, says Arun Shrestha, an ICIMOD project manager. Nepal has made considerable progress in recent years in developing its agricultural sector and improving overall living standards. Changes in climate could now threaten that progress. Saraswati Bhetwal looks at the black, dead stalks on hundreds of  her potato plants. Compared with many farmers, she is relatively prosperous but says that with a failed crop and little spare cash, finding the money to invest in tubers and seeds for sowing next season will be hard. “Farmers have many problems”, she says. “Now we don’t know when the rains will come or if there will be enough water. It’s not like before – and it’s just one more problem to deal with.” – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED till 0001 GMT on Tuesday 19 February One of the Climate News Network’s editors, Kieran Cooke, was among a group of journalists recently investigating the impact of climate change in Nepal and the Himalayas. He reports on some of the problems facing farmers in the region. KATHMANDU, 15 February – Life has been good in the past few years for Saraswati Bhetwal, a farmer in the small village of Lanndhi, about 50 kms north of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. Better road connections with the city mean farmers in the area have switched from subsistence agriculture and growing rice to cultivating cash crops like potatoes, cauliflowers and beans. More cash has led to increased educational opportunities, better access to health care and a general improvement in livelihoods. “Then, in early January, I saw frost on the ground”, says Saraswati, who, as generally with women in Nepal, does most of the agricultural work. “It destroyed all the potatoes and hurt the other crops. For days I was so upset I could not go to the fields – we’ve lost all we invested. It is very hard.” Saraswati, 46, is not interested in debates about climate change and whether the glaciers in the high Himalayas are melting. But she and other villagers do know that something strange is happening with the weather in this mountainous, landlocked country of 30 million people, the majority of them farmers  struggling on or below the poverty line. Lanndhi is among a group of low-lying villages tucked away on a valley floor with a year-round temperate climate – till now, a seemingly ideal area for vegetable growing. “We never had a frost like that before”, she says. “The weather is changing. The monsoon comes later each year. There are more warm days and more pests. And the winter rains are less frequent.”

Less predictable weather

  The Himalayas – the world’s biggest and highest mountain range, stretching from Afghanistan and Pakistan in the west to Yunnan in southwest China in the east – are, together with the Tibetan plateau and surrounding mountain ranges, often referred to as “the Third Pole”, containing more ice and water than any other area on the planet outside the Arctic and Antarctic. Overall it’s estimated that about three billion people – more than 40% of the world’s population – depend on the food and energy produced in the region’s river basins. “While measurements indicate the total amount of monsoon rainfall in Nepal has not changed, the timing of those rains has altered”, says Dr Bed Mani Dahal of the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering at Kathmandu University. “Overall the number of days it rains is less than in the past. But when it does rain, the volumes are greater: violent downpours and hail can destroy crops. The weather is just not as predictable as it was before.” Dr Dahal says that besides changes in weather patterns, farmers are facing another serious problem. The rush into cash crops in recent years has led to overuse of land and loss of topsoil. Increased fertilizer and pesticide use is polluting water courses.

“We don’t know when the rains will come or if there will be enough water. It’s not like before”

Scientists say changes in climate are more evident in the Himalayan region than in most other areas of the planet. As part of a US$ multi-million programme funded by the Norwegian Government, the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and two Norway-based environmental and scientific organisations (GRID-Arendal and CICERO) are seeking ways to help Himalayan farmers – particularly those living in mountainous areas – to cope with an increasingly uncertain future. “What’s clear is that while villagers may not be aware of  the concept of climate change, they are seeing changes on the ground and are asking us what it is they should do”, says Arun Shrestha, an ICIMOD project manager. Nepal has made considerable progress in recent years in developing its agricultural sector and improving overall living standards. Changes in climate could now threaten that progress. Saraswati Bhetwal looks at the black, dead stalks on hundreds of  her potato plants. Compared with many farmers, she is relatively prosperous but says that with a failed crop and little spare cash, finding the money to invest in tubers and seeds for sowing next season will be hard. “Farmers have many problems”, she says. “Now we don’t know when the rains will come or if there will be enough water. It’s not like before – and it’s just one more problem to deal with.” – Climate News Network