Nepali Times

PATRIARCHY IN THE HIERARCHY

Sunday, August 28th, 2016
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'WORLD OF PREGNANT MEN' BY LAXMAN BAZRA LAMA

‘WORLD OF PREGNANT MEN’ BY LAXMAN BAZRA LAMA

Nepal is going through a dramatic demographic shift. On the one hand, the country’s fertility rate is approaching replacement level — although the momentum of population growth will continue for another generation, it will stabilise thereafter.

This demographic transition of low birth rate and higher life expectancy is accompanied by the biggest population migration in the country’s history. The hill districts are depopulating at staggering rates, losing between 15 to 25 per cent of their inhabitants in the past 10 years as people migrate to cities, plains and abroad for work.

Nearly 20 per cent of Nepal’s population is away at any given time, and considering that the migrants are mostly young men, this could mean that up to half the men in the 20-35 age group are essentially missing from their families, communities and society.

This brings us to the other ongoing societal transformation: the gender shift. Families and communities in rural Nepal are being run by women. With most men gone, rural Nepal has been feminised. The number of female students in high schools and colleges is at an all-time high. Women are moving into jobs traditionally considered the domain of men: driving public transport, and engaged in masonry, carpentry and construction, especially in the earthquake-affected districts. The feminisation of the workforce is subtly empowering women, providing them with cash income and new confidence, bolstering their sense of self-worth.

Gender activists are not particularly fond of Tij — the annual celebration by daughters, wives and sisters —  which this year falls on Sunday 4 September. Their criticism is of the practice by women of fasting for the wellbeing and longevity of their husbands. It is absurd, particularly in this day and age, that women should be culturally required not to eat so that their husbands will be well-fed.

However, Tij has always traditionally also been a celebration of sisterhood and solidarity, a one-day rebellion and characterised by deliberate defiance against dominance by men. Could it be that some Nepali women today consider the Tij fast as a hunger strike against patriarchy? Going by the lyrics of the new duets that have been released in the run-up to this year’s festival, there is open ridicule of menfolk as lazy, good-for-nothing spoilt brats.

Add ‘corrupt’. And how aptly that sums up the attributes of most men who have the audacity to rule over us. Let’s just leave aside for the moment the fact that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has already squandered one-and-a-half months of his nine-month rotational tenure just to form a council of ministers from a coalition of four parties.

The Nepali Congress could not even agree on a list of ministerial appointees until after the Nepal Students’ Union elections as well as the return from New Delhi of Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi. Why the selection of ministers by Nepal’s largest party should be held hostage by the election of 45-year-old ‘students’, and a visit to India by the prime minister’s special envoy, has never been satisfactorily explained to the public.

Nevertheless, of the 31 ministers appointed in his fourth consecutive expansion of the cabinet, only three are women, two of whom are junior state ministers. Clause 42-1 of the new Constitution expressly stipulates  that women and other marginalised groups be given proportional representation in all agencies of government. When it sent its list of 13 ministers, the NC could muster only one woman.

In terms of inclusivity, the ratios are not much better for Dalits, Janajatis, or Madhesis either. For example, there are only two Dalit ministers, and three from Janajati groups.

The sad irony is that this is happening under the prime ministership of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who used to be the ‘Supreme Commander’ of a guerrilla army of which one-fourth was made up of women warriors, many of whom laid down their lives for equality.

The members of the ruling coalition are the same political parties that took to the streets to protest King Gyanendra’s ‘regression’ in 2006. What a cruel joke that real regression is happening under the rule of these same so-called democratic parties.


CARTELLING OF CARNAGE

Monday, August 22nd, 2016
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Family members and relatives mourn during the cremation ceremony at Pashupatinath Temple on Wednesday,Bhadra 1,2073. 27 people were killed and 39 were injured in a bus accident in Birtadeurali VDC-9, Khaharekhola of Kavrepalanchowk district on Monday.

Family members of the people killed in the Kavre bus accident last week. Photo: Pratap Thapa/Kantipur.

Floods and earthquakes cannot strictly be called ‘natural calamities’ because what ruins lives are ill-planned attempts to channel rivers and poorly constructed houses. Similarly, tragedies like the bus plunge on 15 August in Kavre that killed 27 people cannot be termed an ‘accident’ — like other crashes it was a direct result of political patronage of bus companies by the four-party syndicate that has been running this country.

This cartelling of carnage is not restricted to highways. Hospitals and the medical education sector are in the iron grip of politicians profiteering from the trade in human health. One of the reasons Govind KC is still on the streets and threatening to go on his ninth hunger strike is because even his voice has not been heard by the politicians backing the medical mafia.

Six bus passengers die every day on Nepal’s highways, many of these are not even reported anymore they have become so routine. More people have died in highway disasters in the past ten years than were killed in the decade-long war — 9,000 have been killed since 2011 alone.

After every vehicle crash like this, police come up with possible causes: there were 90 people crammed into the Kavre bus which was also carrying sacks of rice and it stalled on a steep and slippery dirt road. But such technical reasons mask the underlying political source of the tragedies that every day maim and kill Nepalis. Contractors that bribe officials to build substandard roads, obsolete and badly-maintained buses are allowed to carry double their capacity, the drivers are often inexperienced or have fake licenses — and all this is made possible because of bus syndicates that enjoy political protection.

It has been 20 years since the last local elections, leading to a lack of accountability at the VDC, DDC and municipality level. Unelected bureaucrats work with politically connected contractors to build roads that go from nowhere to nowhere. Local politicians own excavators that gouge out the mountains, scarring farm terraces with landslides. Only 17 per cent of Nepal’s highways are black-topped, and even if tarmaced they lack basic road furniture that would ensure safety.

Highway fatalities rank fourth in the cause of death among Nepalis, whereas internationally it is considered the tenth most common cause of death. Tracing the ownership patterns, the emergence of private operators, the lack of regulation and inadequate implementation of safety directives one sees a serious failure of the government to fulfil its primary role: to protect its citizens’ lives.

Over the past decades of political change, private companies have taken over the public transportation network pretending that they operate in a competitive free market economy. On pretext of regulating them, bus management committees nationwide wield so much power that even national level politicians are loathe to rein them in.

The syndicates protect their routes with goons, new operators who want to improve the quality of service often have brand new buses vandalised with complete impunity. Far-western Nepal had no buses plying for a week last month because of a dispute between syndicates. Transport monopolies are so powerful they can hold the country, and the travelling public hostage. And they are literally getting away with murder.

After the Kavre disaster, newly installed Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said this was the last chance to crack down on transportation cartels. This will also be his last chance to show that he cares about the public good, and not about protecting the turf of syndicates owned and nurtured by politicians in his coalition.

At an interaction this week on highway safety, former Chief Secretary and social reformer Leela Mani Paudyal could not have been more direct in blaming an “unspoken agreement” between senior ministers in government and bus companies. Poudyal said the root of the corruption was the Welfare Fund that transportation cartels used to fund political parties, pay for goons, and bribe bureaucrats. “From what I know, some CDOs got Rs 100,000 a month, the district police chief got up to Rs 80,000, and the money went right down to the traffic policeman,” Poudyal said.

It is obvious the rot runs deep, and we must start looking at deaths on our highways not as accidents, but as crimes in which politicians are culpable. But we do not have the luxury of waiting to fix the politics in order to to improve road safety. There are thousands of lives at stake.


ORDER! ORDER!

Sunday, August 7th, 2016
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Press FreedomIn dictatorships, it is standard operation procedures to detain civil society activists and dissidents. But it is when a nominally democratic state that is supposed to be governed by its core values starts trying to muzzle the media, that there is cause for concern. Recent events prove that you don’t need a dictator to roll back democracy and try to control the free press. Parallel power centres can easily commandeer the system, and we are threatened by the rise of elected demagogues.

It is not surprising when despots jail journalists and censor media. It is when that happens in what is supposed to be a democracy that it is a serious worry. Nepal’s political transition is in a prolonged interregnum between two constitutions, and it is in this adjustment period that there is the danger of a return to authoritarianism.

Through recent history, Nepal has seen various forms of totalitarian rule: a century of the feudal Rana regime, 30 years of an absolute Panchayat monarchy, the authoritarian streak of King Gyanendra who staged a military coup in 2005. In between we have seen two pro-democracy uprisings only to witness those hard-won freedoms frittered away by power-greedy politicians.

When the initial exhilaration of democracy evaporates, cynicism replaces hope, and the people lose their trust in the public officials they elected to power. That is when there is a creeping nostalgia for strongman rule. In Nepal, we see this mindset manifested in support for an executive presidentship in the new constitution, and the public’s admiration for centralised control as in China, or for leaders like Lee Kuan Yew to steer the country towards prosperity.

But we have tried dictatorships here before, and ended up struggling against them because they were unrepresentative and turned out not to be a very efficient form of governance. They centralised corruption, reduced participation and gave the people no say in how they wanted to be ruled. We hoped for benevolent dictators, but ended up with malevolent ones.

Whenever democracy is in disarray, there is a hankering for strongman rule. And as we saw in the Indian Emergency, a strongman need not be a man. Indira Gandhi’s experiment with autocracy may not have lasted long because the roots of democracy and press freedom in India went too deep, but there are still intellectual adherents to Indira’s ‘disciplinism’.

And across the world today, we see a similar ideological tilt towards authoritarianism even in supposedly open societies. The rise of the racist right in Europe, the terrifying prospect of Donald Trump being elected to the White House, the self-confessed head of a death squad being elected president of the Philippines, UKIP’s vision of an independent UK during the Brexit vote, and in our own neighbourhood an increasingly intolerant ruling party that uses religious revivalism as the mantra of power.

Western democracies have a design defect: they allow the freedom to express the most outrageous views. Populist politicians use this to stoke xenophobic fears about migration, crime, terrorism, and the mass media can be manipulated to whip up the electorate. Democracy thus ends up electing demagogues who use nationalism, bigotry and identity politics, especially during times of turmoil.

Jochen Bittner of the German newspaper, Die Zeit, calls this global anti-democratic wave ‘orderism’ — it is based on fear and offers stability over freedom and could also be called ‘Putinism’. Bittner compares Orderism to the promises of utopia under Communism, and says ‘it is merely a fig leaf for tyranny’. The enemy is liberal democracy, and in this Putin, Trump, Duterte, and others have a mutual admiration society.

In Nepal, the support for strongman rule stems from 25 years of political instability, unaccountable leadership and democratic decomposition. There is a romantic notion that the Malaysian model of limited democracy would lead the country to economic growth, but we forget that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib today is facing a US Justice Department investigation for one of history’s biggest corruption scandals.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and we see an example of that today in Nepal, too. Our own anti-corruption watchdog is now more powerful than the elected government of the day. It is fashionable thing to say in hoity-toity circles in Kathmandu that Nepalis are too immature and poor to afford democracy. That is natural because the status quo benefits the privileged, genuine democracy would shake things up. The problem is not the system, it is the people who misuse it for personal enrichment and power. Corrupt party apparatchiks, political brokers, and patronage are the real reasons for the state we are in.

The answer is to keep strengthening the pillars of democracy, the institutions that offer the check and balance to a failed Executive and illegitimate centres of power: civil society, mass media, the Judiciary and the Legislature.


In memoriam: Dubby Bhagat, 73

Monday, July 25th, 2016
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Date: March 2000

Venue: Mandarin Chinese Restaurant, The Everest Hotel, Kathmandu

dubby

The topic of conversation over lunch was a soon-to-be launched premium English-language weekly newspaper in Kathmandu. It was to be a lively, yet serious, tabloid that looked at Kathmandu and the Nepal beyond.

Dubby Bhagat was even more excited than I was about this new venture, bubbling with ideas about content, style, design. “It’s going to be an extraordinary paper,” he said, and even now I can hear clearly the crisp British intonation in the way he said “extraordinary”.

But we had to scratch our heads to come up with a name for the paper. After going through a shortlist that included Himalaya Post and Nepal Chronicle, I proposed Business and Political Weekly of Nepal, thinking the name would give the new publication intellectual heft, and a certain gravitas. Dubby cackled out loud, and shot it down with a decisive stab of his chopsticks. But he immediately became serious, and said: “Nepali Times”.

There was a palpable silence. We savoured the sound of that, let it roll around in our mouths —with the tasty morsels of Sichuan chicken — and minds. Yes, that was it. Nepali Times it was.

Dubby Bhagat came to Nepal with that refugee wave from Calcutta’s Junior Statesman that included the likes of Desmond Doig and Utpal Sengupta. They arrived in a Kathmandu 35 years ago that was a green jewel under a dark blue dome of a Himalayan sky across which raced puffs of dreamlike clouds.

Doig and Dubby worked on all manner of projects together: writing on Everest for National Geographic, toiling on a book on Mother Teresa, helping out with top-end hotels including the Shangri-La, Yak and Yeti and Everest. They were working on a glossy travel magazine of the Himalayan region that would have been a path-breaking publication, had Doig not died in 1984. books

They shared a great affection for Nepal, especially Kathmandu Valley, which is evident in the books they wrote together: Down History’s Narrow Lanes and My Kind of Kathmandu. After Doig’s demise, Dubby stayed on in Kathmandu, adopted a son and made Nepal his home. He wrote eclectic reviews for The Himalayan Times and spent most of his time raising his granddaughters.

In the last 16 years, every Friday morning without fail there would a phone call from Dubby dissecting the content of that morning’s paper cover-to-cover. He would read out loud choice sentences from the back page — Backside, by The Ass — guffawing uncontrollably until he broke into a cough. He would also mercilessly dismiss insipid and mediocre content, and was in this way the unofficial quality controller of a newspaper that he had helped birth.

At the 15th anniversary function last year at the Shangri-La, Dubby spoke about how proud he felt that the paper we had founded was now a vibrant, irreverent adolescent, complete with pimples, the hint of a moustache and a strong-willed personality.

Dubby had become an honorary Nepali, aghast at what his home country could do to his adopted one during the blockade in 2015, and did not mince words in describing the perpetrators as “imbeciles”. He delighted in simple pleasures like reading and watching movies, and enjoyed the world with all his senses. Walking down Jhamsikhel past Herman’s Bakery on a morning after night-long rain, he would say: “Take in the smell, take in the sights.”

A month or so ago, the Friday morning phone calls stopped coming. Embroiled in the ongoing day-to-day crises, I was unable to make a visit after hearing that he was not doing well. The end came after a heart attack while being taken to hospital on 20 July.

Miss your extraordinary presence, Dubby,

Kunda Dixit


Lethal politics of a sick nation

Monday, July 18th, 2016
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govinda kc

Pic: Gopen Rai

The health of a nation is often judged by the quality and reach of its health service. Some industrialised countries like the United States ail within because medical treatment is too expensive, and out of reach of many. On the other hand, there are low-income countries like Sri Lanka and Cuba which have universal, free and quality health care.

Every four years at election time in the United States, health care reform becomes a make-or-break agenda item, as it will in the run-up to November. America’s medical-industrial complex, which includes private insurance companies, do not like reform because it will reduce health costs and eat into their profits.

It is not surprising, therefore, that health care has become such a political hot potato in Nepal as well. The medical mafia and its political patrons in government and the legislature have investments in private hospitals and the lucrative medical education sector, and they are against any attempt to regulate private health care. As in every other arena of Nepal’s public life, the fox is guarding the chicken coop.

The rot is so deep that the Minister of Health and the State Minister of Health and Population (both from Tarai districts with abysmal statistics for physical wellbeing of citizens) have been blatantly demanding kickbacks  from the poor. With the clock ticking on their time in office, last week they openly asked for kickbacks of up to 50 per cent in return for approval of annual government grants that 23 community hospitals across rural Nepal are entitled to.

Corruption has corroded every facet of government, but it is when it afflicts health care that kleptocracy kills. Stealing money from hospitals is akin to murder. Outraged by all this, Nepal’s Gandhian physician, Govinda KC, has been on a lifelong crusade to make health care affordable and accessible to Nepal’s 30 million people. On Tuesday, he is on the tenth day of his eighth hunger strike, with a list of long-standing demands that have either been ignored or only partially fulfilled after previous satyagrahas.

Needless to say, the medical mafia and its political comrades-in-crime have been trying their best to discredit him, obstruct his fast at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, and even gone as far as to try to deprive the frail KC of medical attention. It is ironical that top political leaders who have visited the Federal Alliance ‘hunger’ strikers at Tundikhel do not have the intestinal fortitude to call on KC, even to show concern for a doctor who is risking his life for the people.

Unfortunately, KC’s fast this time coincides with a power struggle that threatens to bring down the coalition of Prime Minister K P Oli of the UML. And since UML politicians and cronies have the biggest investments in the private medical industry, Oli has an excuse not to do anything, because he is ostensibly a lame duck. Even without KC’s hunger strike, the ongoing regime change drama has serious consequences for the budget, the constitution and the inclusion of Madhesi and Janajati concerns, as well as for Nepal’s geopolitical equilibrium. Our only hope was in the legislature, but parliamentarians are behaving like flailing tentacles of the political cartel sucking the blood of Nepalis.

It is clear that the deathly silence of the politicians is not just due to their business interest in the medical sector, but because of the fear of reprisals from Lokman Singh Karki, the dreaded head of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), which has itself become the biggest abuser of authority in the land. Even during his fifth fast two years ago, KC had demanded that Karki and Commissioner Rajnarayan Pathak be removed for obstructing reforms in the medical sector because of their vested interests.

The CIAA is still at it: it has overstepped its mandate in order to protect the family-business ties of its commissioners in the medical sector, it has brazenly interfered with Kathmandu University School of Medicine, and it has tried to influence the licensing of new medical colleges, forcing out functionaries of the Institute of Medicine who stood in the way.

Nepal is run by a syndicate of tainted politicians who are in cahoots with cartels in health, education, transportation, food supply, tourism  you name it. They are not here to serve the people but to steal from them. The tragedy is that they have infiltrated Parliament through nominees in the proportional representation quota, to make laws that perpetuate their profiteering.

The Health Bill passed last week doesn’t include any of Govinda KC’s demands for healthcare reform. Enough said.

Read Also:

Truth be told, Bidushi Dhungel

KC’s new crusade


Dying to make a living

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016
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The turmoil and terrorism that has engulfed the entire crescent from Pakistan, though Iraq and Syria to Libya seems a world away from Nepal. But once more, the violence of that region has spilled over. It was brought home with the tragic deaths of 12 Nepali citizens in the bus bombing in Kabul on the morning of Monday, 20 June.

Once more, families in Nepal grieved for sons killed faraway. We were again reminded of the fragility of Nepal’s remittance-driven economy. More than half the four million Nepalis working abroad are located in the volatile Gulf region. The migrant economy now makes up nearly one-third of the country’s GDP, and it is the blood, sweat and tears of our workers, the money that they send home, that sustains their families and keeps Nepal’s economy afloat.

It was only 12 years ago that 12 Nepali workers who had been taken hostage by the Ansa al-Sunnah group in Iraq were gunned down. When the  killings were broadcast live on international tv channels, riots broke out in Kathmandu. It was later revealed that Nepali Congress cadre used the tragedy to stage coordinated attacks on recruiting agencies and mosques to fan communal flames in an attempt to destabilise the royal regime.

At least a dozen Nepalis, most of them private security guards or soldiers with the British Army, have been killed in Afghanistan in the past decade. But this week’s attack on Nepalis guarding the Canadian Embassy in Kabul was by far the most serious loss of life and underscores the fact that Nepalis are literally dying to make a living.

Such is the desperation for jobs and for a better life, that Nepalis are one of few nationalities willing to put themselves in harm’s way in dangerous jobs that no one else will do. Fatalities involving NATO troops in Afghanistan have fallen due to cutbacks, but also because Nepalis have taken up frontline sentry duties and convoy escorting.

Monday’s killings were full of glaring coincidences and ironies. It happened even as there were events in Kathmandu to mark World Refugee Day. Nepali workers overseas may not be classified as refugees, but they are economic migrants forced to leave because of the lack of jobs and prospects at home.

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A tweet on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation handle with breaking news of the attack said: ‘All Canadian Embassy staff safe …’, raising questions about what that mission had done to ensure the safety of its own security personnel. Who guards the guards? Who is responsible for the safety of foreign workers when security itself is subcontracted?

In a world numbed by violence and tragedy, we were once more reminded of the hierarchy of news. To trend, an event has to be sudden, there have to be dramatic visuals, the loss of life has to be above a certain threshold total, and even that depends on where the fatalities take place or where the victims are from. The death of a dozen Nepali security guards did not make the kind of headlines that a similar loss of life of NATO troops have commanded in the past.

But even in Nepal, there was a glaring discrepancy in coverage. A sudden terrorist attack with heavy loss of life got more prominence than coverage of the tragedy that unfolds more slowly — the deaths from ‘natural’ causes of Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf and Malaysia . There aren’t any banner headlines about the deaths of at least 1,000 Nepali migrant workers every year in Malaysia and the Gulf.

For example, 603 Nepalis died in one year (2014-15) just in Malaysia and Qatar. In the six years between 2008-14, 1,121 Nepali workers died in Malaysia, 880 in Saudi Arabia, 739 in Qatar and 264 in the UAE. But these deaths did not happen suddenly in one place, they were scattered across the region, the workers mostly died quietly in their sleep, and the only visuals were of coffins arriving at Kathmandu airport. So they never made it to the news.

The deaths of our soldiers fighting in foreign armies and security guards protecting embassies and airports in war zones around the world also opens up the vexing question of pride and sovereignty. We Nepalis are, on the one hand, proud never to have been colonised and being labelled the oldest nation state in South Asia. And yet, in this day and age we allow our citizens to fight and die for foreigners. Even more surprising is how much recruitment of Nepalis by the armed forces of India, Britain, Singapore, Oman or Brunei is accepted by the public here.

Nepali soldiers have been  mixed up in a war between two neighbours with whom we have good relations (as happened in the India-China war of 1962), and Gurkhas fought each other in 1816, and on opposite sides during World War 2 in Imphal. We have accepted these profound contradictions, and taken them in our stride.

Recruitment of Nepali citizens in foreign armies is a historical incongruity that can only be set right by stabilising our politics and straightening out our economy. This involves politics, and once and for all getting our governance right. If we don’t, we will continue to depend on overseas remittances to prop up our precarious economy, and tragedies like the one that befell our compatriots in Kabul this week will keep on repeating.


Climactic change

Sunday, June 5th, 2016
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Green is not just the colour of the environment, it is also the colour of money. 

climactic change

Pic: Kunda Dixit

As another Environment Day comes around on 5 June, you can be sure that our commitment to clean air, green cities and lean living will be confined to token rallies in which school children once again will be dragooned to carry placards along Kathmandu’s roads. In the afternoon, a smattering of ministers will attend half-hearted functions in which they will read meaningless speeches to almost-asleep invitees. And that will be it until the next Environment Day on 5 June 2017.

And yet, the past 12 months have been a reminder to us in Nepal that disasters are not only of the earth-shattering kind — there are slow-moving crises like the climate calamity affecting us. It is not as immediately dramatic, but the warming earth is reaching a tipping point with almost certain catastrophic impact on the Himalaya and everything downstream.

This year Nepal suffered an unprecedented drought, and the only reason we haven’t heard more about it is that it affected the country’s poorest and remotest mountain districts of the far-west. Entire villages have been abandoned as people move to the cities in search of a means of survival.

In central Nepal, the onset of pre-monsoon rains has ended the drought, but springs have dried up because of the subterranean impact of the earthquake on aquifers. In this edition, photographer Kishor Sharma profiles a village in Dhankuta that has no water at all, and where households spend entire days ferrying water up the mountain from the Tamor River.

To be sure, droughts are nothing new to Nepal. Monsoons have frequently failed. But there is evidence that climate change is making weather patterns significantly more erratic, leading to extreme rainfall events and prolonging droughts.

If successive national governments had been more proactive in rigging up irrigation systems and putting in place drinking water schemes, they would have addressed a chronic problem that has been made far more acute by global warming.

Across Nepal, we see that villages with efficient and accountable leadership have been successful at lessening dependence on rain-fed agriculture. Today, they are the ones better able to cope with climate change. Unpredictable weather is only the latest hardship that Nepalis have to face, and has undoubtedly exacerbated all other existing problems markedly.

Climate change ‘adaptation’ is now a buzzword for governments, international agencies and NGOs in their fund-raising efforts. But in reality climate change has only brought to the fore existing structural problems of governance that render farmers vulnerable.

Then there are the overarching regional problems of longterm water shortages brought about by global warming. As we see in a special report in this issue, over one generation the glaciers in Nepal and Tibet have receded, snowlines have moved up the mountains, and hundreds of lakes have appeared out of nowhere and are in danger of bursting. ICIMOD researchers in Langtang this year observed the thickest spring haze ever.

There is reason to believe that not all of the melting of Himalayan glaciers is the result of global emissions, but is also caused by the deposits on the snowfields of soot particles from industries, crop and forest fires. Ironically, the forest fires were more widespread this year because of a prolonged drought, itself induced by global warming.

True, snow and ice get all the attention for Himalayan climate scientists, and the reason is that they are so strikingly visible. Weather gets less attention because its correlation with global warming is not yet conclusively proven, so scientists are reluctant to blame greenhouse gases in the atmosphere for the frequency and intensity of storms, droughts or cloudbursts.

Climate change overshadows all other crises, and is often seen as a stand-alone problem which has to be ‘mitigated’ or to which people have to ‘adapt’. In fact, the rural poor of the Himalaya have always had to mitigate and adapt, and to cope with the underlying factors keeping them poor. The basis of their vulnerability is political neglect, but the reason they have to leave their homes today is environmental. Archetypal political corruption and patronage that disregards the environment in sand and boulder mining, or in quarrying the Chure make people there poorer.

The poor lack choice. If there is no rain, there is no irrigation canal to fall back on. If the springs run dry, they have to vacate their homes. When food runs out, they migrate to India. Nepalis will become increasingly more destitute because climate change will reduce their choices. They lacked options long before anyone knew the globe was warming — they have always had to deal with uncertain weather on their own. Now they also have to adapt to an uncertain climate.

Read also:

When melting mountains shake, Kunda Dixit

Mountain people paying

Kurule tenupa, Kishor Sharma

Defrosted, Kunda Dixit

High and dry, Ayesha Shakya


 

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