Nepali Times Asian Paints
Making Nepal (climate) resilient

Nepali Times caught up with members of the Climate Celebrity Trek in Jumla as they approached the end of their four-month journey on foot across Nepal along the Great Himalayan Trail. We spoke to 21 time Everest summiteer, Apa Sherpa, Dawa Sherpa and Saurav Dhakal as well as UNICEF country representative Hana Singer who joined the trek from Jumla to Rara Lake about how climate change is impacting the Himalaya.

Nepali Times: How did UNICEF get involved in the trek?
Hana Singer
: UNICEF works to uplift the condition of women and children around the world, and we have come to realise that unless we address the root cause behind their suffering our efforts will not have durable impact. Hence, we included climate change as one of the main agendas because we believe women and children in developing countries are most vulnerable.

How exactly is climate change affecting Nepali women and children?
The most notable impact has been on rainfall patterns and how erratic rains have led to shortages of drinking water and destroyed crops. In remote areas of Nepal, this forces people to drink contaminated water and bad harvest means people go hungry. The outbreak of waterborne diseases and malnourishment mostly affects women and children.

How can UNICEF help?
UNICEF has been working with the Nepal government through Decentralised Action for Children and Women program on improving maternal health, reducing childhood morbidity, fighting malnutrition, reducing incidence of diseases from inadequate sanitation and water supply. Drinking water, sanitation and nutrition are silent emergencies and our aim is to support and prepare the local population for a climate resilient future.

Which areas of Nepal have you focused on?
We have done a vulnerability mapping and found that 40 per cent of Nepal's population is malnourished, of which 60 per cent are children from mid and far western districts. Jumla has been selected as a model district and we are working with line ministries and local bodies to improve nutrition intake, sanitation, infrastructure, agriculture and health, but we will expand our program in the entire Karnali region.

Apa Sherpa, you have undertaken this trek to draw awareness about the impact of climate change in the Himalaya. Do you feel it is working?
Apa Sherpa: I lost my house to a climate disaster in 1989 and know how vulnerable the mountains are. We prepared for two years for this trip and I feel we have generated a lot of support for the cause. Many have joined our trek and the media has widely disseminated our messages. We also have been talking to people along the trails, making them aware of the situation and asking them to reduce pollution in the mountains.

Dawa, what visible signs of climate change have you seen?

Dawa Sherpa: The most visible impact was on the crops in the eastern hills due to frost. Another worrying indicator was the receding snowline and dwindling yarsagumba. Overharvesting has made yarsa picking more difficult and less worthwhile. We also noticed a brewing conflict over yarsa, while the locals want to protect their yarsa lands, harvesters are desperate to earn money. Yarsa has been keeping hundreds employed for now, but what will happen once it runs out?

Apa: We saw an old poster of Machhapuchhre at a rest house in Beni which shows the mountain thickly covered in snow. But when we walked past the mountain, it was a black pyramid. In Kaski locals told us how little it snows these days.

Saurav, you must have come across many attractive spots with trekking potential?
Saurav Dhakal: Yes, there are still many amazingly beautiful areas in Nepal waiting to be explored. The trek through Dhorpatan was one of the most memorable. The scenic beauty and rich biodiversity of the area are unparalleled. But sadly, we heard about this 'new' trekking route from former guerrillas who had participated in many batttles, including the attack on Beni in 2005. They even guided us through what is now called the Guerrilla Trek. The most beautiful places in Nepal witnessed the most horrific conflict.

Dawa: The Guerrilla Trek may be a catchy brand to attract tourists, but I feel the wounds of conflict are too raw and the tragedy still fresh in people's psyche. The government must think twice before packaging and selling their grief.

Saurav: The war is a part of our history, and it must be documented and researched. But let us not commercialise it.

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A trekker's best friend, HELEN JEAN
It seems the dog which joined the Great Himalayan Trail has a past

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)