Saving Everest

For the first time in the annals of human history, a government Cabinet met in the lap of Mount Everest. Indeed, the meeting, which took place on December 4th, has set many records. It was the first Cabinet meeting to be held at Kalapatthar – at the height of 17,192 feet. It was the first Cabinet meeting that was totally focused on environmental issues. And for the first time, Cabinet ministers traveled such a long distance together for a meeting. It was a sight to see the 20 or so ministers wearing oxygen masks to help counter the altitude risk. But Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal couldn’t have looked happier, and the other ministers seemed to be enjoying the majestic beauty of the Himalayas as well. There were tables and chairs, and the ministers used different pens that work at high altitudes.

Just a few years ago, according to the locals, the hills of the Syanboche were clothed with snow, but now a lot of the snow has melted. Unlike before, it is still sunny in the winter on these peaks – which speeds up snow melt. Even the day of the Cabinet meeting was sunny and beautiful.

As is well documented, glaciers the world over are melting at a higher rate than ever before, and so it is in Nepal. According to reports, Nepal’s annual average temperature has risen by about one degree Fahrenheit, but the temperature in the Himalayas has increased twice as much. Forty of Nepal’s 2,300 glacial lakes are identified as potentially dangerous for floods, and 20 of those are considered likely to burst soon.

Lukla: front line for the coming flood

Locals at the town of Lukla, which lies downstream from the Imja Glacier Lake, say they live in the constant fear of the lake bursting. Reports confirm that most of Nepal’s glacial lakes don’t have the necessary protective measures to protect communities from flooding, and Nepal’s government has yet to address this and other issues.

However, the government successfully drew international attention to the impact of climate change and announced a massive campaign to educate people on the issue. The Cabinet also demarcated Gauri Shankar and Api Nampa as conservation areas, and took its ambitious declarations to the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen.

Yet is it enough?

And the fate of Nepal’s glaciers has resonance for the rest of the region and the world. One billion people in Western China, Nepal, and Northern India – a sixth of the world’s population – are dependent on the water in Nepal’s rivers for fresh drinking water. Unless these problems are adequately addressed, the loss of this water supply will cause massive economic and environmental problems for years to come.

- Rajneesh Bhandari