With a cup of hot Timmure tea in hand, Malarani, stares at the pouring rain from her kitchen door with pain in her eyes. The monsoon has arrived late this year and while it is expected to ruin the paddy and corn crops, it will also significantly affect the soapnut and Timur harvest in the coming months. Malarani shares that it was similar last year but this year the rains are crueler.

A glimpse of the heavy rains

With a sigh, she says, “The Goddess must be really angry with us, we must have done something wrong”. It broke my heart and infuriated me at the same time. People like Malarani epitomize living in harmony with nature in the remote hills of Nepal and yet they are the prime victims of the consequences of climate change. This is unfair. It is even more tragic to see the local communities end up blaming themselves for these disasters while the actual perpetrators aren’t even aware of their plights. 

Anyways, we are way past the blaming stage now. What worries me more, is that it is going to get worse every year and we are far from being prepared to deal with it.

Nepal: Drowning plains and Eroding hills

Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries to the consequences of climate change even though our contribution to Green House Gas emissions (GHG) is just 0.1%. We have been facing climate change-led fast-onset disasters in the form of erratic rainfalls, flash floods, and horrible landslides over the past couple of years. In the future, the annual precipitation is projected to increase by 8-12 percent with a severe impact especially in the higher regions while the temperature is expected to rise by 1.3–1.80 degree Celsius. The rainfall in the monsoon is expected to go up to three folds. This will more than double the number of victims of disastrous floods reaching around 350,000 in 2030(from 157,000 in 2010) and triple the negative impact on our economy.

Karnali Floods, October 2022 (Source: Khabarhub)

It also causes a massive damage to our infrastructure. In FY2019/20 alone, road infrastructure incurred damages worth over NPR 2 billion (US$16.4 million).

Nepal is the 10th most affected country in the world by climate change according to Climate Risk Index. Approximately 80% of our population is at risk from climate change-induced disasters such as extreme heat, floods, landslides, soil erosion, dry winters, and more. The vulnerable and poor communities relying on agriculture for subsistence are expected to be at the highest risk.

The condition of the road due to landslides

Living on the brink of disaster, the farmer and rural communities of Nepal

Agriculture in Nepal is still heavily weather dependent. A minor change in the climate can have a huge impact not only on the farmer but the entire nation. For eg: Delayed rainfall damages the maize crops and causes them to rot even before the harvest. If the erratic rain continues every year, then the farmers will be bound to discard maize plantations to avoid losses and use the land to plant other crops. This will affect the availability of maize in the market causing severe price fluctuations.

Maize crops in Nepal (Source: Kathmandu Tribune)

The farmers face huge financial losses every year due to these disasters. In the hilly regions, the situation is worse as sometimes they end up losing an entire piece of their farmland due to landslides.

State of Karnali Highway after the recent landslides, October 11, 2022 (Source: Routine of Nepal Banda, picture: Shekhar Baral)

Climate change also poses a threat to the natural ecosystems and forests of Nepal which severely impacts the lives of the local communities. The forests cover around 40% of Nepal’s land and more than 30,000 communities are dependent on them for their livelihoods as they are a key source of fodder, food, medicinal herbs, spices, and more.

The rich forest resources of Nepal

These forest covers also serve as buffers against climate impacts and provide critical ecosystem services, including groundwater recharge, water quality and quantity control, and reduction of landslides, erosion, drought, and flood risks. However, recent heavy rains and heat waves have led to more frequent and severe drought, erosion, biodiversity loss, forest fires, and diseases in these ecosystems.

The constant threat to life and poor economic opportunities are pushing these local communities to abandon their lands and homes and migrate for better livelihood options. One of the direct results of this is visible in the increased out-migration of Nepalese youth to gulf countries for jobs.

Nepali migrant laborers at Tribhuwan International Airport (Source: The workers rights)

According to a report by The Nepali Times, there are said to be at least 3 million Nepalis working just in India, and the figure for labor permits shows at least 2 million in the Gulf, Malaysia, Korea, and Japan. Poor economic opportunities at the local level are just going to add more to these numbers.

The time to act on climate change was yesterday, but today can also be a great start.

Climate change is a complex issue and it requires a systemic approach to solve it. A poorly researched and thought-out solution could lead to a future problem. Hence, it is important for the government, local communities, non-profits, academics, and experts to work on it together.

In a year of visiting remote villages in the Chure ranges, and interacting with local communities, farmers, youth, and government officials, I have realized that we need to work on our awareness, preparedness, and creating economic opportunities to curb the impact.

Interaction with farmers and govt officials

We also need to pay extra attention to the development planning in these regions to reduce disasters like flooding. There is an awareness of this at the local level, however poor knowledge and lack of technical expertise make it difficult for people to act on these issues.

While different organizations, governments, and non-profits are working on creating technical and policy-level solutions, here are the three areas that we can start working on at our level.

1) Information As Power: In the remote areas of Nepal, the locals still think the disasters are caused by angry Gods. As a result, they focus on more poojas and animal sacrifices. This misbelief is a huge barrier as it directs people to solve the wrong problem. We can only solve what we are able to see. Hence, it is important to make people aware of the shift in climate patterns and how it will impact the lives of these communities going forward so that they can prepare themselves accordingly. There is also a need for capacity-building programs to train these local communities in disaster relief work. We also need to focus on equipping them with disaster prevention measures that they can implement to improve their lives and the environment like climate-smart agriculture.

2) Local Youth Innovation Hubs: The younger generation across the globe is more passionate and dedicated to the cause of global warming and climate change. They hold the key to finding creative solutions to this issue as they are well aware of the challenges and potential opportunities in their geographies. With the help of the power of technology, they are better positioned to find contextual solutions. The youth also have a unique capability to bring a community together and engage them effectively. Hence, we can focus on making local youth innovation hubs across the country and connecting them so that they can collaborate and co-create innovative solutions across Nepal.

3) Empowering Local Economies: 17.4% of Nepalis are multi-dimensionally poor and over half of this population resides in rural areas. If we can create better income opportunities in these remote geographies, people will be better positioned to protect themselves. We also need to focus on promoting entrepreneurship in these areas. Some of the solutions might be to build the capacity of the local communities in organic farming, sustainable harvesting of medicinal herbs and spices, selling local art and crafts, traditional food, etc. We can maybe have innovation labs funded by the local government/INGOs/Local communities where anyone can develop an idea/product and test its business feasibility. This can be centered around schools. Economic sustainability and environmental sustainability need to go hand in hand for a long-term impact.

None of these solutions are exhaustive but they can be a step towards building effective measures to curb the horrible impact of the climate crisis in Nepal. Climate change is no longer in the future, it is right here in front of us in the form of floods during Dashain, damaged crops, and ruined houses. Every year, the threat rises, and we need to act now. We have only one planet and only one Nepal. As a country, we have proven our resilience in the most difficult times and now more than ever, we need to join hands with people across the globe to protect our Sundar, Shanta Nepal.

Written by Ms. Poonam Shukla, Co-founder Sattva Nepal.

At Sattva, we are committed to empowering local communities in remote geographies of Nepal. We are working closely with the farmer and women communities to boost local economies and build their capacity to preserve their ecosystems via different projects.

We are always looking for an opportunity to partner with like-minded individuals and organizations. Please let us know if you would like to join us in our efforts. Write to us at sattva.nepal@gmail.com.


No country for young men | Nepali Times

Nepal Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021: Report | UNICEF Nepal

(1) Floods and drought in Nepal: The cost of climate change | DW Documentary – YouTube


Demand for Nepali migrant workers abroad still a big question (theworkersrights.com)

One thought on “Brutal Truths about climate change in Nepal”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *