NEVERTHELESS tourism is now Nepal's largest industry and the greatest source of foreign exchange and revenue as over seven lakh foreigners descend the country each year , mostly for trekking, mountaineering and adventure holidays; in the areas they frequent,( there tends to be little malnutrition, better housing and clean water), the entire Himalayan country is on the front line of climate change and is highly vulnerable to flash floods, landslides and droughts (As the entire Himalayan mountain range in said to be highest, youngest and largest in the world-rocks are yet to form in the mountains as well as large scale denunciation of forest). Glaciers are melting at an increasing rate and major climate changes are taking place today. Entire Himalayan range have become definitely warmer ! Such changes are not seasonal change any more. It is rapid. Is is so apparent.
Narrating the story of Nepal, once among the world's poorest people, The Guardian, in a recent report, has said the Nepal has eight of the 10 highest mountains in the world -Khumbu, in north-eastern Nepal, is bustling region that earns millions of dollars a year from hundreds of expeditions, Mountaineering, a form of extreme tourism, has grown to point where Sherpas-the ethnic group, who mostly live in the infertile mountains and became load carriers for foreign mountaineers-now run their own businesses, contracting much heavy work to other Nepali ethnic groups. Sherpas are said to earn between seven and 10 times the average Nepalese wage. Significantly, many are able to send their children to the best schools. The new generation like Dawa, are likely to spend much of the year in Kathmandu or abroad; they aspire to start businesses or to become doctors, engineers or airline pilots. Mountaineering industry changed the face and brought real progress. Most of the Nepalese are not so fortunate. The country is unrecognisable from isolated Himalayan kingdom that the British expedition in 1953 found, and now at major trading crossroads with its mighty neighbours China and India. New roads are being bulldozed through previously isolated region, western influences are every where.
But the development has come at a huge price. The air pollution and traffic jams of Kathmandu are among the worst in the globe, the cities are chaotic, unemployment is massive, and the predominantly rural population remains mostly locked in subsistence farming. Tens of thousands of young men now work in Saudi Arabia and Gulf states as labourers and the Maoist revolution grew of deep poverty and worsening conditions in rural areas. Only about 40 percent girls and 45 percent boys go to secondary schools.
On the other hand melting glaciers and rising temperatures are forming a potentially destructive combination in the deep ravines of Nepal's Himlayan foothills and the Phulping bridge-on the Araniko Highways linking Kathmandu with the Chinese border-is a good place to see just how dangerous the pairing can be ! A report in The Time says, "a bare concrete pillar stands there, little noticed by the drivers of the truck, laden with the Chinese goods, that rattle along at high speed across the bridge, about 111 km from Kathmandu. The pillar is all that's left of the original Phulping bridge, which was swept away by flood waters in July 1981. The deluge was not caused, as in common, by monsoon rains, but by the bursting of glacial lake. The force of the raging torrent was strong enough to dislodge boulders 30 meter across. They still lie in the Bhote Koshi river."
Glacial-lake outbursts, as they are known, are not new. They occur every time the natural dams of ice or accumulated rock deposits that hold back glacial lakes give was because of seismic activity, erosion or simple water pressure. Millions of cubic meters of melt water can be released as a result, some time over course of a few days or -far more frighteningly-in a mater of minutes. During past century, at easy 50 glacial-lake outbursts were recorded in the Himalayas; according to data maintained by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). But what is new that the lakes are forming and growing much more quickly because the glaciers are melting faster than ever.
According to the programme coordinator of ICIMOD Pradeep Mool; the potential of Himalayan tsunami is a hazard of global warming that has yet to be given much attention by outsiders but it is a daily preoccupation. There were some 20000 glacial lakes in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region, extending Afghanistan to Burma. In some parts of Himalayas like Dudh -Koshi are in eastern Nepal, the melt rate is alarmingly high.
Mool says, " almost all the glaciers in Dudh-Koshi are retreating at rates of 10 to 15 meter annually-but the rate for some has accelerated during last half-decade to 74 meter annually." He explained that this had created 24 new glacial lakes in the area, which now had total of 34 such bodies of water. At least ten of them are considered dangerous.
Research papers by a team from the University of Milan, released this month, found that in the past 50 years glaciers in the Everest region had shrunk by 13 percent and snow-line was now seen about 180 meter higher up. Sandeep Thakur, a researcher with the team says the meeting was most likely caused by warming temperature and was certain to continue. Since 1992, premonsoon and winter temperatures in the Everest region has increased by 0.6_0C
Earthquakes also add to the risk. Earthquake could act as major triggers for glacial-lake outbursts, Mool says. He feels that much better monitoring of the lakes is needed to get a proper assessment of the dangers.
Moreover, down in Bhote-Koshi valley, villagers now rely on text messages for warnings of potential floods, landslides and other hazards. The power station near village of Jhirpu Phulpingkatt will issue warning of a glacial-lake outburst, but people in the areas will only have a few minutes notice before flood waters arrive and only glacial-take outbursts in Nepal territory can be immediately detected. There are at least six glacial lakes close by in Tibet that lie outside the warning system and outbursts will be detected only when Waters enter Nepali territory; according to the plant's acting manager Janak Raj Pant. But regardless of where an outburst originates, he says,, " all of us would have to run for our lives
Apart from that the plain areas of Nepal, towards north, adjoining the land-locked border with mainly Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in India have become most vulnerable of flood devastation, coming from Himalayan range because of outbursts as well as major melting in glaciers due to climate changes and also large scale of forest denunciation by the Nepalese in the forest areas.. Janak Raj Pant disclosed that all of " us would have run for our lives."
Seaborne tsunami have already unleashed enough devastation this century-let us hope that no comparable disasters dwell in the Himalayas' icy ravines !