KATHMANDU, SEP 28 -
The ever increasing scarcity of water for irrigation and for people to
drink has forced a historically and culturally rich community of Upper
Mustang to migrate to a new place, residents of the region have claimed.
While there has not been any official study into what is being seen as a
‘climate refugee’ issue, people leaving the area and individual foreign
researchers point out to the rising temperatures in the mountains,
causing snow to disappear, as the main reason for the area to dry up.
A total of 18 households representing the entire Samzong village in
Tsosher VDC, located at an altitude of around 4000 meters above sea
level, were finding it hard to live in their ancestral home as the
Samzong stream, fed by the snow during winters started drying up three
years ago. As the water eventually stopped flowing in the stream, the
community is being relocated in Namshung, a small village on the banks
of the Kali Gandaki river and a glacier catchment area in Mustang
Recent findings of ancient caves in the area suggest that the place had
been hosting human civilisation dating back to 3,000 years. Samzong, a
very remote village is the only place in Mustang, the district also
known as ‘Himal pariko Jilla,’ where local inhabitants speak the Tibetan
“For decades now, locals in Samzong and nearby villages in Upper
Mustang have been facing a water crisis due to less rainfall and
inadequate snowline,” said Lama Ngawang Kung Bista, a local from Mustang
and the founder director of Lo Mustang Foundation, an organisation
facilitating the relocation plan for the affected villagers.
“However, it was only in recent years that the high retreat of the
glaciers left the villagers staring at a severe water crisis,
threatening the existence of the entire village,” Bista added.
According to him, the proposed land for resettlement belongs to the
royal family of Mustang, the district that has also earned the sobriquet
of ‘the forbidden kingdom.’
The royal family has agreed to part with the land for the villagers’ relocation.
Two other villages, Yara and Dheye, in the same region are also facing
various environmental and economic challenges, leading them to abandon
their settlements for a better life elsewhere. “The main challenge for
the villagers who depend on subsistence farming and livestocks for
livelihoods is water for irrigation, which is inadequate or almost nil,”
Generally, Mustang is considered a desert with little rainfall activity
(few millimeters annually) observed over the decades due to its
terrain. It is located in the rain shadow of mountains along the Tibetan
plateau. The glaciers in the mountain ranges are the main source of
water for people in the entire region.
In recent years, glaciers melted at an alarming rate and the region
experienced extreme weather events such as heavy rain and snowfall
during winters, which are linked to the changing weather and rainfall
Two years ago in July, Lo-manthang in Upper Mustang located at an
altitude of 3,705 metres above sea level witnessed incessant rainfall
for almost 48 hours, triggering flashfloods and landslides and killing
one person. Weather experts had then termed the activity an ‘extreme
event’ as the average annual rainfall has decreased from around 250 mm
in the late 70s to 115 mm in recent years in Mustang.
According to Giovanni Kappenberger, a glaciologist, meteorologist and
climatologist from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich
(ETHZ) and a mountaineer, precipitation is likely to increase with more
occurrences of extreme events in the region.
“There is a marked rise in the temperatures during all seasons in the
mountain regions, with Tibet and Mustang areas expecting to heat more
than India,” he said in his research work published in 2011.
He said a general shrinking has been observed in glaciers in the
Mustang region. He added that smaller glaciers in the region will
disappear ‘within decades’ and big glaciers in centuries and very high
altitude glaciers (above 6,500 meters) will survive.
Ghana Shyam Gurung, conservation director at WWF Nepal, one of the
I/NGOs working in the Mustang area said communities which are already
living under hardships in lack of basic necessities, need to be provided
with better adaptation measures to deal with the various environmental
Posted on: 2013-09-28 08:25