Imja Glacier Lake (5010m) is growing rapidly resulting from melting of the Imja Tsho Glacier, due to rise in temperature. The lake is at   high risk of Glacier Lakes Outburst Flood threatening communities living below. Credit: Govinda Joshi/ICIMOD Nepal
The melting of the Himalayan glaciers will be felt well beyond Nepal’s borders

Millions of rural poor in Nepal could face more hunger as a result of climate change; situation “deeply worrying”

“Poor and marginalized communities tend to be those most vulnerable to climate change and least able to cope with weather-related disasters...”
Published: 28 August 2009

Poor crop yields, water shortages and more extreme temperatures are pushing rural villagers closer to the brink as climate change grips Nepal, according to a new report launched by the international aid agency Oxfam.

In the report,  “Even the Himalayas Have Stopped Smiling:  Climate Change, Poverty and Adaptation in Nepal”,  farmers  told Oxfam that changing weather patterns had dramatically affected crop production, leaving them unable to properly feed themselves and getting into debt. Oxfam called the situation “deeply worrying.”

“Communities told us crop production is roughly half that of previous years. Some said that while they used to grow enough food for three to six months of the year, last year many could only grow enough for one month’s consumption,” said Oxfam’s Nepal country director, Wayne Gum. ”Poor farmers rely on rainfall. They farm small areas of land which, at the best of times,  can barely produce enough food for the family.”

Currently, more than  3.4 million people in Nepal are estimated to require food assistance, due to a combination of natural disasters, including last year’s winter drought - one of the worst in the country’s history. Higher food prices have also reduced people’s ability to purchase food. Although single drought events cannot be attributed to climate change, climate models predict less winter rain, indicating how  the current situation could get worse.

Among recent changes in weather patterns in Nepal are an increase in temperature extremes, more intense rainfall and increased unpredictability in weather patterns, including drier winters and delays in the summer monsoons. The melting of the Himalayan glaciers will also be felt well beyond Nepal’s borders. Scientists warn that if the Himalayan glaciers disappear – with some predicting this could happen within 30 years – the impact would be felt by more than one billion people across Asia.

Some of the heaviest burdens have fallen on women who are on the frontline of climate change.  They have to travel  further distances to fetch water and take  on the responsibility for feeding the family as men in many poor households migrate seasonally to seek work.

“The predicted impacts of climate change will heighten existing vulnerabilities, inequalities and exposure to hazards”, said the report.

“Poor and marginalized communities tend to be those most vulnerable to climate change and least able to cope with weather-related disasters because of lack of access to information and resources to reduce their risk.”

Nepal is one of the world’s poorest nations, with 31% of its 28 million population living below the poverty line.  Most of Nepal’s poor live in rural areas that are  most at risk  to disasters such as floods and landslides.

Oxfam says more work needs to be done in Nepal by the government and international organisations to create greater awareness about climate change and its likely impacts, to prioritize and institutionalize actions at national level; and help communities to play a greater role themselves in initiatives to reduce their vulnerability.

Nepal is extremely vulnerable to climate change; yet has one of the lowest emissions in the world – just 0.025% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Oxfam is calling on the world’s richest countries, those most responsible for global emissions,  to do more to help poor countries like Nepal better adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change when they meet to discuss a global climate treaty in Copenhagen in December – in 100 days from tomorrow.

Notes to Editors

Downloadable high resolution photographs available at:
http://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=5533&k=3f2896067d