Analysis - The Climate Crisis Impacting Displacement in Nepal
Nepal is a small country that is bordered between two major global actors in China to the north and India to the south. Due to the overwhelming poverty and infrastructure shortcomings, it struggles to be self-reliant and hold a position of power when it comes to climate change policy at the global level.
Nepal has been listed as highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change by USAID as it continues to feel the burden of fluctuating temperatures and an increase level of rainfall when compared to the global average. As Nepal houses the majority of the Himalayan mountain range, including Mount Everest, the landscape becomes susceptible to dangerous levels of landslides, especially during monsoon season.
A recent development that has amplified the impact the climate crisis has had on Nepal has been a recent string of wildfires that have been spotted across the countryside and along the foothills of the Himalayas. In June of 2021, the Nepali Times reported on the worst wildfire season Nepal has faced in recent memory, with fires raging from November until March without stopping. These extreme weather events being caused by the climate crisis compound themselves, as these wildfires only intensify the impact monsoons have on the landscape. The publication reported that, "The denuded slopes could not hold the water, and the runoff surged into rivers washing away homes, bridges, roads and hydropower plants." Without substantial reform in the areas of disaster risk management, these occurrences will continue to add to each other and impact an already unstable living situation for so many people.
As stated by Nepal's Ministry of Home Affairs, approximately 60 people were killed and 100 homes were lost by flooding over the course of 4 weeks -- from August to September. This presents itself as a one month sample of the frequency of these floods, as they do not occur once every year, but possibly one every week as dozens lost their lives in a monsoon in July, 2021. The intensity of these floods, it has to be noted, have preventable factors pertaining to the severity of them such as political shortsightedness and a lack of effective policy change.
In just the last month, occurring in September of 2021, the Nepal Red Cross Society reported that the regions of Nepal such as Myagdi, Rupandehi, Dang, etc. were most affected during this monsoon season, leaving roughly 5,000 families impacted and an estimated 2,000 of them becoming temporarily displaced in just that month.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that Nepal's future risk for displacement is extremely high, close to 100,000 people, either due to earthquakes or flooding. As flooding is responsible for the majority of displacement around the country, IDMC estimates that flooding specifically will account for close to 90% of all future risk.
Nepal is rich with natural resources and these resources themselves, if utilized properly, have the potential to enhance human security and jumpstart local economies. Unfortunately, as these natural resources start to grow and develop, they are repeatedly pushed back because of the ongoing climate crisis, undermining many chances at achieving economic development.
Photo by: Kalle Kortelainen
Nepal is often pushed into becoming reliant on external partners such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for help. Major NGOS such as OXFAM and the British Red Cross have had a long-standing presence within Nepal, playing a major role in the 2015 reconstruction. A lesser known, small-market NGO called ADRA Nepal are responsible for items related to shelter, such as bedding and kitchen supplies, to 600 different households in response to the displacement that's been caused by the climate crisis and deserve recognition for their efforts. These efforts are unfortunately nothing new, as Nepal has been in a state of humanitarian need for decades.
A two-pronged approach between state and non-governmental partners is crucial for developing short-term relief plans in wake of these flash floods and monsoons. The government of Nepal, in contrast to some other countries, have, from the start, been very open to third-party actors coming into their country to provide humanitarian aid. However, for long-term stability in minimizing disaster risk and solidifying human security in the region, a political stance has to be taken.
In April of 2020, The New York Times reported on climate change having a massive impact on the Himalayan region, putting millions at risk and compromising water sources and local livestock. This is met with the solution of moving further down the mountain and creating smaller settlements at lower altitudes.
Nepal is at high risk of increasing temperatures and have a geographical vulnerability for future disasters. Seemingly weekly floods and regular monsoons are consequence from a growing neglect towards Asian countries in this region. As climate change is a driver for internal displacement around the world, it is especially compounded for a country like Nepal, who has a massive economic problem, infrastructure short-comings, and a lack of institutional presence. This, heightened by a recent history of disasters, leads to an increase in environmental-based migration awareness, in which Nepal suffers from greatly.
The Asian Development Bank published a report in 2017 that touched on the dangers of forced migration based on environmental factors on the Asian continent. As it stated in the report, a 2°C temperature increase has already lead to enhanced risks in the southern Asian states in which Nepal are apart of and a 4°C increase could trigger severe disruptions of ecosystem services vital to the Asian economy. As Nepal tries to capitalize on a hydroelectric grid that is already at 92% of total installed capacity, utilize the forestry that covers one-third of the entire country, and expand on an agriculture industry that makes up the largest portion of the country's economy, it is reliant on a healthy ecosystem.
As social unrest begins to present itself due to a governmental lack of response, the government of Nepal faces a challenging road ahead. As Kunda Dixit, a citizen of Nepal and writer of the Nepali Times, wrote, "The government has allowed river valleys and the fragile Chure to be mined for stone exports to India. With politicians distracted by one upmanship, and federalism not functioning because of micro-management by parties in Kathmandu, this season of disasters will be talked about for a while. Until next year’s monsoon."