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Living with fear of GLOF in Khumbu


The district where the ‘top of the world’ lies is divided into two parts—lower Solu and upper Khumbu. The larger river that descends through Khumbu is the Dudh Koshi which originates at Gokyo Lake. The Dudh Koshi meets the Imja Khola, which begins at a glacial lake named Imja Tsho, near Phortse. The Imja Tsho, situated at an elevation of 5,100m, is formed by the waters of the Lhotse Shar, Imja and Amphu glaciers. Other glacier-fed rivers from the Lhotse Nup and Lhotse glaciers meet the Imja Khola near Dingboche. Similarly, the Bhote Koshi that comes from Tibet meets the Dudh Koshi below Namche Bazaar. In this way, there are three major river valleys in Khumbu.

Last month, I was part of a research project titled Science-Based, Community-Driven Approach to Reducing Glacier Lake Outburst Flood Risks in the Nepal Himalaya. Team members in the project, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, included engineers, geographers, anthropologists and graduate students from the US and Nepal. The project is committed to better understanding both the human and physical dimensions of glacial lakes, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF), impacts on downstream communities and risk reduction strategies.

In 1985, the Bhote Koshi experienced a GLOF from Dig Tsho Lake that washed away a nearly completed hydropower plant, took the lives of four people and destroyed many homes and agricultural fields. The scars of the Langmoche flash flood are still visible in the villages of Thame and Thame Tenga and in the memories of local people. Imja Tsho is considered to be one of the 21 most dangerous glacial lakes in Nepal. It is filled with 75 million cubic metres of water that is held in by a fragile, unconsolidated terminal moraine of loose boulders and rocks. Even though our research team felt that Imja would be safe from ice avalanches from nearby peaks for at least another 15 to 20 years, a devastating GLOF could still be triggered by an earthquake, landslide or moraine collapse, which is why Imja remains in the ‘dangerous’ category.

It was an astounding trip for our team, as not only were we studying GLOFs and ways to help communities reduce their risk, but we actually saw and filmed one of them from the Lhotse glacier! The flood that we saw is different from a GLOF and is called an ‘englacial conduit flood’, where the hundreds of caves and tunnels within the glacier become filled with water that is suddenly released when the right trigger occurs, in this case, the melting of the ice and sudden release of cave water into other conduits and surficial lakes downstream.

A similar flood occurred in May 2015 and spread panic throughout Khumbu when people started calling their friends and saying that Imja Tsho had burst! The village of Chukung barely escaped then, and it was only saved this year by gabion walls that had been constructed through the initiative of a local NGO, the Khumbu Alpine Conservation Committee. Though the minor flood in the Lhotse Glacier was of concern only to Chukung, the fear of Imja Tsho extends all the way down. One of my colleagues Sonam Phuti Sherpa said that during the Lhotse flood last year, a lodge owner at Dingboche refused to flee saying that if the flood washed away his lodge, he would not be able to repay the loan he took to build it, so there was no sense in running and saving himself.

Even though there have been times when I was sceptical about the existence of climate change, it was at this point, when we could hear the rubble falling as the glacier kept melting, and after we had witnessed an actual glacier flood, that I realised how wrong I had been the whole time. It was a hard fact for me to believe that four decades ago, Imja was still a glacier with a couple of small melt water ponds on its surface. Now, it is 1km long, 0.5km wide and 150m deep, and contains millions of cubic metres of water.  How can one be a climate change denier in the face of this?

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Imja Lake in Khumbu. Photo by: Alton C. Byers, University of Colorado at Boulder.

On this same trip, I was lucky to witness and learn about the project that is currently lowering the water level at Imja Tsho. For someone who had not seen a motor vehicle for two months, it was an astonishing moment to see an excavator working at the terminal moraine outlet of Imja Tsho. The project, which is funded by the UNDP and the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology and implemented by the Nepal Army and Himalayan Research Expeditions, aims to lower the depth of the lake by 3 metres. However, a glaciologist in our team Dr David Rounce said that the lake needed to be lowered by at least 20 metres to reduce the hazards of GLOF significantly. Dr Alton C Byers, who has been working in Khumbu for more than 30 years, said, “reducing the lake by 3 metres may not reduce the hazard significantly, but it will definitely develop the capacity of a Nepali workforce that is capable of working at such high altitudes and difficult terrain and climate.”

Likewise, anthropologist Dr Milan Shrestha said, “Villagers living downstream face a lot of uncertainties and they are fearful of potential GLOF hazards. Although a community-based participatory approach would be more ideal, the villagers are somewhat relieved by the fact that the Army is lowering Imja Tsho by 3 metres.” Though the work initiated and carried out by the UNDP and the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology is commendable, similar work should be extended to other lakes that have been classified as dangerous for GLOF hazards, especially those above highly populated regions and hydropower plants that are being built or are already in existence.

Sharma is a recent graduate from Institute of Forestry, Pokhara

This article was also published in a National Newspaper Daily with the title Himalayan Hazards on 9th August, 2016.

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Looking Back at the Lakes: Analyzing problems and solutions of Lakes in the City of Lakes #APYF2016: Bidhya Sharma, Nepal


I am quite certain that I must have had one of the most fascinating childhood one can have. Growing up in the city of lakes, with one just on your sight everyday is not something that everyone is blessed with. What more, I was even more privileged by not just by the beautiful lakes but also  were the majestic mountains to go together with, making it one of the most amazing sight one can have on the earth. I am sometimes asked upon about how it feels to wake up with the view of lakes and Himalayas everyday and about if it doesn’t get boring soon after. Well, for me even after living in the moment for more than 15 years now, there was never a day when I was not charmed and captivated by the beauty of the lake and the mountains.  18-jpg                   Phewa lake at its best with the mountains. By: Pokharacity.com

So, by now if you know about Nepal or visited the country, I am sure you must have definitely known where I come from. Yes, I come from Pokhara, the city of lakes and I grew alongside the Phewa lake. Pokhara is famous as the city of seven lakes, and thus is an important wetland area of the country. The city’s economy is dependent on the tourism that is in turn based on the lake. Lake has been a source of income either directly or indirectly for a large number of people ranging from hotel and restaurants, shops to boating and fishing. Thus, it is common saying that the lakes are heart of Pokhara.

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Fishing and boating are primary source of income for people living nearby the lakes. 

However, with growing population and increasing global problems, the heart of Pokhara valley also faces severe problems. I remember from childhood about the place, how different everything has been. The alleys around the lake were quieter, the lake was bigger and the place was more warm and beautiful. But with urbanization and Pokhara being the trade center for adjoining districts, the place is now booming with population and problems of pollution, sedimentation on the lake, loss of bio-diversity and lake encroachment are on rise. The lake doesn’t have the same deep green color that was 15 years back, the lake is not as transparent as it used to be and the lake now remains fully covered with the water hyacinth. The lake remains muddy for half of the year because of the sedimentation washed away along the rivers from upstream areas. The soaring number of paragliding companies and the adventure tourists have severely encroached the habitat of migratory birds and they have now limited to one edge of the lake. thehimalayantimescom

Problem of water hycinth rising in the Phewa Lake. Credit:The Himalayan Times

Though I have been observant on the cases of just Phewa Lake, the scenario is similar to any other wetland areas of Pokhara or of Nepal. The other major in Pokhara i.e. Begnas and Rupa also face the problem of sedimentation and encroachment. Similarly, the other smaller lakes like Khaste and Depang are struggling even for their mere existence. Thus this is an urgent need that the lakes where the economy of one of the major city area of Nepal is dependent should have received attention in terms of their conservation and sustainable use.

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Problem of drainage and pollution in Phewa lake. Credit: Pragati Shahi, The Kathamandu Post, Nepal

There is no denying in the fact that there are numerous institutions and agencies that are working in the issues of Phewa lake. Few months back, I was assisting in a PhD work from University of Melbourne where I was discussing with the local peoples on the topic of Phewa Lake where I was made aware about the fact that no matter how many organization are working or how big the project is, because of the lack of co-ordination between them, the goal of sustainably managing the lake is yet far to be reached.

khaste-Lake Khaste lake in the verge of extinction due to encroachment.

Seeing the place where I spent the most beautiful years of my life degraded has led me to an inspiration to work further for the conservation and sustainable management of the lakes that surround us in my hometown. Recently, declaration of the lakes of Pokhara valley in Ramsar Wetland Sites is one of the positive things that we can hope for. This international declaration not only makes the local people sensitized but also will attract the government bodies and the international communities in their conservation. Being a student of science, I believe that an effective and sound conservation needs and goals should be set after having clear prospect on the problems. Thus in order to help in conservation and sustainable development of Phewa and other associated lakes research targeting the biodiversity and extent of various problems would be a good way forward. Together with the study, I equally have an opine that a proper sensitization of local peoples is of utmost importance.  During my Bachelors in Forestry, I was often involved in programs and activities in the lakes of the valley. Though at undergraduate level, the activities that we carried over were smaller in scale and impact, these activities however, helped me to grow my interest in wetlands further. For instance, every year in winter I used to participate in winter water birds counting, we used to carry out conservation awarenesss programs pertaining to wetland ecosystems and bio-diversity. Lastly, In Asia Pacific Forun 2016, I am very much hopeful that interaction with other participants and the skills and training that we will be provided with will definitely help me to make my determination to work in the conservation of wetland even more prominent. Starting from the place where I grew I hope to work in the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands from other parts of country.

 

Earthquake, Wildlife and Habitat- The Possible Linkages!!


Recent series of earthquakes, with almost 4 or 5 hitting the country every day ranging from smaller to the devastating ones  has been obviously a global concern. I have never been so scared all over my life to this extent. Many of the people are in the same situation too. From shaky grounds, food items, the shelter, the upcoming monsoon to health issues, the faulty rumors are few topics that almost all the people in the country are fearing about. Of course, there are dozens of sectors that the earthquake will be linked with from health, economy, politics, education, agriculture and many more. But, among the all possible linkages the concern with environment and wildlife has drawn much of my interest.

In comparison to the direct linkages that can be related to the health and economy, the relation of environment, forest and wildlife is rather in an indirect way but it a very basic thing. A large number of families have lost their houses and in some places entire villages are flattened. In the times like this, the forest areas are eyed by everyone to build new shelters as well as to find a new area for settlement. Though, people are looking for temporary shelters now, after monsoon is over then we can expect that a lot of forest areas would be invaluable as these areas are the assets during difficult times. But, a short term thinking would merely be enough. We can imagine the amount of deforestation that would occur in construction of thousands and thousands of houses around the country. As stated in a report by ICIMOD recently, that there has been around 3000 cases of landlsides around the affected areas, but with monsoon we all know the numbers will increase. And, it is not difficult to imagine what happens when the process is even triggered by the deforestation activities. More landslides would mean the larger death tolls, floods and other devastating cases that the country is not new with.

Of course, we agree that the indigenous and traditional practice are good ways utilize local knowledge, easier to operate and more likely to be easily accepted by the local community. But that doesn’t mean, we should opt out the other possibilities with more beneficial ends. So, with environmental issues and cheapness and ease in building, sand bag houses will be a very good option to deal with the situation (I will blog more about the sand bag houses later next time).

Right after the major hit when people started living outside their houses, I was wondering if there would be any cases of conflicts with wild animals. But, after a week the few cases of conflicts are reported. In an article published on the official website of Unicef Nepal, explains a case in Nuwakot district, where  the villagers fired the nearby forest area to scare off the wild animals, but they report hat the leopards then came visiting to the neighborhood, as its habitat was badly disturbed. Similar experience was reported from outskirt area of Karhmandu valley near Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park, where people in tents sighted a leopard roaming around in the night. Apart from all other things, its also the wild animals that people are getting scared off. This is just the beginning of the things, we are yet to see the cases when deforestation occurs massively and the wildlife habitat gets patchy and fragmented. Nonetheless to talk about the crime cases of trade and hunting that may arise when the country’s major focus is shifted to something else more important.

But, personally I have a positive feeling about the impact of earthquake on nature and on biodiversity as a whole. No matter, how super the humans are with technology and stuffs, it has been proved that with nature’s force we are still nothing at all and can be destroyed within the seconds of time. In my view, because of all the earthquake scenario people have now developed more respect for the nature earth. Since, biodiversity as a whole is an essential part of the nature itself, there maybe chances that the people will develop respect for the biodiversity as a whole and hopefully, we may bring more positive changes in sector of understanding wildlife, habitat and their conservation.

Flying fox roost in Pokhara Valley


Bats are the amazing species of Earth especially the Indian Flying foxes, largest bat species of the country with chestnut color are the wonderful species to visit for.

Visit the roosting site of the Indian Flying fox, lying right under the nose of the beautiful Annappurna Himalayan Range and enjoy the combined majestic view of the bats and the Himalayas.

This way, you will be understanding the ecological role of the bats that lies very close to human settlement area and you will also be motivating the locals to conserve the species. Further, you can have a look into semi-urbanized lifestyle of the country.

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Site details: Radha Krishna Tole, Chinnedanda, Pokhara

Further information, contact: info.bidhya@gmail.com

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The End of Millennium Development Goals and Beyond


Adopted by world leaders in 2000 A.D,the Millennium Development Goals are a set of 8 time bound goals with targets and measures, each of which aim to significantly impact on the worlds overall wellbeiing and development. Targeting the developing countries, on 8th September 2000, UN leaders along with various philanthropic organizations from all over the world set up 8 various goals in the Millennium summit to abolish the burning problems of today’s world. The goals, designed to be achieved within 2015 range from serious issues like poverty alleviation to halting the spread of HIV to providing education to the underprivileged ones. Continue reading

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Role of Social Media To Build Youth Capacity


Social Media : Friend or Foe??

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Nowadays social media plays an important role in youths life. The vast majority of youths in the world are daily social media users. There are countless of social networking sites that have created broad connections among teens. For example, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Skype, YouTube, and the like are used quite frequently. According to Shea Bennett, one out of every seven minutes spent online is on Facebook. But does social media have positive impact on teens? To me the answer is yes. For the vast majority of teens, the overall impact on social media has been positive (Ride out). Continue reading

The Kite Runner


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I hadn’t been quite into reading books when I got a copy of “The Kite Runner”. Right from its cover page and its prologue, the book was really interesting. At the first time, I couldn’t complete the whole of it as I lacked the opportunity to do so. But the next time I got, I read pages by pages until the end without any disappointment.

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, the Bestselling author has beautifully portrayed the Kabul city beautifully.  Set in the country that is in the process of being destroyed, the book is all about friendship, relations – their love, their lies and their sacrifices.

Written in a simple but appealing manner, the book has won over many readers so has the Internationally Bestselling author, Khaled Hosseini and is worth a read. I have gone through it 3 times till now. Have you guys gone through it?

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A visit to the Orphanage


Ever since I have joined Cloud factory as a Cloud worker, apart from the financial independence, I have learn many things regarding the behaviors, attitudes, moral and many more. After the completion of our 6th week, just as the other groups, our team also had to perform a social work. After looking for few options, we made our mind to have a brief visit to an orphanage named ” Rastriya Paropakar mahasangh, Nepal” located in Tutunga.

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At around 4pm after gathering we headed to our spot where 16 young kids were waiting for us to join. Located near the seti river, the view we could see from there was majestic. With all greenery around and the sound of the flowing river along with sweet voices of the childrens was exactly what we were looking for. Upon talking to the resource persons, we found out that many other places are managed under the same organization and all the places are quite well managed. They had thier own school nearby where sanskrit was taught like veda and all. The childrens were well disciplined and we had light and cheerful talks with them and gave them the stuffs we brought.

Again, in the second part we visited another place under the same organization located at Phalepatan. They had around 9 kids in here and was managed by a very fine lady with a big smile round her face every time. The kids were studying very busily when we visited and again we had some talks with them. After again handing over the stuffs to them, we left the place promising them to visit them again in future.

Hence in this way, though in a small way we are glad that we could contribute a smile in the faces of those lovely children. Power-puff Girls!!! 😀

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Youth Employment: Decent Work for All Young People, Everywhere


” A devil rests in an empty mind!!”

Youth, in general term can be defined as the stage in life before adult life begins, affected by factors such as average age at which they are expected to start playing adult roles in the community.  For past few decades, unemployment has been a burning worldwide. Even more important issue is the youth employment which is not only related to economic aspect but has equal importance for social point of view as youths are viable to illegal activities in absence of right type of employment opportunity. . Millions of young people are trapped in temporary and involuntary part-time or casual work that offers few benefits and limited prospects for advancement at work and in life. Young women often face additional barriers, as males are preferred usually for certain work types.images

According to the International Labor Organization ILO, Decent Work involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

When you are unemployed frustrations, depression and social problems like theft, robbery, murder, corruptions, drug addictions are unavoidable. These types of activities are typically high during the young age.

What we are facing now?

  •  Many young people are underemployed as involuntary part-time employees, temporary (short-term) workers or in work of inadequate productivity.
  • We lack an effective education system which can ensure job opportunity right after the completion of our courses.
  • Due to political and governmental challenges, ratio of population to job opportunities is very high.
  • A large number of youths have to travel abroad in search of employment every year. Despite of their qualifications, they are hired as low paid workers.
  • Even more challenges are faced by the female youths as their capability is underestimated everywhere and are regarded as a household material.

What can be done?

  • Young people are the futures of the nation. This fact has to be realized by each of us. If provided with opportunity and skill they can ensure a good present as well as the future.
  • Vocational education systems should be introduced where we are provided with right education type education that ensures a job opportunity.
  • We all must be able to recognize our capabilities. And within our capacity and interest, we must look for suitable type of job system.
  • Rather than entertaining brain drain, we must hunt within our country for whatever opportunity is available here. It’s better to work from bottom up, rather than nothing.
  • Ultimately, the final work is of the government to provide new job opportunities and give priority to the young peoples.

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In this way, by ensuring a long-term, secured and productive job opportunity to young people motivates them to build a good future and also fight against the social crimes that we are facing these days.