Human face of a Himalayan climate crisis

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

Article and Photo: Rastraraj Bhandari,

In a small riverbank community of Donggang below Mt Gauri Shankar, Janmu Sherpa runs a small teahouse. The settlement has two families who are still rebuilding their homes after the earthquake five years ago.

Janmu has a dozen goats, her primary companions in this wilderness near the Chinese border. The tea house is a rest stop for trekkers headed up to Tso Rolpa glacial lake, or onwards to Tashi Laptsa Pass to Khumbu.

With the Himalaya warming between 0.3-0.7oC faster than the global average, these mountains will lose at least one-third of their ice by the end of the century. And that is the best-case scenario, according to the  Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment: Climate Change, Sustainability and People put together last year by Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

The increased melting means melt water is accumulating in glacial lakes that absorb and transmit thermal energy to the glacier face, causing a positive-feedback loop and accelerating the thaw. The lakes are growing in size, and are at risk of bursting to flood downstream valleys.  Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) can be caused by avalanches falling into the lakes, or by earthquakes.