Mt. Everest will soon become more accessible to adventurers with the construction of a 65-mile highway linking the village of Jiri to Lukla—considered the gateway to Mt. Everest. Despite the good news, however, the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, continues to suffer the side effects of climate change.
And, as Kathmandu is the nation’s production and consumption center, any climate-related hazards impacting daily life there will have a spillover effect on the rest of this poor Himalayan nation.
Nepal’s glaciers have lost about a third of their ice reserves since 1977, according to Bloomberg News. The ice melt is having a serious impact on the weather, as glaciers impact climate dynamics such as the high-altitude jet streams that can bring monsoons or prolong droughts.
“It’s affecting daily life,” said Ram Sharan Mahat, Nepal’s finance minister, who projects just a one-half percent economic growth this year due to the effect on crops from erratic monsoons. “I’m sure that’s largely attributable to climate change,” he said.
Aside from the instability of the weather and its effect on the nation’s economic health, Kathmandu is plagued by smog that obscures the distant snow-capped Himalayas, the main attraction for adventure travel to Nepal.
Unfortunately, Nepal lacks the resources to do much about climate change. It is the second poorest country in Asia after Afghanistan, according to World Bank figures, and it lacks the network to forecast complex changes in rainfall, snow and temperatures linked to ice melting.
The U.S. Department of Defense states that climate change is a “threat multiplier” that escalates the risk of internal conflicts and uprisings. This has become a concern for government officials in the U.S. and Nepal, which suffered a decade-long Maoist uprising that ended in 2006. Yet, conflict could easily resurface as the glaciers continue to melt, causing a shortage of water that could threaten the ability to feed the nation’s 70 million people.
Meanwhile, the government’s plan to build the highway from Jiri to Lukla could cut out as much as four days’ walk for trekkers and mountaineers, or allow them to avoid taking a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla.
“Tourism will increase enormously once the new road is built,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.