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FEATURE: end of a long journey

A four month trek along the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal, led by the world record holding mountaineer Apa Sherpa and in partnership with the Government of Nepal, is raising awareness of climate compatible development in this highly vulnerable region.  A local journalist, Saroj Dhakal, reports for CDKN on the reflections from the team as they complete their journey.

When they set off in January, the ‘Nepal Climate Smart Trek’ team expected to be walking 1500 Km in 120 days. In fact, the team led by the world record holder mountaineer Apa Sherpa, actually completed the trail early, in 99 days, despite having to walk an extra 55 Km.

A tired but proud team gathered on 25th April 2012 to update the Government, donors, and the media, about their journey along the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal.

Anil Chitrakar of the Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI), the organisers of the trek, opened the ceremony by highlighting the scale of the achievement; “If we calculate how much height the team walked it comes to about nine and a half times the height from sea level to the top of the Everest.”

However, the achievement of the team went beyond the physical stamina required. They succeeded in their objective of raising awareness about the effects of climate change in the Himalayan Region and promoting responsible and sustainable trekking and tourism.

The team has been blogging regularly, and capturing what they see and hear about climate compatible development in photographs and videos and through social media. Local and international media have picked up their stories and have been highlighting the risks of climate change for the region.

For example, a warning from Apa, whose own village was destroyed by a flood in 1985, about the dangers of glacial lakes in Nepal got widespread coverage. Twenty such lakes are reported to be at risk of bursting and causing cataclysmic flooding.

However, the story was not all negative. Mountaineer Dawa Sherpa highlighted three areas where the team could see that rural Nepal has significantly changed, and for the better. In terms of telecommunications, energy and access to roads, development is going in the right direction.

Villagers are now highly aware of what is happening in Kathmandu via local FM stations that they listen to on their mobile phones. Access to solar, biogas, and micro hydro is lighting new homes every day. Girls who used to spend several hours of their day fetching firewood can now save that time to read or attend classes. Lastly, roads have now reached many villages helping them to link with the market.

All three areas of development are vital in ensuring rural Nepal enjoys the benefits of development. Dominic O’Neil, Head of DFID Nepal which supported the trek, explained how such progress is also needed for the security and stability of the region; “Now the peace process of Nepal is about to conclude, the rural community is looking for dividends of peace – which only comes from development.”

The team also discovered how the risk of climate change in rural Nepal has implications beyond the country. British Council Director to Nepal Dr. Robert Monro said, “This is a means to an end. Let us be clear the end is to save Himalayas not just for Nepal but for the world. We need to save the unique people of Nepal in the remote areas. We need to save the fresh water supply.”

The Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna river system is shared between Nepal, Bangladesh and India and supports the largest number of the world’s poor in one region. For example, major rivers of Nepal (upper riparian) contribute almost 40% of the total flow of the Ganges which supplies water to India and Bangladesh. The river system serves fresh water for almost 1.2 billion people and has huge hydropower potential.

In 2008, the vulnerability of the river system was tragically highlighted. Due to reported mismanagement, a flood in Koshi affected the livelihood of 50,000 people in Nepal and a staggering 3.5 million people in Bihar, India with an official death of 240 people.

Apa Sherpa closed the event by thanking all the supporters and the people on the trail for opening their homes to the team. He reflected on the fact that when he was climbing Mt. Everest for the 21st time, he saw the thinning of glaciers in the Himalayas. However, it was only during this trip that he realized what impact this is having on human lives and development.

The trip also showed him that Nepal needs to take responsibility for climate change: “Even though education, energy infrastructure, and road access is improving in rural Nepal, we need to do more. We cannot only blame the polluting countries; Nepal needs to take initiatives on its own.”

We occasionally invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN.

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