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Glacial Flooding & Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Exchange and Field Training July 11-24, 2013 in Huaraz, Peru HighMountains.org/workshop/peru-2013

Alpine Conservation   And   Climate   Change   Adaptation   A   Community  Approach  In  The  Khumbu  Alpine  Region   Ang  Rita  Sherpa1  and  Ang  Chiri  Sherpa2   The Mountain Institute, Asian Regional Office, Katmandu, Nepal

“When I first visited Mount Everest in 1951, what a beautiful place it was. I can remember crossing the pass above Chaurikharka and looking for the first time into the upper reaches of Dudhkosi river and seeing the sacred peaks of Humble towering up in the heartland of the Sherpas. We climbed through dense pine forest up the long steep hill to Namche Bazar. The whole region was dense with greenery, below the villages; giant confiners soared, framing the snow and ice peaks that lined the other side of the valley. We climbed Thyangboche monastery at 13000 feet; it was clothed in forest and surrounded by a ring of superb mountains.” Edmund Hillary, 19841

INTRODUCTION The Alpine ecosystem3 in the upper Khumbu region of Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone is very diverse and provides excellent habitat for some of the world’s most important plants and animals such as the rare medicinal plant Blue Poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) known by locals as the Snow Lotus, and the elusive snow leopard (Uncia uncial). The foothills of the world’s highest peak is one of the

most

popular

tourist

and

mountaineering destinations in the world and is vital to supporting the livelihoods of both mountain and

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downstream communities.

1 2 2 3

Ang Rita Sherpa is the Senior Program Manager at The Mountain Institute Ang Chiri Sherpa is the Vice Chairman of Khumbu Alpine Conservation Council Ang Chiri Sherpa is the Vice Chairman of Khumbu Alpine Conservation Council Alpine ecosystems are characterized by low growing shrubs, cushion plants, and grasslands

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IMPORTANCE OF MOUNTAIN ECOSYSTEMS AND THEIR IMPACT The mountains in the alpine zone 4 also have significant ecological, aesthetic and socio-economic

importance

for

thousands of indigenous people with varied cultures, values, languages and indigenous

knowledge

systems.

In

addition, the high altitude pastures around Everest (or “Chomolungma” as the

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world’s highest peak is locally known), are important for yak grazing. In recent times, these alpine ecosystems have been faced with various challenges, many of them due to human-created factors such as over-grazing and overharvesting of medicinal plants, as well as 3

global climate change. The highly fragile alpine ecosystems are highly vulnerable to climate change, which in turn threaten the lives and livelihoods of the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized communities in the mountains and also the lowlands.

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“Thirty years ago conservation had not really been heard of. On our 1953 Everest expedition we threw our empty tins and any trash into a heap on the rubble-covered ice at base camp. We cut huge quantities of the beautiful juniper shrubs for fires; and on the South Col at 26,000 feet we left scattered pile of empty oxygen bottles, torn tents and the remnants of food containers. The expeditions of today are not much better in this respect with only a few exceptions. Mount Everest is littered with junk from the bottom to the top”.5

                                                                                                                        4

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Himalayas above 13,000 feet (4000 m plus), between the Upper tree line and permanent snowline is consider as Alpine Zone,

Hillary Edmund, 1984. Ecology 2000. Micheal Joseph ltd. London

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The degradation of alpine ecosystems is a serious threat linked to the recent growth

of

unregulated

adventure

tourism especially from high altitude trekkers, mountaineering expeditions and their support teams. For example, teashops and lodges have used the slow growing juniper shrubs (J. indica) for fuel since the first expeditions of the early 1950s as stated by Edmund Hillary in 1984. Likewise, porters are often forced to burn slow growing alpine shrubs due to the lack of adequate

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shelter

and

cooking

alternatives. “The continuing use of firewood

by

inns,

however,

has

contributed to the thinning of forests in some parts of the national park and to the depletion of shrub juniper in the mostly heavily visited alpine regions. The long-term impact on alpine ecology is a serious concern given the extremely 6

slow growth rates of these shrubs” (Stan Steven, 2003). The growth of

tourism is immense in the region growing from 3,600 tourists in 1976 to 36,340 tourists in 20126. “The most visible sign of these impacts on this fragile alpine environment is the lack of trees within a one to three kilometer radius of each villages; but many traditional pasture lands are deteriorating as well, where there are increasing problems of erosion and de-stabilized slopes”. 7 International conservation groups have largely neglected the alpine ecosystems of the Khumbu as well as local climate change effects. As a result, especially during the last 20 years; the removal of these soil-binding plants from the fragile and thin alpine soils has resulted in dramatic increases in soil erosion and has accelerated landscape denudation.

                                                                                                                        6

  SNP  visitor  entrance  at  Jorsalle  2012  

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Coburn, B.A. 1984 (Sagarmatha: Managing a Himalayan World Heritage Site). “Parks Magazine” Volume 9, number 2.

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Alpine vegetation and landscapes are particularly sensitive to changes in climate, which can be seen through glacier recession, upward plant migration, and biodiversity destruction from changing weather patterns. CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS IMPACT ON MOUNTAIN ECOSYSTEM In the past, alpine zones were being degraded by overgrazing, and unmanaged tourism. Today, the problem is different: climate change is becoming one of the major environmental issues in the Khumbu and Nepal in general. Climate change and retreating glaciers constitute a major hazard in the Himalayas. Climate change is considered to be a critical global challenge and recent events have demonstrated the world’s growing vulnerability to climate change. The Himalayas in Nepal are geologically young and fragile and are vulnerable to even small changes in the climatic system. High mountain regions face grave environmental challenges with climate change impacts already as severe as any place on earth. Glaciers and snowfields are retreating in many areas, increasing risks of catastrophic glacial lake outburst floods, but also affecting fresh water supplies for hundreds of millions of people downstream. Evidence exists that climate change is melting mountain glaciers, adversely affecting biodiversity and weakening the livelihood assets of poor and marginalized communities. The environment and

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ecosystem in the highly fragile mountains are the most vulnerable to climate change, which in turn threaten the lives and livelihoods of the poor, disadvantaged, and the mountains and also in the

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marginalized communities in lowlands.

Likewise, the pressures due to increased population and tourism activities in the mountains have caused people to settle in areas that are highly exposed to natural hazards. High mountain regions Â

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face grave environmental challenges with climate change impacts already as severe as any place on earth. Glaciers and snowfields are retreating in many areas, increasing risks of catastrophic glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), but also affecting fresh water supplies for hundreds of millions of people downstream. Nepal has approximately 3,252 glaciers and 2,323 glacial lakes, which provide fresh water for more than 1.3 billion people across South Asia. We are at the point where we have no other options for survival but to adapt. Climate change is having severe effects on the people of the Khumbu who are highly dependent on their local natural resources and lack the resources to properly adapt. In response, The Mountain Institute has established the High Mountain Glacial Watershed Program (HMWGP) in partnership with government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international NGOs, donor agencies, and the trekking and climbing communities. Project activities, run through the Khumbu Alpine Conservation Council, include the protection of fragile shrub juniper, establishment of kerosene and stove gas depots for tourists and lodges, restoration of the porters’ rest house at Lobuche, improvements to wooden bridges, development of alpine educational materials for schools, establishment of juniper and medicinal plant nurseries, building of yak-proof enclosures, holding workshops on porter working conditions, and enterprise development for herders by which they can earn extra income making and selling juice and jam from the seabuckthorn shrub (locally called akriloo).

COMMUNITY BASED CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION IN THE KHUMBU REGION In 2012, The Mountain Institute established High Mountain Glacial Watershed Program (HMGWP) to work with park officials and local stakeholders to raise awareness on climate change amongst local communities. The HMGWP conducted a series of community consultations in three settlements in Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone. The three-community consultations were held at Phakding, Namche-Bazaar and Dingboche with financial support from USAID and Engility in the USA. The community consultations have been taken as the measure to provide information on climate change, its vulnerabilities and adaptation to the local communities.

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Since its formation, the HMGWP has: 1. Trained HMGWP  team  and  conservation  partners  on   vulnerability  and  adaptation  (V&A)   2. Conducted  Community  Consultation  on  Climate  Change   and  Adaptation  in  three  VDCs  of  Khumbu   3. Assessed  lake  conditions   4. Shared  findings  from  Community  Consultations  among   the  stakeholders  from  Khumbu   5. Consulted  and  shared  climate  change  and  adaptation   information  on  a  district-­‐level  in  the  Khumbu  region   6. Reconnected  and  collected  baseline  information  on   climate  change  from  Khumbu  using  last  year’s  report   2012   7. In  the  process  of  developing  Local  Adaptation  Plan  of  

The communities in the Khumbu alpine and sub alpine areas are more or less aware of the man-made and climate

change

problems

and

effects in the region. Based on local knowledge, the environment and ecosystem in the highly fragile mountains are the most vulnerable to climate change, which in turn

threaten the lives and livelihoods of the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized communities in the mountains and also the lowlands. TMI, through its experience working closely with local environmental NGOs, has realized that alpine zones and mountain ecosystems are vital for supporting livelihoods of people both in the mountains and the plains downstream. The local people have said that the mountains have significant ecological, aesthetic, and socio economic importance not only for those living there but also home to millions of indigenous people with varied cultures, values, languages, and indigenous knowledge systems. The local people also have said that the need to protect and restore the mountain ecosystems and address the issues of changing climate in the Khumbu region has been largely neglected by the international

conservation

communities. Keeping this in mind, TMI staff in collaboration with local NGOs have identified some critical needs

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to achieve the goal of restoring heavily impacted alpine areas and also to adapt the climate change in the region. This includes the need for (1) detailed ecological and socio economic assessments of the effect of climate change, tourism related programs, unregulated collection of medicinal plants, and grazing pressure on alpine vegetation, (2) need for clear mechanisms to ensure that Local Adaptation Plan of Action (LAPA) are integrated into Village Development Plans, (3) need to ensure that local people have a voice through which to impart their traditional natural, cultural, ecological and economic knowledge in the LAPA development process and implementation of the project.

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PHOTO CAPTIONS: 1. Alpine Region in Khumbu 2. Pasture land in Thame valley 3. Tourism in Alpine region 4. Yak grazing in Alpine region 5. Shrubs collected by porters 6. Shrubs cut for fuel wood use by porters 7. Imja glacier lake 8. SPCC coordinated meeting at Sagarmatha National Park HQ 9. Community Consultation Program in Namche Bazar, Sept 2011 REFERENCES: 1.

A. Byers (2005) Contemporary Human Impacts of Alpine Ecosystems in the Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park, Khumbu, Nepal

2.

Hillary Edmund, 1984. Ecology 2000. Micheal Joseph ltd. London

3.

Stand Steven 2003: Tourism and deforestation in the Mt Everest region of Nepal, (National Geographical Journal)

4.

Stanley F. Steven (1996) Claiming the High Ground

5.

Coburn, B.A. 1984. Sagarmatha: Managing a Himalayan World Heritage Site. “Parks Magazine” Volume 9, number 2.

6.

Sherpa AR 2010 No More Research but Action in the Imja valley of upper Khumbu region of Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone, internal article

7.

Sherpa. AR, A. Byers, D. Thapa, T. Bhutia and S.Thing 2004 (Khumbu Alpine Conservation and Restoration Project. A report submitted to The Mountain Institute, Asian Regional Office, Kathmandu, Nepal

8.

Sherpa, AR and S. Thing (2007): Gokyo Valley Alpine Conservation and Restoration Field Assessment, Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone, Kathmandu, Nepal. A report submitted to The Mountain Institute, Asian Regional Office, Kathmandu, Nepal

9.

Sherpa. AR and S. Subba (2006) How Tourism Can Help Isolated Communities: National Parks and Protected Areas: International Bulletin

10. Sherpa. AR (2012): Community-based participatory research in Imja Valley in Nepal’s Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone, Solu Khumbu, Nepal. Published in Andean-Asian Mountain Global Knowledge Exchange Workshop Proceedings

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Ang Rita Sherpa: Alpine conservation and climate change adaptation community approach Khumbu, Nepal  

The Alpine ecosystem in the upper Khumbu region of Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone is very diverse and provides excellent habitat...

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