New Nepali decade
On New Year’s Day BS 2080 on Friday, we also embark on a new decade in Nepal. If this was the Gregorian calendar, by 2080 Nepal’s population will be in decline and most Nepalis will be above 50 years old. Perhaps the mass migration of Nepalis for overseas work will have stopped, and the country will finally be on the path to stability, prosperity and equity.
Anything is possible in the next 57 years. But one thing is certain: at the current rate of global heating, global average temperature will have risen from the present 1.1°C to at least 2.3°C above the preindustrial era. The Himalaya will heat up even more: by 3°C. Which means nearly half the glaciers in High Asia will be gone. And that is just the optimistic scenario. It could be worse.
Even at current rates of heating, springs are going dry, forcing people to migrate. Prolonged droughts and destructive floods affect harvests. Wildfires like the ones we are witnessing this week across Central Nepal will be even more severe and widespread.
On Wednesday, the Air Quality Index (AQI) in Kathmandu hit 400 due to smoke, emissions and imported pollution. Last week the Ministry of Health and Population and USAID put up huge HEPA filter lungs to focus attention on Kathmandu’s pollution hazard. In just five days, the lungs have started going black (pictured below).
In its BS 2080s decade, the Nepal government should be prepared for more disasters. Added to the country’s seismic risk, we have to be ready for the impact of climate collapse and adapt to future risk. Multi-hazard preparedness means countering weather extremes, more intense storms, more destructive debris flows on rivers, more frequent lightning strikes, glacial lake outburst floods, landslides, more extensive wildfires.
Lightning strikes in the past 10 years killed nearly 1,000 Nepalis. Thunder storms will be more frequent and intense along the mountains as the atmosphere heats up. The impact of climate breakdown will be exacerbated by haphazard road and embankment construction, urbanisation of floodplains, and other infrastructure. Future hydropower projects, bridges and highways have to be designed to withstand the kind of flash flood that nearly destroyed the Melamchi water supply project in 2021.
The new decade will also be a test of political will of our elected representatives at all three levels of government. We know what the problems are, and some like the global climate crisis are beyond our control, but there are things we can do to adapt and prepare for.
Mitigation is a low-hanging fruit. For Nepal it is not so much about reducing our carbon footprint to save the planet, but reducing our petroleum imports to save the economy. Nepal will soon have surplus electricity all year round, we need to have the transmission lines in place and an incentive policy to switch to electric transport and cooking so we can reduce our trade deficit.
Switching to electricity will slash our petroleum import bill significantly, also improving public health. The fund can then be diverted to clean energy if there is political will to do so. The old leaders are tried, tested and failed. The new parties at least have world renowned atmospheric scientists, economists, disaster preparedness experts and physicians. Let us give these technocrats a chance to prepare Nepal for the future.