"Monster" rules Nepal village on climate frontline

Fri Jan 27, 2012 11:25am EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Gopal Sharma

BARAHBISE, Nepal (Reuters) - Looking at the swirling grey waters of the Bhote Koshi River, Ratna Kaji remembers when it turned into a "monster," leaving behind a trail of death and destruction.

"It came down roaring, washed away homes and people when they were sleeping," the 77-year-old said of the 1996 flood, caused by a massive landslide that blocked the river which eventually gushed out by breaking its mud wall.

"People had hardly any time to gather their belongings."

Within minutes, the flood washed away 54 people in this beautiful but rugged area, destroying 22 houses and a section of the Kodari road, a major artery connecting the Nepali capital of Kathmandu to Tibet. The road is also used by climbers to get to the northern side of Mount Everest.

That wasn't the first time that Kaji saw tragedy strike the area around Barahbise, a trading town of more than 6,000 people some 100 km (62 miles) northeast of Kathmandu -- and climate scientists fear it won't be the last.

Global warming, which is hitting Nepal particularly hard, is causing glaciers to melt, raising the specter of another disaster like the one in 1981. Then, the flow from a glacial lake in Tibet set off a flood that killed at least five people in Nepal and caused widespread destruction.

There are more than 3,200 glaciers in Nepal, and 14 of them are at risk of bursting the dams which control the melting water that flows from them, officials say.

"The melting of glaciers that forms lakes can only be attributed to climate change," said Arun Bhakta Shrestha, climate change specialist at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which studies climate change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas.   Continued...

<p>Porters walk across a bridge over the Bhote Koshi river in the Everest region May 29, 2007. REUTERS/Shruti Shrestha</p>