- It is expected that climate change will adversely affect Nepalese biodiversity, human well-being, and economy, from a retreat of glaciers, agricultural losses, and impacts on tourism.
- The spread of infectious diseases can also be fueled by rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns.
- “Given the simultaneous exposure of animal and human populations to climate change impacts such as floods and landslides, proactively preparing for and combating ensuing issues like epidemics are best tackled using an integrated One Health approach,” a new op-ed argues.
- This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
Nepal is a small biodiversity-rich country that is subjected to climatic vagaries: conditions range from tropical in the south to alpine in the north. While Nepal contributes ~ 0.027% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, it is the 4th most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. A climate change vulnerability assessment conducted in 2010 showed that more than 1.9 million Nepalese (7.03% total population) are highly vulnerable to climate change, and 10 million are at increased risk.
About 80% of rivers and streams, major water sources for drinking and irrigation, are fed by glaciers that are retreating. With global warming, the Himalayan glaciers and ice caps are melting at an alarming rate resulting in an increase in the number of glacial lakes in that region. Specifically, these glacial lakes have almost doubled numerically in the last four decades associated with increased frequency of flash floods and overflowing rivers due to glacial outbursts.
Recently, Nepal has been experiencing major disasters almost every year: the Seti Flood in 2012; the Jure landslide in 2014; the Gorkha earthquake in 2015; glacial lake outburst floods in Bhote Koshi in 2016; the Barun Khola and the Terai floods in 2017; the tornado in the Bara-Parsa district in 2019; the landslides and debris flow in Sindhupalchok in 2020; and landslides and debris flow in Mustang in 2021. On 15 June 2021, landslides in Melamchi Sindhupalchowk killed 5 persons, adversely impacting local people and disrupting the water supply to Kathmandu, the capital city. Such landslides and floods damage crops and livestock and result in disease epidemics. Thus, these hazards directly impact hundreds of thousands of families, with poor and marginalized communities being the most vulnerable.
It is not unexpected that climate change can adversely affect Nepalese biodiversity, human well-being, and the national economy. In the mountainous regions of the country, 59 mammalian, 279 avian, 35 herpetological and 34 fish species are found. Of these, 4 mammalian and 7 avian species are on the verge of extinction. Harvest and livestock losses will threaten the livelihoods of farmers. The changes in the snow patterns influence the tourism industry, affecting the national economy severely.
The spread of infectious diseases, such as parasitic conditions like schistosomiasis, vector-borne illnesses like malaria, dengue fever, and leishmaniasis, as well as waterborne infections such as cholera, can be fueled by rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns. The vector-borne neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), such as dengue, malaria, lymphatic filariasis, Japanese encephalitis and visceral leishmaniasis (kala-azar), as well as contagious diarrheal diseases like cholera, will spread upward to higher altitudes and on mountain slopes. Floods and landslides, typical in Terai and hilly regions, will also be observed in the Himalayan region.
Such catastrophes exacerbate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) related health issues and result in unanticipated direct morbidity and mortality. Climate hazards such as desertification bring humans and pathogens together, leading to increased infectious diseases.
For instance, wildlife harboring several zoonotic pathogens such as rabies, salmonella, and anthrax might spread to new areas of the country, potentially increasing the prevalence of such diseases. A recent paper published in Nature highlights that climate change might exacerbate more than half of known human pathogenic diseases in the future. Further, the study estimated that climate hazards had aggravated 58% of infectious diseases.
Furthermore, climate change may also increase the burden of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, linked to reduced food availability, food quality and malnutrition. As such, Nepal, the 4th most vulnerable country to climate change, faces an even greater danger from disease outbreaks than other countries, which should not be overlooked.
Water availability will decrease in the river basins and result in restricted water availability for drinking and irrigation purposes. The restricted water accessibility will probably result in human conflicts and the sequelae of such conflicts as war, poverty, emigration and epidemics. Accessibility issues at the wildlife-livestock interface levels could further enhance pathogen spillover and disease emergence. In this manner, a nation enriched in biodiversity with a wide range of climatic conditions will encounter enormous climate impacts.
Given this fact, the Government of Nepal has proactively prepared a National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA), Local Adaptation Plan for Action (LAPA) and a Climate Change Policy with technical assistance from United Nations Development Program (UNDP), German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), Department for International Development (DFID), and Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA). Ninety village development committees (VDCs) and 7 municipalities of 14 climate-vulnerable districts from mid and far-western regions of Nepal with the key vulnerable sectors have benefited from this action.
This assistance has significantly improved the adaptive capacities of vulnerable communities in the project-implemented areas. Using a collaborative model, these programs have established and strengthened institutional mechanisms at district, municipality and village levels to implement and promote adaptation and resilient measures. The most climate-vulnerable, marginalized and poor were given priority to increase their resilience and adaptive capacity to climate hazards.
However, to be more effective, Nepal should extend climate change mitigation strategies to yet-to-be-covered vulnerable districts, taking into account social determinants of health. And, given the simultaneous exposure of animal and human populations to climate change impacts such as floods and landslides, proactively preparing for and combating ensuing issues like epidemics are best tackled using an integrated One Health approach.
From a global perspective, Nepal cannot effectively deal with climate change issues alone, and the need for a strong, unified, international commitment and governance cannot be overemphasized. Nonetheless, and despite having limited resources and infrastructure, a politically willed Nepal can achieve desired progress as demonstrated by other similarly small-sized countries like Samoa, Tonga and Palau.
Dr. Krishna Prasad Acharya is a Veterinary Officer at Animal Quarantine Office Kathmandu while Dr. Shamsudeen Fagbo is a One Health researcher based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
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