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Climate Justice Diaries: Action Needs to Begin With Us

Climate Justice Diaries: Action Needs to Begin With Us

Wednesday November 10 2021

Joel Hafvenstein explains how climate change is impacting farming communities in Nepal.

The people of Nepal have impressive and inspiring resilience. 

Over the centuries they have adapted to life on steep and seismically active hills, terracing and irrigating the high slopes, making clever use of every local resource because transport from the outside world was so difficult. The greater connectedness of modern Nepal, with motorable roads and mobile internet reaching even the remotest corners of the country, has brought people new opportunities and networks. 

And yet today in village after village we see that tremendous resilience pushed to the limits by climate change, driving more and more people to give up the struggle—to abandon their homes and migrate in search of urban or overseas work.  Everyone who leaves affects the resilience of those left behind. That’s one fewer neighbour to rely on in a crisis, one fewer person who remembers the traditions and practices that made mountain survival possible as a community.

In high Himalayan settlements, the farmers rely on snowmelt. Mountain snowbanks and glaciers feed their water supply throughout the year; winter snowfall in their villages soaks into the soil and allows the cultivation of an extra crop. But as 7000-metre peaks turn purple in spring and snow stops falling altogether on lower slopes, the farmers lose enough of their winter crop to tip them into destitution.

Throughout Nepal, the monsoon rains are the engine of agriculture. But the monsoon season has become far more erratic, starting early, ending late; roughly the same amount of water falls during the year, but far less predictably. Both dry spells and sudden vast downpours are bad for crops, making each year more likely to bring losses for Nepali farmers. 

Especially in the Terai plains along the border with India, the more intense monsoon rainstorms accumulate into enormous floods, sweeping away homes and farmland.  Windstorms are also becoming more powerful and destructive. In 2019, the first tornado in Nepal’s recorded history struck the plains, levelling a village that literally did not know what had hit it.

Snakes and mosquitoes are following rising temperatures into new areas of the country.  Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nepal’s health system was overwhelmed by a sweeping outbreak of dengue fever. United Mission to Nepal runs two rural hospitals, which find themselves treating snakebite from areas that venomous snakes never used to reach. Various agricultural pests and crop diseases are similarly expanding their territory and scope.

We know that these tragedies aren’t 'natural' disasters. Rather, they are the consequences of fossil-fuel consumerism in the rich industrial world—initially unwitting, but for decades now done with full knowledge of the impact our petrol and coal and gas burning is having on the rest of creation.

For the sake of our sisters and brothers in Nepal, whatever verbal commitments are made at COP26 must be turned into action. And the action needs to begin with us—with our lives and congregations and communities and government. Let’s not just call for justice in words and marches and social media 'likes', but change how we live.  If we don’t make changes away from the idolatry of consumerism in our own lives, it will force others around the world to accept much more destructive, displacing changes in their lives.

Joel Hafvenstein is the Executive Director of United Mission to Nepal. Read his articles on Covid-19 in the country here, here and here.

Climate Justice Diaries: a new series in which Church of Scotland partners from around the world explore the impact of climate change, and what can be done to help. Last week: Gorden Simango on how the crisis is affecting the poorest in Africa.

Download our free COP26 Supplement here.