Tashi’s Story — Climate Change in the Himalayas
Tashi Bista has traveled extensively as a guide and colleague to environmental artist Anne de Carbuccia. Her expeditions to Upper Mustang and the basecamp of Everest were their first trips together. One Planet One Future asked him for his personal experience with climate change. His response is below:
“My name is Tashi Bista and I work as a Location Manager for Films and research projects in the Himalayas. I would like to share a short story of my tribesmen that went from being subsistence farmers to climate change refugees. It is a story where those with some of the least contributions to climate change became some of the most affected.
I was born and raised in a tiny remote village in north western Nepal, in a region called Mustang. The upper half of Mustang is a high altitude desert with 31 villages that are spread over 5600 square km at an average altitude of 3500m. The 5000 people of upper Mustang are known as Lobas, and we depend on subsistence farming and rearing animals. The Lobas and the animals totally depend on water from glacial melt because the average precipitation is minimal, for Mustang is a Himalayan rain shadow. The area is still cut off from the rest of the world by mountains over 8000 meters, so everything is ferried on animals.
At the age of nine, I traveled 5 days on foot across the mountains with my father to get to the nearest city where I attended school. I spent the rest of my growing years there.
After fifteen years at school, I moved back to my village. Things were changing fast. There was a road being built and many market goods arriving. The biggest change of them all was the many new houses being built just next to our village. When I went to see those new houses, I started seeing people that I had known previously as a child. I realized that these were all local people from a corner village called Samdzong. Everyone from Samdzong seemed distressed or unhappy with having to leave their older village. That evening, we gathered at my village’s monastery and discussed the situation. People from Samdzong cried out that they were forced to move because the glacier that brought water to their village was completely dry. This meant that they were not able to cultivate crops which was the only way to sustain themselves. This left the people of Samdzong with no other option but to move to a different location that was accessible to water.
“For an entire village to be forced to give up their ancient way of life and adopt a new pattern as a result of gradual starvation was so unjust and striking…”
Samdzong is surrounded by age old caves carved into sheer cliffs. The wall paintings and human fossils found inside the caves around Samdzong talk of a civilization more than a thousand years old. The earliest residents of Samdzong were cave dwellers that later settled to the valley floor close to the glacial stream. Over a period of time, the village grew and flourished. Apart from farming, people kept yaks, sheep, goats and horses that had enough fields and grazing grounds to thrive.
Today, the families of Samdzong are slowly moving away, one house at a time. Every day we see villagers ferrying wood, mud bricks, rocks, and other valuables on horses and mules. Witnessing this migration made me realize how serious climate change was. For an entire village to be forced to give up their ancient way of life and adopt a new pattern as a result of gradual starvation was so unjust and striking, especially considering Samdzong’s limited contribution to climate change. The pollution created by the village is limited to burning animal dung for cooking and heating. Everything else is biodegradable waste that becomes manure for their fields.
Research has suggested that the temperature in the Himalayas is increasing five times more quickly than anywhere else on earth. The glaciers there are vital to a huge portion of life on earth, and are melting at an alarming rate. The story of Samdzong is a reminder to the world that climate change is undeniable, and not without human cost. With the current pace of industrialization and pollution, it is certain that we are putting our futures at a grave risk. The migration of the people of Samdzong is a visually noticeable effect that the rest of the world is going to have to put up with, one way or the other.
Because the people of Samdzong don’t understand anything about cars and factories and greenhouse emissions, they believe that they have been cursed by the gods as a result of a sin humanity committed.”
— Tashi Bista
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- The average temperature in the Himalayas has increased by 1.5 degrees Celsius in the last 30 years. As much as twice that is expected in the next 30.
- More that 1.4 billion people depend on water from the Himalayan glaciers.
- Some estimates have predicted Himalayan glacial disappearance as soon as 2035.
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