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26 Apr 2023 | Cryosphere

Schoolchildren from the Himalayan valley of Langtang take in the changing world

Amrit Maharjan, Sunita Chaudhary & Kundan Shrestha

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Students learn how to plant saplings during a tree planting activity organised by ICIMOD and UNESCO-Nepal in Langtang National Park (Photo: Chimi Seldon/ICIMOD)

Schoolchildren from the Himalayan valley of Langtang in north-central Nepal, 200 km north of Kathmandu, are acutely perceptive of the world changing around them and the loud anthropogenic factor in it all. Dawa Nurphu Tamang, a 15-year-old boy who attends school in the village of Syabrubesi, Rasuwa District, is insightful beyond his years: ‘We see animals crossing paths with our villages and farmlands, and we think of it as an attack on us. But I think it’s actually us who’ve trespassed into their habitats.’ He was speaking with us at our youth engagement event in Dhunche, Rasuwa, on 28 November 2022.

The event was part of our outreach activities organised in collaboration with Langtang National Park and UNESCO Nepal. Langtang National Park is Nepal’s first national park, established in 1976, and the country’s second largest. The event’s aim was to raise awareness among schoolchildren about the cryosphere – frozen water at the Earth’s surface which includes glacier, snow, permafrost, and lake and river ice – with a focus on the importance and impacts of the changing cryosphere on ecosystem and society.

As part of our continuing cryosphere–society research and interventions in the Langtang Valley, we engaged with schoolchildren from the Langtang National Park ‘buffer zone’ areas –extensions of 420 km2 added to the original park area in the late 1990s. The topic of our engagement was to learn about the changes the schoolchildren are witnessing in their environments and wildlife, and how these changes are impacting their lives.

When we talk about how climate change impacts are reshaping mountain futures, we need look no further than communities in Langtang National Park. During Dawa’s life, changes have become more accelerated and pronounced than ever before. Glaciers such as Khimsung and Yala are thinning at astonishing rates, and precipitation patterns and river flows are changing. Crops are failing, and dietary diversity is diminishing. Disasters like avalanches and landslides are on the rise. Children like Dawa have grown up experiencing these very real consequences of climate change. And they seem to elementally understand that our exploitation of nature has to be checked and corrected.

 

An initiation for the youth

At our event in Dhunche, attended by schoolchildren and other community members, we shared our initial findings from ongoing research on the impacts of climate change and anthropogenic pressure on the valley and its resources, and results of the participatory hazard mapping of the valley. We also discussed the need for collective action to mitigate and respond to disasters, conserve biodiversity, and enhance socioecological resilience.

We wanted the schoolchildren to reflect on the visible climate change impacts they are experiencing. A poster competition offered them a creative way to express their collective observations about the changing environment. The children had compelling stories to share. Their posters depicted receding glaciers, unusual snowfall patterns, growing human–wildlife conflicts, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters. And many of the students had poignant personal experiences to share about these changes.

depicts past and present environmental changes
Students of Highland Secondary School present their winning poster, which depicts past and present environmental changes in their community. One of the students, Dawa Nurphu Tamang, shared how he thought communities have trespassed into wildlife habitats. (Photo: Chimi Seldon/ICIMOD)

 

Dhindu Tamang, Ward Representative of Gosainkunda Rural Municipality, expressed his appreciation of the engagement event: ‘The youth become really engaged in issues and action when they have the space to talk to experts and learn about changes to glaciers and snowfall and the environment around them. I feel these sorts of events should be held annually.’

To deepen the schoolchildren’s appreciation of their environment and build practical knowledge, we also held a tree-planting programme demonstrating proper techniques of planting saplings. We could see that merely initiating conversations with the children sparked greater appreciation of the importance of nature.

Mansi Gurung, who is part of the eco-club at her school in Dhunche, shared, ‘I’m really happy to learn more about climate change, the plants and animals around us, and the cryosphere. It’s good to self-reflect. This programme made me aware of the changing environment and the urgency to act.’ Mansi’s eco-club was one of the key collaborators for our event; we used their network to spread awareness about climate change and impacts among schoolchildren.

These young people have their work cut out for them. The changing climate is presenting us with more unpredictable, more accelerated, and more intense pressures on our natural and social systems. In Langtang, as traditional livelihoods become increasingly difficult to sustain, more and more young people have been leaving their villages for better prospects. There is also a growing disconnect between the youth and indigenous knowledge, and communities and their surroundings.

But as future custodians of our ailing planet, the youth have a massive stake in the health of these systems. This is why it is absolutely crucial to initiate them into the climate change conversation and climate science. They need the space and education to grow, and their views need to be cultivated and accepted in conservation and development initiatives. Their young shoulders will have to bear the weight of action: understanding the implications of ongoing changes, organising and creating grassroots consensus, and acting to correct course.

schools in the buffer zone areas
At the youth engagement event in Dhunche, Langtang: Students from schools in the buffer zone areas of Langtang National Park, local leaders from Rasuwa District, officials of Langtang National Park, and members of local media, along with a Norwegian delegation led by Her Excellency Torun Dramdal, Norwegian Ambassador to Nepal (second row from top, third from right), and a team from ICIMOD led by Pema Gyamtsho, Director General, ICIMOD (second row from top, fourth from right) (Photo: Chimi Seldon/ICIMOD)

 

Changing times in Langtang

The Langtang Valley was declared part of Langtang National Park in 1976. There are several settlements dotting the valley. The very lifeblood of these communities – smallholding agriculture, pastoralism, tourism – is deeply dependent on the services provided by the cryosphere and ecosystems in Langtang National Park. Worryingly, research has shown that high-elevation mountain areas (the valley’s elevation extends from 1,300 masl to 7,227 masl) are disproportionately vulnerable to these changes and the consequent impacts.

It is important to recognise the effects of the changing cryosphere on ecosystems and communities and implement measures to improve resilience in the face of future shocks and disasters. Along with our partners, we have been working in the Langtang Valley since 2011 to monitor cryosphere changes and study the resulting cascading impacts on ecosystems and society. Our research and related activities in Langtang, carried out with generous support from the Government of Norway and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, prioritises community participation (focusing on the youth) and generating awareness on the impacts of the changing cryosphere on biodiversity and society. One action research project by our team has culminated in the formation of a ward-level disaster risk communication committee and several risk communication products. More efforts should be made to engage youth in conservation and development science, and development activities for a greener and more resilient Langtang valley.

 

 

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