Locals look to UN chief Guterres to initiate conversation on saving Annapurna Base CampSoil erosion triggered by the South Annapurna glacier melt has put lives and businesses at risk of landslides and avalanches.
The chasm made by the South Annapurna glacier along the Annapurna Base Camp was not this wide or deep when Jaganras Gurung first set up the Annapurna Guest House and Restaurant at the base camp some four decades ago. In the decades since, Jaganras has witnessed gradual soil erosion triggered by the glacier melt which has put his establishment at risk of landslides and avalanches.
The ABC area, a major destination for tourists and trekkers in Nepal, has around half a dozen hotels and restaurants. All of these establishments are currently at high risk, says Jaganras.
Jaganras, who is also the chairman of the Chhomrong Tourism Management Committee, says around 15 metres of land his hotel sits on has caved in due to erosion. “Rising temperatures every year had led to melting of iceblocks which has inadvertently resulted in soil erosion in the area,” said Jaganras. “Earlier we would board up the hotel by October-November to avoid the biting cold. There would hardly be anyone here to cater to. These days we operate our hotels well into the last week of December and the first week of January.”
Despite the severity of the climate crisis unfolding in the ABC region, the Nepal government has yet to take any concrete steps to avoid potential disasters. There are no studies conducted on the dire situation ABC finds itself in due to climate change.
Visiting United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to fly to the ABC on Tuesday where he will speak to the locals on the impacts of climate change on their daily livelihood.
Jaganras says the locals have their hopes pinned on Guterres’ visit to initiate dialogue by local authorities to tackle the climate crisis and its impact on livelihood.
“We plan to draw the attention of the UN Secretary-General to the melting glacier and the destruction it has caused in the area,” said Jaganras.
Annapurna Base Camp which lies at an altitude of 4,130 metres above sea level is in ward 11 of Annapurna Rural Municipality, Kaski. Annapurna-I, Annapurna South, Machhapuchchhre, Hiuchuli, Gandharbachuli, and Gangapurna among other mountain peaks can be seen from the ABC.
The South Annapurna glacier has been eroding the embankment up to Machhapuchchhre Base Camp a few kilometers below the ABC. The erosion between the Annapurna Guest House and Restaurant and the last point of erosion in 2012 was estimated at 50 metres, according to Google Earth. In 2017, the distance had decreased to 45 metres and further down to 40 metres in 2020.
Lalit Gurung, chairman of the Annapurna Century Tourism Committee, says despite several requests for intervention to the local, provincial and federal governments to control the soil erosion by the glacier, the authorities have turned a deaf ear to the situation.
The committee had submitted a 14-point memorandum to various authorities concerned while organising a tourism festival at the base camp in 2017. Receiving the letter during the inaugural function of the festival, Rabindra Adhikari, then chairman of the parliamentary development committee, had expressed his commitment to protect the base camp. Adhikari died in a helicopter crash in Taplejung on February 27, 2019. On the same day, a snowstorm wreaked havoc in the ABC, destroying properties worth millions of rupees. “We hope that the UN Secretary General’s visit will draw the attention of the world about the impending crisis in the ABC area,” said Lalit.
Hundreds of hotels along the ABC trekking trail stand to be affected due to the climate crisis in the area. There are hundreds of hotels, eateries and general stores at Birethanti, Ghandruk, Shibai, New Bridge, Jhinu, Chhomrong, Bhanuwa, Sinuwa, Bamboo, Dobhan, Deurali, Machhapuchchhre Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp that lie along the trekking route. Their main source of income is tourism.
Senior divisional engineer Nabaraj Sharma, who worked for Annapurna Rural Municipality a few years ago, asserted that the threat of erosion and avalanches in the ABC area is caused by climate change. “Nepal’s Himalayas are bearing the brunt of the global temperature rise,” he said. “It seems that the glacier erodes around 150 metres to 200 metres in width in a matter of 40 to 50 years.”
Due to volumetric change, particles of soil and stones turn to silt; big rocks get broken and dust is gradually formed on the surface over a period of two to four years.
Sharma said that the process happens at a depth of 15-20 metres in the ABC area. As there is gradual erosion, the ABC area is very unstable, says Sharma.
According to Sharma, various studies have shown that the collision between the Indian tectonic plate, which is pushing from the south to the north, and the Tibetan plate, which is moving towards the south, is weakening the landmass.
In the case of ABC, erosion is taking place as the glacier breaks up internally due to a temperature rise. Sharma claims that if the erosion continues, the place where the base camp is located is likely to be eroded in the period of 20 to 30 years, and the only way to protect it is through a balance of temperature and immediate action on the global climate crisis.
“What we can do at the local level to reduce the erosion on the surface is to research and conduct studies about the appropriate flora for the Himalayan region and protect the 1-2-metre part of the surface through their roots,” said Sharma. “Another way to prevent the damage is through bioengineering, which involves constructing physical structures. However, these undertakings are not possible only at the local level. All levels of government and stakeholders must come together to formulate an effective plan to control erosion in the ABC region.”
British Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Roberts is the planner of ABC’s trekking route in the Annapurna region. In 1966, Roberts mapped the ABC trekking route. Eric Shipton was the first hiker on the ABC hiking route in 1966.
On June 3, 1950, French mountaineer Maurice Herzog successfully climbed Annapurna-I, which is 8,091 metres tall. Following this feat, on May 29, 1953, the world’s highest peak, Everest, was first climbed by Tenzing Norge Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary, setting a world record. Although the height of the Annapurna-I mountain is less than that of Everest, it is still a challenging mountain to climb.
Hundreds of locals depend on the mountain for their livelihood and their way of life. The destruction in the ABC region has put all of their lives at risk, says JB Gurung, the owner of Annapurna Century Hotel. He is one of the eyewitnesses to the unfolding crisis. JB has been running the hotel his father bequeathed to him over 25 years ago. He fears that he may not be able to pass on his father’s legacy to his children if the deterioration continues.
“If the glacier continues melting at this rate, there will be no ABC. The glacial erosion has been fast approaching the base camp area,” he said. “I am very worried that our future generation won’t see the ABC. It will disappear.”