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November 2010 Update - Changing weather patterns in Nepal

The autumn season this year has seen unusual weather with disruption to many peoples travel plans.

We have for 5 or 6 years now noted, and informed clients, the rains have continued into the first week of October and suggested treks starting from second week October may not face disruption.

This season has seen unusual weather patterns. Beginning with the main monsoon time during the months of June, July and August, heavy and prolonged rain prevented flights to/from Lukla at this time for up to ten days at a time on several occasions. Tragically, during August, a Dornier aircraft of the domestic airline Agni Air, having been turned back because of bad weather at Lukla, crashed on the way to back to Kathmandu with the loss of all crew and passengers. This time of the year is out of season; however it caused severe disruption for the local peoples travel to and from the Khumbu. Cargo flights were severely disrupted also causing further shortages and price increases in daily goods. These unusual monsoon patterns also affect the agriculture sector, throughout the country, with crops that are expected to flourish and to grow well being washed away and causing further problems with food supply. Not to mention the many roads that are blocked or broken by landslides adding further to the general disruption.

I arrived in Nepal on 07 October and the following week there were 5 consecutive days with no flights to Lukla. This caused severe disruption to many of the tourists who visit the Khumbu at this peak season time, creating a backlog that caused some agents to re-schedule clients treks to other regions of the country. Fortunately at this time there were no problems for Nepal Trekking clients. Rain in the second week of October was unusual, it didn't end there! During the third week of October further flight disruptions with no flights at all on some days and only the first flight been possible on others. Some aircraft were held at Lukla for up to a day or more causing further complications to airline schedules. During this period it was not only Lukla airport that was affected with bad visibility but also other mountain airstrips such as Jomsom in the west were also facing similar problems

With prolonged thunder storms on the night of 20/21 Oct. we were now well into the third week of October and the disruption continued. A few days later, for the first time in more than a month, the mountains of the high Himalaya were just about visible from Boudha through the continuing cloudy weather. The rains even continued into the last week of the month, however, in Kathmandu were mostly during the night hours.

On 31 October, together with other Sherpa family members we flew to Lukla to travel to our village of Pangum, on this occasion I didn't have any clients with me so I indicated that an 'early flight' was not necessary. The weather was reasonable and the airlines were now very busy and our flight was scheduled for 11.00hrs, it eventually left at 12.00hrs, such is domestic air travel in Nepal!! On arrival in Lukla I had various cargo items to sort with foodstuffs coming from Kathmandu for our family in Pangum and Chaurikhaka and some supplies to send to Kunde Hospital, which I would visit later after going to Pangum. I mention this trip because by 14.00hrs on 31 Oct. it was raining heavily in Lukla and continued until the next morning. We stayed the night in Lukla instead of moving on that day and made our way along very wet and muddy trails the next day on our way to Pangum. I heard later when I visited Tengboche that on that day 31 Oct. and the next day, there was a heavy snowfall of several inches.

At the time of writing we are now into the last week of November. As usual at this time of year the area of the airport in Kathmandu is shrouded in fog in the early morning until the sun burns it away around 08.30/10.00hrs. This has always been a source of flight delays at this time of year and added to the other weather problems it only makes things more difficult. Now this week, almost the end of November, we are seeing news reports that "thousands of tourists are stranded at Lukla and helicopters, private and Nepal Army, are moving some of them to Kathmandu" - Information from our contacts in Lukla suggest the numbers may be exaggerated but the flight congestion and problems for passenger continue to finish of a season of perhaps the most unusual weather patterns seen in the Autumn Season in Nepal.

On 21 Oct the British based advisory firm Maplecroft (www.maplecroft.com) produced a report - Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) prepared on the basis of calculated vulnerability of 170 countries to climate change effects in the next 30 years. - It brings disturbing news for Nepal which is in the South Asian Region that is depicted as the most vulnerable region when it comes to climate change. Even more disturbing is that Nepal ranks forth in the world in the index, Nepal is categorised at Extreme Risk for climate change.

The Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) incorporates social and economic factors into it's evaluation of climate change risks on populations, ecosystems and business. I fear that Nepal's high level of poverty and dependence on agriculture are being made much worse by the total lack of any responsiveness from the government to the needs of the population under this threat of climate change.

With the unstable political situation that exists in Nepal presently the trials and tribulations of the people are likely to continue. It is the people of Nepal who suffer, never the politicians.

At the time this report was published it was highlighted in editorials of some of the English newspapers in Kathmandu, and throughout the country, and then, as usual, was lost in the political chaos. There are various actions and initiatives that are being prepared by world bodies but as one editorial say's - "The government can demonstrate it's commitment at home by adopting adaptive policies with a special focus on empowering the populations forced to bear the brunt of Climate Change to live and develop in the face of uncertainty" - We wait and see on yet another important issue in Nepal.

Putting aside the problems mentioned above we were able to manage most eventualities that came our way and no major problems were experienced by clients during this difficult time. Tourism provides a major income to Nepal and people involved in the industry, it does continue to be manageable even in difficult times and we do urge potential clients to go ahead with their plans to visit Nepal for your trek or tour - you will have a memorable experience and you will Make A Difference to many of our Sherpa staff and their families.

Denis Gallagher
Nepal Trekking
November 2010