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Waiting for the rains

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Climate Change, Nepal

We Brits are famous for always talking about the weather, but people here in Nepal are doing that a lot too at the moment. But the different nationalities come at it from a rather different angle. In the UK we love it when the sun shines. In Nepal, it's the rains that make people happy!

It has been very hot and humid in Kathmandu for the past few weeks and the monsoon is showing no signs of arriving. I was in a meeting earlier this week, and half way through the meeting, it started to rain heavily. The temperature immediately cooled and the meeting participants looked at one another and smiled - it's raining! Usually in the UK, people complain when it rains. Here, it is seen as a good thing - not only because it cools the air, but because the rains are absolutely vital for the 20 million people in Nepal who rely on rain to grow food.

With the monsoon about two weeks late, and just a weak surge on 23rd June in some districts in the east of the country, farmers are left worrying that the long dry spell will badly affect the upcoming maize harvest and the paddy plantation. At this time of the year, paddy plantation should have been at its peak all over the country here!

Women in the paddy fields. Credit: Sangeeta Shrestha, DFID Nepal
Women in the paddy fields. Credit: Sangeeta Shrestha, DFID Nepal

80% of the population in Nepal and 95% of the poor rely on agriculture for all or part of their livelihoods. Land is relatively scarce (as a lot of the country is mountainous) and only 20 % of the total area can be used for agriculture. Irrigation, which in other countries has helped to significantly increase production, is not well developed here. Nepal is only slightly smaller than Bangladesh, but only 36% of the land possible is covered by irrigation, compared with 56% in Bangladesh.

Nepal also has the lowest agricultural productivity in South Asia and is a food importer, importing anything from 0% to 20% of its food needs, depending on the amount of rain received in the previous growing season. So good rains really are critical.

We had a water shortage in the office this week, so had to temporarily close several bathrooms due to a lack of water. Because the monsoon is late, farmers were refusing to release water to the water tankers which normally deliver water to the office (and some homes) as they were saving this for their own paddy fields. Good rains dictate whether there is a good harvest or not, and a good harvest can make all the difference between being able to feed your family, or not.

Unfortunately the rains which came during my meeting had stopped by the time the meeting finished, so we are still left waiting for the monsoon which has become more erratic in past years, as predicted by climate change experts. So I am left with the very un-British sentiment of hoping it will rain again soon!!

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  1. Comment by SaigonNezumi (Kevin) posted on

    Monsoons have not arrived yet? Here in Saigon, the rainy season started much earlier than normal. We are getting heavier rain here than usual.

    Here also, you can feel the tension as the dry season nears the rainy season. It is also hot and muggy. You just want it to rain. When it finally, does, you are happy along with everybody else.

    Then after a couple days of getting soaked in the rain on your motorbike, you can't wait for the dry season. 🙂

    I really enjoyed your article. Thanks for posting on Twitter.

  2. Comment by Cynan posted on

    The main rains are late here in Ethiopia are several weeks late as well -- which leaves us worried about this year's agricultural production. But also, with so much of the electricity here hydro-powered, there is power rationing which is having a major impact on major industry as well. And with cement factories shut down, the problem flows on very quickly to the (formerly booming) construction sector as well, with building sites shuttered and many people out of work...

    So, come on the rains...

  3. Comment by Shyam Kumar Rai posted on

    Dear Sarah

    We, Nepalese are not happy to have rain all the time, We are happy if it is monsoon beacuse as you said we rely on rain for paddy plantation.

  4. Comment by Pralhad Giri posted on

    Dear Sarah!
    Very interesting and outbreaking article! You have really touched the sentiments of Nepalese livelyhood. Keep posting! I would love to read.

    Pralhad Giri
    Youth Forum Nepal

  5. Comment by Sarah posted on

    Thanks for all the comments. I'm glad to say the monsoon rains have arrived, and great to see the paddy being planted and the temperature has come down. The load shedding in Kathmandu also seems to be better...

  6. Comment by Pralhad Giri posted on

    Yup! That's right. May we say after your writings it may have developed. Ha ha ha!

  7. Comment by Purna Singh Baraily posted on

    Thank you for your nice words on weather of Nepal. I surprised on the water shortage of DFID's office in Kathmandu, too. Water shortage problem is not only the cause of climate changes it is also the problem of water management problem in Nepal. or what do you think??

  8. Comment by Mark Watson posted on

    I have just caught up with your blogs and found them very interesting indeed. With our research work on the plants of Nepal I am lucky to frequently visit this beautiful country and can readily relate to your early blogs. Coping with electricity load shedding, restricted water supply, fuel shortages (petrol and diesel, and kerosene and gas for cooking), strikes and mass protests, disrupted refuse collection and strained infrastructure in the Kathmandu Valley is very trying and must be much worse for those who live there all year round. But life goes on and much good work gets done, often in spite of the problems.

    The rains are very late this year (again) but our botanists out on a international plant collecting expedition in far west Nepal are reporting (by sat. phone - see their tweets @TheBotanics on Twitter) that the monsoon is in full swing now with heavy rain, mist and bucket loads of leeches! More than most countries, Nepal is suffering under the often unpredictable effects of climate change with the knock on effects on biodiversity and its sustainable use. Your climate change programme is very timely!

    I was last over in April/May so just missed your arrival. I met up with some of your staff then and hope to meet you later this year.

    Best regards

    Mark Watson
    Flora of Nepal
    Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, UK

  9. Comment by Hari Nath Yogi posted on

    AS Mark said above , I have also just caught up with your great blogs and being very keen to put my positive comment on your beautiful article. Sahara, you are being familiar with different aspects of my country. We are really ill-fated with nature too. We have many perenial rivers which can be very efficiently and sustainably exploited. But they are futile for us. This is our existential dilemma. Anyway Sahara, wishing your efffective leadership with very cordial cooperation with local people's sentiments and strength.
    Thank you.

  10. Comment by shashi shrestha posted on

    Could you please advice me some ideas so that we student studying in Denmark can do something for climate change in Nepal.
    We are group of student who wants to do something for climate change in Nepal.

  11. Comment by Sarah Sanyahumbi posted on

    Dear shashi,

    There are many innovative things we can do on climate change issues in Nepal. As a student the best way you can utilize the academic knowledge and experience is by doing practical research in Nepal looking into various dimensions on how climate change is having negative impact on livelihood of poor and vulnerable communities. Exploring the richness of local knowledge and innovations to adapt and respond to the changing climate; and testing innovative approaches, modalities and methods which contribute to the understanding of impact, vulnerability and response measures.

    Students can also contribute in awareness raising and sensitization among their collegues in Denmark and Nepal on issues specific to himalayan region and Nepal. You can make Danish students aware about the issues here as well as helping them learn from them. You can use the existing electronic networking methods like facebook to start an on-line discussion on why and how climate change is impacting our rural population, what can student and youth help Nepalese communities to adapt, what should the international community, government and public do in order to response to the impacts etc.

    I hope this helps!

  12. Comment by Hari Nath Yogi posted on

    Dear Sarah and shashi,
    Thank you very much your genuine concern about the serious issue of our country which is victimized by current mode of climate change due to some developed countries that have irrational developmental acitvities which invite this disaster in the planet. And the situation like in Nepal is very serious because it affects more in developing poor counries who are based on ariculture. Their condition will be very pathetic in the days to come. Now we have been rhetorically talking about Copenhagan Summit which, we hope, will hatched something miracle. But I am abit escaptical about this kind of gossip forum like bygone conferences for unfulfilled promises. This might be a continuation of the same. However I agree with Sarah that we all should acknowledge locally and perform our local efforts which seems much more effective. Anyway lastily but not the least - good luck for the COP Meeting. Thanks

    ( Sweden, Studying Sustainable Development)