It was not without reason that John Denver’s song “Country road take me home…” touched a million hearts. Love of native home is probably universal among all human beings. After spending decades in Kathmandu in pursuit of education and career, who would not wish to go back to their native village? I, who entered the valley in 1970 to pursue a college degree and eventually found a job here, was no exception. During 40 years away from Ghoksila Pokhari, my native village in Sindhuli, I got very few opportunities to spend quality time in my village. That was when I started hearing of depressing incidents related to climate change and began wondering if it was affecting my village too. I heard of the example of the Sahel region in Africa, where severe drought led to starvation. In Nepal, relocation of Dho village in Upper Mustang due to drying up of water sources was a prime example. Having heard enough, I decided to visit Ghoksila in January 2011.
Back in my village, we eagerly looked for signs of climate change. Hence, soon after meeting some relatives, we decided to take a walk along the village with Tika Dami, a village ploughman. We first chose to see village waterholes, namely Kolekholsa and Dhayerni where I, as a toddler, used to follow my mom while she fetched water home. But alas! There was virtually no sign of water in them; they had dried decades ago! Shocked, we headed to Thulipokhari (meaning a gigantic pond) at the centre of village. As a child, I used to watch my neighbors bathe and water their buffaloes there. I was taken aback to see no sign of water there too. And this was the village called Pokhari Gaun since it had year-round supply of water. The terraces that once grew maize, millet and legumes abundantly now looked dry and bare, as if they were abandoned years ago.
My old home sat in dilapidated condition as the homeowners had moved to Besi (foot hills) for a number of reasons, including severe water scarcity and repeated crop failure. Entire forests looked sick or dying and had seen fires several times in the past. The villagers had noticed strange behavior among local birds. They had not seen common crows, believed to be harbingers of danger, for over a decade around the village. The paddy lands in Besi that were once rich and extensive were replaced by scattered plots among big rocks and rubble. Ghoskila River had washed away valuable paddy fields as many as three times in the last two decades. The once perennial Ghoksila River could hardly be noticed because of its meager flow. On top of that, most of its water seeped underground, losing its irrigation value. This forced the shutdown of the micro-hydro project at Sungure, which was built three decades ago to supply electricity to Ramechhap.
No doubt the villagers had desperately attempted to cope with these adversities. They arranged for drinking water from a long way upstream through a combination of dug up channels and poly-pipes. But this project could not be sustained because of the shortage of funds. Scarcity of drinking water, as well as repeated and prolonged drought leading to crop failure, forced people to look for alternatives. While some left the place for good, others had moved to cities like Kathmandu for temporary employment. Wealthier people, who owned land in Besi move to the bottom of the hills owing to relative convenience of water. The poor, on the other hand, had no option but to stay in the village and live a wretched life.
Pudke Sarki, who served as a ploughman to my family, for example, stayed back because he was too old to go elsewhere. Also, he had no property in Besi that he could move to. ‘Saheb, I have no option but to wait for death to come and rescue me from my sorrow,’ he lamented. Though the situation was better for the wealthy, it was only marginally so. Serious water scarcity persisted, particularly for irrigation, leading to clashes between people. To counter the water and feed scarcity, people raised smaller animals like goats instead of big buffaloes. This severely cut down the availability of farmyard manure. Traditional verities of paddy such as Rambelas and Jarneli no longer existed, and were being replaced by hybrids that required heavy use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
The experience was a nightmare. I feared that the story of my native village I used to hear during my childhood would be limited to memory. As a child I took great pride in my village and used to sing Madhav Ghimire’s legendry song “Lagdachha malai ramailo merai pakha pakhero, himalchuli muntira pani bharne pandhero.” But alas! Now I hesitate to hum that song because the local land holds virtually no water. Ironically, the people there have not even heard of the word “climate change” or national programs like NAPA, let alone get any support to combat their problems. Perhaps the biggest paradox is that the village is not a part of the vulnerable districts identified by NAPA, and hence may never receive outside support. I feel guilty about not being able to help my villagers much.
All I can do at this stage is to share their plight through this newspaper, with the hope that it will draw the attention of policymakers and national climate change negotiators who will hopefully speak up on their behalf at the international climate change summits.
The writer is former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation