The winter in Kathmandu has hit a new low, dipping below zero for the first time in three years. Three years ago, in January 2010, the lowest recorded temperature had been minus 0.2 degrees Celsius, still slightly warmer than this year’s minus 0.76 degrees Celsius. The wave of cold ushered in by Westerly winds (according to the Meteorological Forecasting Division) brings with it more than just lower temperatures. In the Tarai, where people normally enjoy much warmer weather and are consequently unprepared for cold, this uncharacteristically sunless winter has proved very difficult.
Dense fog has reduced visibility greatly, impacting everyday life. Up in the hills, where the sun peeks out for a few hours in the day, it is difficult to get much work accomplished in government offices because many officials are enjoying the sun outside. Even in Kathmandu, the bustling metropolis where most people enjoy modern-day facilities, they cannot remain untouched by the cold. Without adequate electricity, even the few who can afford heaters are unable to utilize them at nights, and with a maximum temperature barely rising above 16 degrees Celsius in the day, there is no respite from the cold at any time.
The harsh winter has led to regrettable incidents already, as in the case of the fire in Bhaktapur (which claimed three lives on Saturday) and the cold wave in the Tarai (with 10 lives lost in Mohottari district alone). But apart from humans, the weather also severely impacts the environment and agriculture. Winter rains typically raise temperature and help winter crops like wheat, barley, legumes and vegetables. This year, the rains have been absent so far, with meager chances of precipitation even in the next few days, leading to concerns that the entire agricultural sector will be affected.
In line with global warming, the climate of Nepal has been changing steadily in the past few years. For example, the temperature of Kathmandu valley in the winter frequently dipped to sub zero levels in the seventies and eighties, with the lowest recorded temperature being minus 3.5 degrees in 1978. But with the global rise in temperature, the temperature of Kathmandu has also been steadily rising in the past few years, dipping below zero only a few times in the recent past. While a rise in temperature may be viewed as favorable in the short term, especially in typically cold areas, a lesser known impact of global warming is also that it gives rise to extreme weathers and fluctuations in temperatures. This may lead to unpredictable weather patterns, adversely impacting health, agriculture, and outdoor activities and businesses. Besides, many environmentalists are concerned that global warming is melting vital ice caps in the Polar Regions.
Nepal too has its hands full with a substantial percentage of its land covered in ice. Before the glaciers in the Himalayas melt at an alarming rate, inflicting great damage on the lives and properties, the government should heed the warning signals in the form of fluctuating and extreme weathers. Sadly, while it can light up small bonfires at chowks in the Tarai for temporary relief, it can do little except keep urging big polluters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions