Climate Change And Human Rights: Nepal Taking The Lead

Jun 6th, 2013 | By | Category: Climatic Changes in Himalayas, Development and Climate Change, Ecosystem Functions, Governance, Government Policies, News, Population, Poverty, Resilience, Vulnerability, Women

vignette.phpThe Himalayan Times: Last week, on Friday, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Nepal took a bold step in declaring that Climate Change has a direct bearing on Human Rights, and in moving forward the NHRC would work in Nepal within that context too. Nepal would not be the first country to accept this simple fact. Unfortunately, none of the relevant government ministries invited to participate sent their representatives. Ignorance, however, is not bliss when it comes to climate change and its implications for Nepal.

It is important to demystify a bulk of the technical jargon and concepts that come while discussing the climate change. And, perhaps, there is no simpler way for the people to relate to the phenomenon, and its relation to Human Rights, than through the very issue of food security.

Had the last Constituent Assembly promulgated the drafted constitution, Food Security would have been listed as a Fundamental Right guaranteed by the constitution. The following would have been enshrined too: Responsibilities of the State: The state shall adopt precautionary measures in order to make people secure from natural disasters, and shall arrange for rescue and protection in the disaster and provide reasonable compensation to the affected people. Policies of State: The state shall, by protecting long-term interest of farmers by means of food sovereignty, adopt a policy in order to secure right to food.

Now, let us examine those propositions in the light of climate change and Nepal. In 2011, Nepal ranked 29th in the Climate Risk Index produced by the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index, based on “one of the most reliable available data sets on the impacts of extreme weather events and associated socio-economic data.” This year Nepal ranks 13th on the same index. What does this mean? It “indicates a level of exposure and vulnerability to extreme events which countries should see as a warning signal to prepare for more frequent or more severe events in the future.”This April, a hailstorm in the Surkhet district destroyed crops worth over $409,000. Two days of torrential rain in Bardiya caused the farmers to lose some of their lentil crops. In May, the government announced that the country’s “Cereal crop production fell due to scanty rainfall during the plantation season.” While the November-December period was quite dry, February, March and April were wetter than expected, experts explained. The month of May saw record-breaking rain. In the winter and monsoon season, many communities also suffer from food insecurity and dire food shortages because bad weather does not permit timely or adequate delivery of food. Food is but merely a single example.

It is also worth considering the implications on entire communities having to move due to drought, and the tensions it may raise locally. What happens when, in a future Nepal, locals from one ethnicity based Federal State is forced to move into another as a minority? There is the simple fact that basic elements like food and water security, and clean air, and natural rights because they are our body’s natural or basic needs. Then there is the threat of conflict during the time of climate crisis. Add to this Nepal’s as-is volatile political situation and ethnic tensions. Yes, there are successes and promising leads – Nepal is already leading the way with clean cooking stoves and earning international recognition and dollars for it. The Shivapuri Watershed established decades ago is ensuring millions of liters of water to Kathmandu valley every day, not to mention cleansing the valley’s air.

It is high time Nepal began to grasp the value of ecological services. To forget their value is to thrust the country and its people towards an ecological disaster, a plunge powerful enough to paralyze or crumble all “institutions” we are familiar with. Mother Nature is trying to tell us something very crucial to our survival, and the National Human Rights Commission concurs. We must develop a bias for action, and in this case, climate action.

Now that the National Human Rights Commission has taken this in a formal and an official path, policy makers and legal bodies must begin engaging themselves for the implications of what climate change means to Nepalis in the Human Rights context.

Considering the global trends of climate change related natural disasters, experts are very clear about their warnings: what we have understood to be “bad” is only expected to become “worse” sooner rather than later. Natural elements don’t understand human rights. But, we as a society and as people do. The links are clear, and inaction is not an option. It is time Nepal takes the lead on climate change in the Human Rights context. That future has begun.

Adapted from a draft document by the authors that was circulated at the National Human Rights Commission Workshop on Climate Change and Human Rights last week in Kathmandu. Anil

Authors: Anil Chitrakar and Kashish Das Shrestha. Chitrakar is the author of “Take The Lead: Nepal’s Future Has Begun”. Kashish Das Shrestha writes at SustainableNepal.org

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