21 May 2014 (Sydney Morning Herald) – Mountaineering tourism in Nepal faces a threat from global warming as melting glaciers feed the risk of more deadly disasters such as the avalanche on Mount Everest that killed 16 people last month, scientists said on Tuesday.
More than 2,000 foreign mountaineers flock to the Himalayan nation sandwiched between India and China each year, mainly to climb the world's highest mountain, generating revenue of $3.4 million in permit fees for the impoverished country.
Rising global temperatures have shrunk the total area of Nepal's glaciers by almost a quarter between 1977 and 2010, with an average of 38 square kilometres vanishing every year, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), based in the Nepali capital, says in a report.
Besides bringing harsher and more frequent floods, avalanches, and landslides affecting millions of people living in remote mountain villages, such changes could also hit adventure-seeking trekkers, the report's lead author says.
"The frequency of avalanches like the one that struck at the Everest base camp last month may increase due to global warming," Samjwal Bajracharya, lead author of the report, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The 18 April avalanche, in which ice and snow swept away 16 Nepali sherpa guides, was the deadliest disaster on the 8,850-m Mount Everest and shocked the global mountaineering community.
It was not the only disaster that could be linked to melting glaciers and the impact of climate change.
In May 2012, more than 60 people, three Ukrainian tourists among them, were killed in the popular Mount Annapurna region in western Nepal after flash floods triggered by an avalanche washed away Nepali homes.
Ten people, including nine European climbers, were also killed that year when avalanches swept away their camps on the world's eighth tallest peak, Mount Manaslu, in central Nepal.
In its report, published last week, ICIMOD said Nepal's total glacier area is decreasing fast, with individual glaciers "shrinking, retreating, and fragmenting".
In 2011, ICIMOD said melting glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region threatened millions of mountain-dwellers, as well as more than one billion people living in the basins of the ten major Asian rivers that originate there. [more]