Tag Archives: Environment

Maoist Protests and Everest Expeditions

May Protests Planned

News has been fluttering around about the threat of a month long national strike in Nepal organized by the Maoists starting with May Day on May 1st. Several articles have recently covered the issue:

BBC: Maoists converge on Nepalese capital
Republica: Peace Process at Risk
Nepal News: More than half a million people set to hit streets during… May day demo
Nepal News: Bhattarai says Maoist nationwide agitation will be ‘peaceful’
Nepal News: Government asks Maoists to call off demonstration

Added on 5/3: BBC Maoists strike shuts down Nepal to Topple Government
New York Times Nationwide Strike in Nepal Threatens Final Steps of Peace Process


May is the start of Everest summiting season—the critical few weeks in May where the South Asian weather patterns usually shift (before the arrival of the monsoons) giving climbers a good shot at finding the summit of the mighty mountain relatively clear and storm free. This year a Sherpa team is leading a Nepali organized environmental expedition to help clean up the ever-growing trash on the mountain including old ropes, used oxygen bottles, camp gear, and the bodies of climbers who died on the ascent. Seven-time summit-er Namgyal Sherpa  notes, “I’m a climber and I can say frankly that I’m a little bit angry when I climb Mount Everest because of the rubbish,”

As part of the expedition the team hopes to retrieve the bodies of three climbers which have been lying on the trail: Swiss climber Gianni Goltz, American Scott Fisher, and New Zealander Rob Hall (Fisher and Hall were part of the 1996 team that died on the mountain in one of the worst climbing disasters in Everest history, chronicled by Jon Krakauer in his book “Into Thin Air”—a book I admit I have a hard time putting down, even though I’ve read it several times).

A recent BBC article (“Everest ‘death zone’ to be cleaned”) notes:

Namgyal says some families have expressed the desire to leave the bodies on Mount Everest, as they feel this is what the climbers would have wanted.

However, the expedition project co-ordinator, Chakra Karki, says that Nepalese people do not want the mountain to become a graveyard.

“We respect the sentiments of the family of anyone who has died on Everest,” he said.

“But it is a holy mountain and our government policy is clear – there should be no dead bodies on the mountain. All dead bodies should be brought below base camp and either buried or cremated. They shouldn’t pollute the mountain glaciers.”

You can learn more about the expedition by listening to a PRI’s The World audio segment on “Cleaning up Mount Everest” and reading the Nepal News article.

Load Shedding

If you visit Kathmandu I can pretty much guarantee that you will  experience “load shedding.”

I had never heard this word until P started to talk about it a few years ago when the load shedding situation started to get really bad.

Apparently, for the last few years, Nepal has not been able to produce enough energy to meet the needs of the capital city, and as a result the electrical grid in various zones of the city is shut off during different parts of the day to help save on energy in general. This has become so routine that now the power companies post load shedding schedules in the newspaper so that each household can predict and expect when they will and will not have electricity each day (example from the electric company’s website in Nepali… and an example in English for a week in March).

For those unfamiliar with the pervasiveness of Nepali load shedding– imagine… for a while the power was cut for a few hours, eventually it was up to 12 hours a day, then 16 hours a day, I think for a while it might have even been higher than that (18, 20). It’s not like the power company has to have one long load shedding day a month to balance energy needs, because that, while inconvenient, would be manageable… but these are daily occurrences. One Nepali blog wrote an opinion piece called “Sixteen Hour Load Shedding in Nepal: How the Hell Can One Run the Government?” stating:

The country has some interesting experience to share from its existing 12 hours power cuts. Nepal Police says that incidences of robbery & petty crimes go up during the dark hours. Hospitals refuse accepting emergency & injury cases due to their inability to operate such vital machines like MRI & CT. Nepali doctors are adding laurels to their professionalism and ask for extra privilege & protection for their success in “Candlelight Operations”. Nepal’s radio & TV networks have officially announced a five hours’ closure of “informing the public”. The dailies publish students’ complaint letters lamenting how their exam & career are affected by continual load-shedding.

Some families have generators to help them through the load shedding hours, but many do not, including P’s. Appliances like refrigerators are useless if you only have power for a few hours a day, and luckily many families don’t rely on refrigerators in the same way that Americans do. Without electricity one can’t use the computer, watch the tv (even for news), or listen to a radio that doesn’t have batteries. When we were visiting over the summer the family would often sit on the flat roof as the early evening darkness set in and drink tea while waiting for the power to come  back on at 7 o’clock. Candles were lit around the house for light, and P’s mother could still cook on the gas burners in the kitchen. Surprisingly, life went on, without electricity, day after day. When I went to my friend’s house to have henna designs put on my hands for her wedding, we had to sit near candles and flashlights when the lights clicked off—we had driven from P’s house (in one zone where we had no electricity) and driven to her house (in another zone) and followed the blackout as it switched across town.

During the height of the blackouts, load shedding was a common topic of conversation, and I could hear P discussing it on the phone with his family. It was kind of like the “how’s the weather?” question for a New Englander because it changes so frequently… “how many hours of load shedding do you have this week?”

It has been years now since the energy crisis has come to a head… and it is still a problem. In January 2009 the BBC had an article on the energy issues in the country with the sub-headline, “Just when switching over to clean energy to fight climate change has become a global mantra, water-rich Nepal appears to be heading in the opposite direction, changing from renewable to dirty energy.” The article highlights Nepal’s nationally declared energy crisis, which is unfortunate and absurd in a country with “more than 6,000 rivers… gushing down the Himalayan foothills… there is the potential to generate tens of thousands of megawatts [of electricity through hydropower!]” Of course there is a lot of finger pointing… the old government blames the lack of power generating infrastructure on the ten-year long Maoist insurgency since the Maoists were “repeatedly accused of disrupting the construction works [of a dam project]” while the Maoists claim “political mismanagement” in the previous regimes are the real cause of lack of proper energy infrastructure. The main point is that to elevate some of the energy problems the government imported  several surplus industrial diesel generators from China left over from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

That article was published fifteen months ago, and I still talked to P’s dad about load shedding yesterday on the phone. An article in the Himalayan Times from March 12 stated that the weekly load shedding outages in the Valley were increasing from 77 hours a week to 84. Eight-four hours a week… that is still 12 hours per day of no electricity.