CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS SOCIO-CULTURAL IMPACT IN THE HIMALAYAN REGION OF NEPAL –
A VISUAL DOCUMENTATION
Key Words: Nepal, Himalaya, environment and people, melting glaciers, anthropogenic global warming, local knowledge
The Republic of Nepal is a picturesque country of natural beauty: The high Himalayas, majestic mountains, lush green forest with an exotic collection of flora and fauna, pristine rivers, waterfalls and mountain lakes. It lies along the southern slopes of the Himalayas. Nepal opened itself to the outside world in the middle of 20th century, but various cultures and communities of the country are still unknown to the outside world and yet not much was written or researched about the Himalayan people. Dr. Toni Hagen was the first foreigner, who walked the length and breadth of Nepal and studied people and places in the 50’s of the last century, using film and photographs; however he was a geological engineer by profession and his works don’t contain any anthropological details. On the whole there has been limited research on the cultural context in the Himalayan region of Nepal with true anthropological significance and very few based on the connection between environment and people. Just “a relatively small group of anthropologists have contributed to understanding of how societies deal with environmental change and climate variability. Those contributions aside, the discipline is not strongly positioned in public debate about - or research and action on - anthropogenic global warming” (Butterbury 2008:62).
There are already visible sign of climate impacts in the Himalaya region of Nepal and people have begun to feel the changes on their daily lives. Clear indications of these impacts can be seen on Himalayan glaciers, which are melting rapidly. Food scarcity and malnutrition, diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are moving to higher altitudes. Even though the vulnerability of mountain ecosystem to climate change is yet not exactly analyzed, the impacts of climate change are however likely to affect population of poor and marginalized mountain people within their daily life and work. “While alarmist predictions of massive flows of refugees are not supported by past experiences of responses to droughts and extreme weather events, predictions for future migration flows are tentative at best” (Tacoli 2009:513), as the place they inhabit, the mountains are among the most fragile environments on earth.
Fidel Devkota’s filmmaking and anthropological approach will be based on observational style “to encourage the film subjects to speak for themselves, to convey- or be prompted to convey – a board spread of background informationnecessary as context for the film’s main narrative”(Banks 2001:150). This kind of filmmaking is not about a “superficial, distanced encounter: rather it requires intense engagement with what is happening around the camera” (Grimshaw 2005:24). Fidel Devkota has a strong connection to the place and people, particularly the western Himalayan region of Nepal. He speaks the language, including the local khas language and he is familiar with the culture as he has his roots in the mentioned region. He wants to go beyond observational cinema for which he will take up a participatory and reflexive role of an anthropologist and a filmmaker, interacting with people, which will deepen the relationships and trust, by this approach he aims to extract the depth of local knowledge which is vital for taking detailed field-notes and for anthropological understanding in whole. Since his film is about the relationship of mountains and mankind, he will also put an extra focus on the presentation of the environment and the landscape as the “aesthetic experience of the natural world proves itself to be an important area for anthropological research” (Frömming 2009:397). As a trained filmmaker and editor, Devkota has worked and made films about the region before, and this experience will be invaluable to him to understand and anticipate things during his fieldwork.
Apart from film and photographs, Devkota also wants to use the qualitative method of photo elicitation in some formal/informal interviews. He will use the photos of past disasters such as glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF), landslides, comparative photos of melting glaciers for conservation to get an even better understanding of the population and their local knowledge concerning the relationship with nature. During his project, which will consist of films, photographs, interview and soundscapes from the actual locations, Fidel will be filming with Sony PD 170 camera, which he will hire in Kathmandu on a weekly basis. He will use mini DV tapes for the recording and will be taking photographs with Canon D450 Digital Single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera. Further he will be getting a film student as an assistant to assist. Fidel has left Germany on the second week of April. He planned to visit at least two potential locations depending on time and budget from May 2011 till the end July 2011. For his 30-minute (plus) film Fidel is planning to film 1000- minute of footage. He will return to Germany within one week after the completion of his fieldwork.
Fidel’s budget for the film is around €10,000- €12,000 (approximately). This includes round-trips to airfare from Berlin-Kathmandu and lodging, feeding and travel cost during field visits. Fidel Devkota has been awarded €1,000 social funding from the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Freie Universität Berlin. The rest of the amount is based on personal loan from friends.
Banks, Marcus. 2001. Visual Methods in Social Research, London and New Delhi: Sage Publications.
Batterbury, Simon. 2008. “Anthropology and Global Warming: The Need For Environment Engagement.” The Australian Journal of Anthropology 19(1): 62-65.
Frömming, Urte Undine. 2009. “Kilimanjaro’s Melting Glaciers: On the Colonial and postcolonial perceptions and appropriation of African nature.” Etnografica 13(2): 395-416.
Grimshaw, Anna. 2005. “New Horizons for Visual Anthropology.” In Visualizing Anthropology eds. Anna Grimshaw and Amanda Ravetz, 17-30: Bristol UK and Portland US: Intellect Books.
Tacoli, Cecilia. 2009. “Crisis or adaption? Migration and climate change in a context of high mobility.” Environment and Urbanization 21:513-525.