Droughts force residents of hamlet in mid-hill Nepal to migrate

Almost all the families of Puranogaun village in the mid-hills of Nepal have migrated due to climate-induced water scarcity. The fact that water woes continue to haunt them after migration is an indication of the climate vagaries and water problems that paradisaical Nepal faces now and of what the future portends.

In the last six years, out of the 24 households in Puranogaun village, 18 have migrated, three are about to migrate and the remaining three have no choice but to adapt to the severe drought. Puranogaun, a village in the mid-hill of Khotang district of Nepal, lies in the Koshi River basin.

Local bamboo plants drying out due to drought in Puranogaun, Nepal. Photo: Nabin Baral

Millions of people live on mountain slopes due to their refreshing ambience. The weather is pleasant, the air is clean, the water is pure, there is sufficient sunshine, and there is lower incidence of disease. More than 10 million people rely on springs as their primary source of water in the hills and mountains of Nepal.

It had been the same for residents of Puranogaun village too, till they started facing scarcity of water due to change in rainfall pattern induced by climate change. According to a research publication by a scientist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), increase in maximum temperature in Koshi River basin is 2.3 degree C in the last 40 years.

As per the National Climate Change Impact Survey of 2016 that the National Planning Commission of Nepal conducted, 99.33 percent of households across the mid-hills of Nepal have observed an increase in drought in the past 25 years. The mid-hills of Nepal have started to lose their paradisaical quality due to drought induced by climate change, and have witnessed a lot of migration in the last decade.

The villagers have been facing crop failures repeatedly over the years due to continuous drought. They no longer have the seeds of resilient native crops they used to cultivate. Photo: Nabin Baral

Increasing impact of climate change

The residents of Puranogaun village, who lead an extremely simple life and hence are carbon negative, are among the migrants forced to leave their paradise.

On 18 January, 2019, six families migrated from Puranogaun to Regmitar, which is at the foot of the hill. The families spent USD 10,000 to 20,000 to build a new house in Regmitar. Regmitar is in the flood plain of Sapsup River. There is no piped drinking water facility in Regmitar.

The migrated families rely on the Sapsup River for drinking water. During the summer flood the families have to drink polluted water from the river. The irony is that the water problem that caused the families to migrate, continues to daunt them even after migration. And it is an indication of future water position for the mountain nation as it experiences increasing impact of climate change.

Kharkhola Rivulet, the nearest alternative water source for Puranogaun village, has been dry since the last decade. Photo: Nabin Baral
A dried water tap with the name list of households from Puranogaun who used to fill water. When all springs dried, Puranogaun and two neighbouring villages tried to adapt to the drought conditions by renting a water spring from another village. The villagers have to pay 31 Muri (about 2000kg) of paddy for the right to use the water from the spring for six months. The spring water is brought to the villages using a 7km long poly-pipe and stored in a tank and distributed to 111 households including Puranogaun village for two hours every day. The villagers won’t get water for days if the water pipes are pierced by wild porcupines looking for water. Photo: Nabin Baral
Villagers from Puranogaun return after repairing the water pipe that was pierced by porcupines looking for water in the forest. When porcupines looking for water damage the pipes with their quills, sometimes the villagers have to go without water for days. It takes the whole morning for villagers to locate the damage as the pipe runs for a distance of 7km, and repair the water pipe due to its remoteness. Photo: Nabin Baral
Water pots and utensils in front of one of the three adapting households in Puranogaun. Most of the villagers are farmers and the water that they buy by paying in measures of rice are only enough for drinking and household use. The agriculture field is left barren and every drop of used water is saved for livestock. Photo: Nabin Baral
Five water storage poly-tanks in front of one of the three adapting households in Puranogaun village. As the water bought against paddy is only enough for drinking and household use, the villagers – who are farmers – do not cultivate, but leave the fields fallow. Photo: Nabin Baral
A house under construction in Regmitar. Most of the households that migrated from Puranogaun are settled in Regmitar. The families spend $10,000 to $20,000 to build a new house in Regmitar. Photo: Nabin Baral
A family portrait of Murari Regmi (59, standing) in front of their house in Puranogaun village before migration. The rainfall pattern during Regmi's teen years was normal. Then it started to change slowly. His personal experience about climate change matches the scientific report of ICIMOD. In the last decade, the rainfall has become erratic. The paradise of his childhood days when he watched peacocks and heard their calls is lost. Photo: Nabin Baral
Tara Devi Regmi (50), wife of Murari Regmi, at her kitchen in their house in Puranogaun village, before the family migrated. Photo: Nabin Baral
The abandoned house of Murari Regmi in Puranogaun, a year after the family migrated. Photo: Nabin Baral
Family portrait of Murari Regmi (59), in front of their new house in Regmitar, a year after migrating. The families who migrated from Puranogaun had to spend $10,000 to $20,000 to build a new house in Regmitar. Photo: Nabin Baral
Rajan Budathoki (50) and his wife in their new house in Regmitar, a year after migrating from Puranogaun. Photo: Nabin Baral
The abandoned house of Hari Bahadur Budathoki (78) in Puranogaun. His family has migrated to Regmitar due to drought. Photo: Nabin Baral
Hari Bahadur Budathoki (78) and his wife in front of their new house in Regmitar, a year after they migrated from Puranogaun. Photo: Nabin Baral
The abandoned house of Yub Raj Regmi (49) in Puranogaun. Due to drought in the village, Yub Regmi’s family migrated to Regmitar. Photo: Nabin Baral
The abandoned house of Yub Raj Regmi (49) in Puranogaun. Due to drought in the village, Yub Regmi’s family migrated to Regmitar. Photo: Nabin Baral
Yub Raj Regmi (49) and his wife in front of their unfinished new house in Regmitar, a year after they migrated from Puranogaun because of drought. Photo: Nabin Baral

Storyteller

Nabin Baral

Nabin is a documentary photographer based in Kathmandu, Nepal.

loading

Related stories