Despite the worldwide hoo-hah about the world heritage site around Chomolungma being put on the UNESCO endangered list because of global warming, most people here say it is all hype.
International environmental activists campaigning against climate change have used its effect on Chomolungma and the Himalaya to draw attention to act on the Kyoto Treaty ahead of a big international conference in Argentina next week.
But here in the capital of Sherpaland, few have heard of it and when told refuse to believe that the world's highest mountain is in any danger. "Why is it that we, who live here, are always the last people to hear about anything like this?" asks Sonam G Sherpa, chairman of Namche Buffer Zone Users' Committee that oversees the environment outside the Everest National Park. Elsewhere in Namche, the politicians, hotel owners, students and even conservationists we talked to, laughed out loud when we told them of the worldwide campaign.
"I find it quite amusing to hear that Chomolungma is endangered," says Mingma Sherpa who runs the Chukum Restaurant here.
The green group, Friends of the Earth and mountaineers last week launched a worldwide campaign to lobby for emission controls saying Mt Everest and the Himalaya are melting. They petitioned UNESCO in Paris to place Everest National Park as well as reefs in Belize and glaciers Peru on the World Heritage Danger List due to global warming. Inclusion in UNESCO's endangered list would commit the world body to take corrective measures like pressing countries around the world to cut carbon emissions.
"The World Heritage Committee must urgently investigate these sites and ensure that everything necessary is done to maintain their world heritage status, to keep people safe and to pass them on intact to future generations," said Peter Roderick of Climate Justice, a London-based green group. British mountaineer Chris Bonnington, who climbed Chomolungma and Annapurna in the 1980s agrees: "Both the beauty of this magnificent area and the livelihoods of its inhabitants are threatened by global warming."
But here in Khumbu, the Sherpas are wondering why no one ever asked them for their opinion. "Everything is decided in Kathmandu, we are the ones who are affected by climate change most. Why don't they come here and raise the issue," says Sonam Sherpa.
He says the people here have noticed the effects of climate change in a single generation: receding glaciers, glacial lakes swelling with snow melt. Dozens of people here have lost their lives in the past 15 years due to avalanches and glacial outburst floods.
Big glacial lake outbursts in 1975 and 1982 destroyed land, livestock, bridges and a hydroelectric plant when two glacial lakes burst. Despite this, people here think green groups are exaggerating the dangers for their own publicity and worry about what it will do to Khumbu's tourism, which has just started picking up again. "It sounds alarmist and it is nothing new, why bring it up now?" asks Tsering Sherpa, a Namche teacher.
Even trekkers here find the news of Everest being in danger a bit odd. "Yes, I heard about it but we have to be careful such news doesn't create panic and give the impression that the mountains have melted away," says British hiker Simon Baker on his way down from Kala Patthar.
Scottish conservationist Helen Cawley who has been based in Khumbu for the last 15 years admits the news may be a bit sensational but will serve to focus global attention for industrialised nations to work seriously in reducing global warming. "If it makes powerful governments in the west take action, then it is all right," she says. "But I'd rephrase it to say the people are more in danger than Everest."
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