By: Phurba Chheten Pradhan
I was born in Khumjung, a Sherpa village located in the Khumbu sub region of the Sagarmatha National Park lying at an altitude of 3,790 meters above the sea level. The village is more like a flat land between the low ride of Namche and holy mountain Khumbi la. As a child I was very close to my grandmother so I used to spend most of my time with her at her place just to hear some interesting stories. Many of her stories seemed to have no bearing on reality as if she lived in a fantasy world. Nevertheless, they were very fascinating and I listened to them with rapt attention. Out of them, one was about the “Lu” or “Naga” in Nepali that dwelled in the springs.
Traditional Water Resource Protection in Khumbu Region
The concept of engaging a supernatural power such as a Lu spirit for water source protection is common in most Sherpa communities. She always used to say that Lu’s or naga’s are very susceptible to pollution and other form of human disturbance so one must never offend them because according to the myths an offended Lu can cause all kinds of physical ailments in humans, ranging from minor sores to paralysis.
Therefore we were constantly reminded never to pollute such water sources where the Lu resides. Such traditional concepts directly help maintain water purity by avoiding contamination. This fear based tactic has helped maintain the cleanliness of springs and reduced chances of water borne diseases in the village and nearby areas. In the past, people did not understand worms, bacteria, protozoa, and viruses as sources of waterborne diseases nor did they have any such sophisticated medications. However, they did learn that polluted water can cause many illnesses such as diarrhea and dysentery. The concept of water spirits therefore played an effective role in preventing both water pollution and diseases. This ensures water capture from clouds and rain and release of this water into the ground using the vegetation as a filter. Forest cover near water sources is believed to make the Lu happy. Apart from protecting the water springs, the villagers also started taking care of the jungle through various afforestation programs around it to strengthen the springs in the hills which had been depleted. Doing so increases the moisture in the soil which in turn increases the output of the springs. This practice is not only beneficial for improving the quality but also the flow of water and maintaining greenery.
Another interesting traditional system that is still used in every Sherpa household are the use of large copper vessel (zha) to store water brought from the spring. We still have those large vessels wherein fresh water are stored for drinking and cooking purposes. Copper Zha are not only functional, but are also an important part of the house decoration; a zha is one of the mandatory gifts given to a daughter who is marrying and setting up her own household. Storing water in copper vessel has thermal regulation effects and also maintains electrolytes. Water stored in copper vessel contains non-toxic copper and iron which is beneficial to human body unlike plastics bottles. These traditional practices have reduced the usage of storage tanks and vessel made from plastics which contain toxic pollutants that damage the environment causing land, water, and air pollution. It can take hundreds or even thousands of years for plastic to break down, so the damage to the environment is long-lasting.
As I began to unfold these traditional knowledge’s, I have realized that such practices of water source protection and storage can be valuable in adapting to climate driven water shortages. While younger generations may not believe in Lu, for them these water comes out of plastic pipes and not out of natural landscapes. However, there is sound scientific and practical benefit in the traditional practices of minimizing pollution, and maintaining vegetation cover around springs, and using natural materials for water storage vessels. One of the biggest fears of climate change is potential disruption in water quality and availability. This awareness is being masked by modern use of plastic pipes to tap water from faraway sources. This solution is not only temporary but disconnects the consumers from the sources of water. These knowledge gaps impede their understanding and concern about climate change.
These traditional practices are still prevalent and working to ensure these practices continue and people understand the importance of protecting water sources which is a very valuable asset for the future generations as well.
Khada Production from Bamboo Fabric
Keeping all these things in mind and realizing the need for an eco-friendly product, I along with a group of like-minded people came up with this idea of producing khadas from bamboo fibers. These fibers are extremely renewable and sustainable compared to cotton, silk etc. Upon our research we came to know that bamboo fabrics are processed into the form of bamboo lyocell and the greatest quality of producing bamboo lyocell is that it’s a 100% closed-loop cycle, which ensures that all the chemicals, water, and everything else used to produce it is 100% recycled and contained. This means no leakage of bad agents into the environment.
We started generating funds internally and produced our first lot. The product turned out to be really good and since then we have been using it and promoting at various function. It is a small step towards creating a sustainable product for the community and becoming a more sustainable consumer at the same time.
Switching to Solar Power
It was not that long when we the people of Nepal were enduring more than eight hours of power outage every day at a time. It was back in the year 2010 when I was in the final year of school busy preparing for my School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examination. Unfortunately due to the frequent power cuts, it was very difficult for me to study specially during the nights. Initially we used portable gas lamps and candles but it did not seem durable. We wanted to keep our energy consumption levels low by using energy-efficient appliances so we opted to install solar power as it was one of the best solutions to cope up with the problem during that time period.
The installation of solar panels and bulbs in each room took a very less time. Although load-shedding has been eliminated for domestic users, we are still using the solar power because we know that electricity is one of the major regular expenses for households and switching to solar power has helped us generate savings on our energy bill. Sometimes we cannot see the benefits of things we do now but eventually we realize it at some point. Though installation of solar power appears uneconomical at the beginning, it turns out to be cost-friendly in the long run. This unlimited source of energy is eco-friendly. In addition, solar energy has the least negative impact on the environment compared to any other energy sources as it does not produce greenhouse gases, nor creates any noise. It also requires very little water for its maintenance as a result solar power also saves water, another natural resource that is getting scarcer by the day. It is also far less toxic than other power production processes to human beings and the environment.