Everest Alliance discussions in Nepal during May 2014

Mt. Everest from Kala Patthar

Do the people of Khumbu need or want an “Everest Alliance”? In more words, would the locals and the environment of the Mt. Everest region benefit from a new organization dedicated to bringing together all stakeholders to cooperatively solve problems related to high mountain tourism, the environment, local economies, and climate change? If so, what should the organization look like and who should run it? These questions were first posed to the Khumbu Alpine Conservation Council in autumn 2013, then to a group of Everest experts in the US in February 2014, and finally to Nepalis in Khumbu and Kathmandu during May 2014 (this report). The answers were clear to some and ambiguous to others, as you’ll discover in the following list of comments. No final conclusions have so-far been reached, except that further steps will be up to the people of Khumbu. The Government of Nepal’s August announcement of a road to Surkhe (a couple of hours’s walk from the airport at Lukla) could affect future discussions.

The following notes were taken during interviews with approximately 30 Nepalis in Khumbu and Kathmandu during May 2014. Their names and affiliations are listed at the end of this document.

The comments presented here are edited but faithful to the originals. They are presented anonymously in order to protect the privacy of the speakers, to combine similar comments, and to allow editing for clarity.

Most of the discussions in May focused on the needs of Khumbu’s populated valleys rather than the mountaineering realm above basecamps. This represented local priorities.

Interviews were conducted by me; most were facilitated by Nima Wangchu Sherpa and sometimes required his translation from Sherpa or Nepali into English. The majority of my travels in Nepal were in the gracious company of Nima Wangchu, a former chief warden of Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park who came to Nepal in May 2014 expressly to facilitate discussion of the potential for an Everest Alliance. Nima Wangchu also participated in the Everest Alliance Inception Workshop at the American Alpine Club in Colorado on 9 February 2014.

Nima Wangchu Sherpa above Namche Bazaar

Most interviewees were chosen based on their active participation in Khumbu civil society—and also for their availability during this time period. They do not necessarily represent the average Khumbu resident, but do represent a cross section of Khumbu leaders who seek to improve the lives of people in Khumbu and to protect their home environment.

Edited quotes are grouped into topics. Contradictory opinions are generally placed next to each other.

This report does not present any conclusions of its own. It simply documents what 30 Nepali thought leaders had to say about the state of Khumbu in spring 2014, how to improve it, and whether an alliance of Everest-region stakeholders might support their goals.

If you live, work, or play in the Mt. Everest region, or if you were born there and are interested in contributing to its future, please drop us a line and we’ll add you to the discussion group. We also welcome your thoughts on the comments below: kindly correct facts and offer your own opinions. If you’d like to comment using Track Changes in MS Word, please ask and we’ll send one by email.

--John Harlin, The Mountain Institute

The comments below are an abbreviated sampling. The complete set of comments is considerably richer and well worth exploring. Click here to visit that page.

Each paragraph below is a separate comment, often from a different person with another perspective. Comments are grouped by topic. The complete list of interview subjects is at that end.

Is an “Everest Alliance” needed?

The EA concept is very good. There is a strong need for it at this moment. Everybody wants to do something about the problems. There are many different ideas that need a forum for communal discussion and action.

Khumbu’s main needs are funding, sharing knowledge between stakeholders, and increased local participation. These are things that an EA could help with.

There will be big changes when the road comes to Lukla (or Surkhe or wherever it stops). The EA could focus primarily on getting the Khumbu into the best possible shape in preparation for the pressures to come when the road arrives.

The Village Development Council (VDC) can already handle everything locally, reducing the need for an EA.

Potential management structures for an Everest Alliance:

The Everest Alliance could be run as an association something like the “Association of International NGOs in Nepal.” This might require approximately three people as a secretariat; committees would deal with all the actual issues. It would simply need Terms of Reference for the informal alliance. Management could rotate between existing NGOs. It could be a pilot project and be very cheap to operate.

Instead of creating a new entity called the Everest Alliance, maybe the Sagarmatha Tourism Coordination Forum should change its name. By changing its name to the Everest Alliance, the STCF could capitalize on the marketing power of Everest and other new ideas proposed by the EA without starting yet another new organization.

Social changes in Khumbu:

There are more and more hotels in Khumbu. Most are being built by Sherpas and then leased to others from outside the Khumbu. In 10-20 years there may be no Sherpas living in Khumbu—they will all have moved to Kathmandu or abroad.

The Khumbu is overbuilt with lodges. Everyone is putting their money into building lodges, investing blindly and leading to too much growth.

Comments about groups currently working in Khumbu (NGOs, etc):

The Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) is the most effective NGO in Khumbu. The environmental focus of anyone in Khumbu should be on working with and supporting the SPCC.

The SPCC gets almost no support from the government. They rely completely on income from the Icefall Doctors. The “Doctors” establish and maintain the ladders through the Khumbu Icefall and charge a fee to Everest climbers. This fee funds the SPCC’s work throughout Khumbu.

The Khumbu Masterplanning process started in 2013 and is being developed by a team of 15 board members who meet in Kathmandu. Khumbu Masterplanning aims to build a strategy of conservation and development for the Khumbu, starting in Khumjung.

Government of Nepal:

Khumbu needs outside help with funding largely because the government hasn’t shared enough trekking and climbing royalties with the Buffer Zone. The government has not improved anything.

Few government officials ever visit the Upper Khumbu—the only thing they care about is the mountaineering revenue.

The value of an EA might be to lobby the ministry of tourism in Kathmandu for actual funding from the fees that are collected.

Issues that need to be addressed:

There has been enough research and planning. We already know what people want: telecommunications, hospitals, and energy. We don’t need to ask anymore. We need to give people what they need. It’s time for action.

Electricity has dramatically changed lives in Khumbu. The most important thing is to bring even more hydropower to Khumbu. Small local hydropower plants are the way to go. Most villages still have little hydropower.

The highest priorities are: 1) resources and 2) expertise.

Education:

Not everyone sees the shortage of schools as a common problem, but the EA could champion education.

A small school was recently built in Namche, but the town needs a new, bigger school (currently it is 160 students and 8 teachers). The 40-year-old Khumjung Secondary School (a.k.a. Hillary School) enrolls 300 kids from nursery to grade 10. It has 20 teachers.

A Montessori-style school was recently launched in Khumjung, funded by the Himalayan Trust. It is needed because village schools only accept kids after 6 years of age, which leads busy working parents to send their young kids to school in Kathmandu. This is increasing year to year. Only poor students stay here in Khumbu rather than do their schooling in Kathmandu.

Health:

The Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation of Canada is sponsoring students to become doctors and requires them to come back to Khumbu. This means that in a few years the Khunde Hospital should have enough doctors who are also locals.

Waste management (garbage):

An INGO drafted a long-term waste management plan for the government. But at 110 pages, the plan was too thick and nobody reads it. The plan was intended to inform the SPCC, but there’s never been a workshop to present it to them. This is partly because government ministries keep changing.

The SPCC collects waste from trailside bins twice a week and brings it to recycling and incineration centers in Namche. After the waste containers were installed alongside trails, even porters have become concerned about litter. It’s now time to start segregating waste at the lodges, too.

Mineral-water bottles are a big problem. Incinerating is not good because the plastic burns to ash. There is a machine that reduces PET plastic to pellets, but it’s very expensive and what can you do with the pellets?

The SPCC instigated the new policy requiring all Everest climbers (including guides and porters) to carry down 8 kg of garbage per person. In five or so years the mountain will be clean. It’s already clean in the lower sections.

Water quality and supply in Khumbu:

Namche built a sewage system several years ago. The water had been polluted but is much better now. All houses in Namche are connected.

Toilets are a big problem in the rest of Khumbu. All lodges above 14,000 feet need to change from old to modern toilets for sewage management.

There is water contamination in the villages, but right now there is nobody looking after drinking water quality in Khumbu.

There are no dependable permanent water supplies near Namche and Khunde/Khumjung. This is why they’re laying pipes to a permanent glacial stream 5-6 hours hike away.

The local spring dries up in spring and autumn, partly because there’s less snow now than there used to be. A few decades ago the winter snow in Khumjung was knee deep; now it’s only 2 inches deep. A century ago it was six feet deep.

Road to Lukla:

Everyone needs a road to Lukla. This would make commodities cheaper and flight problems would be eliminated for tourists and locals. But there’s no group to lobby for it. Whatever group lobbies FOR the road should also lobby to STOP the road at Lukla and not let it go further up the valley.

There will be big changes when the road comes to Khumbu. The EA could use this as its major focusing issue: “prepare for the road.” This is also a good excuse to address all the other issues.

(Note: On 10 August 2014 the government of Nepal announced that a road would be built to Surkhe, two-hours’ walk below Lukla. Construction will commence in late 2014. In May 2013 no one anticipated that the road would arrive this soon.)

Training for locals:

The Namche Women’s Group would welcome a volunteer teacher to come in summer to teach English. The community would provide lodging and food.

The SPCC has not received any training yet. If there were to be training it must be suitable for this area. Such expertise can be found in Kathmandu and doesn’t need to be imported from abroad.

There should be a mobile workshop for hotel and tourism management. It would visit different villages and give workshops for local lodge owners and staff. Locals would be very receptive to this.

Teacher training would be very useful.

Sagarmatha National Park:

During the Maoist period there was lots of poaching in the park, largely because the Army was not patrolling. Now the Army is back and there is less poaching.

There are currently 18 “scouts” working for the park. They patrol the forests with the Army. They rarely go high up into the Khumbu because the food is too expensive. Park scouts are given a daily allowance for food, which doesn’t cover the high costs in upper Khumbu.

Avalanche on 18 April 2014:

Having an Everest Alliance would have been helpful in dealing with the April avalanche that killed 16 high altitude porters.

The publicized threats against Everest climbers and Sherpas weren’t that serious. It was just a few people talking. But the 2012 fight plus the “bad talk” this year is giving Sherpas a bad name.

High altitude porters come from poorer, less educated villages.  They will continue to work Everest because they need the jobs. “This is what Sherpas do.” Next fall and spring Everest will return to business as usual.

Very few Sherpas at the avalanche scene had any rescue or medical training. In response, a new organization may be launched called the “Sherpa Himalayan Rescue Team.” This is being discussed by civic leaders in Pheriche who say the Himalayan Rescue Association supports the idea.

The full list of comments is considerably broader and well worth reading. Click here to go to that page. Click here to respond with your own comment.

Nepalis interviewed during May 2014:

The comments above were distilled from conversations with the following Nepalis during May 2014. Their names are listed below but are not attached to specific comments in order to protect their privacy and to allow editing for clarity. All discussions took place in Khumbu and Kathmandu. Notes were taken and edited by John Harlin.

Laxman Adhikari

Employed by EvK2CNR (Italian Pyramid research station); co-founder of Khumbu Masterplanning; helped start a Montesori-style school in Khumjung

Kul Gurung

Vice president of Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN), secretary of Climate Alliance of Himalayan Communities (CAHC)

Mahendra Kathet

Headmaster of the Khumjung Secondary School

Lakpa T. Lama

Former executive director of Mountain Spirit

Dr. Meeta Pradhan

Director of Himalayan Programs for The Mountain Institute

Kapindra Rai (5/7/14)

Program officer for SPCC

Dr. Dhananjay Regmi

Owner of Himalayan Research Expedition, which outfits international scientists in Nepal

Sagarmatha National Park staff (2 people)

Game wardens interviewed on the trail

Ang Chiri Sherpa

Owner of Pheriche Resort trekking lodge in Pheriche; chair of Sagarmatha Buffer Zone User Committee; former chair of the Khumbu Alpine Conservation Council (KACC)

Ang Dorje Sherpa

Chairman of Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), sirdar on Everest until about 1994

Ang Phinjo Sherpa

Director of Khumbu programs for EcoHimal; co-owner of Khumbu Agro Farm in Monjo; founding member of the Khumbu Concern Group; Khumbu Cooperative

FM Radio-Sherpa; Mountain Spirit

Ang Rita Sherpa

Recently retired as chief administrative officer and chairman of the Himalayan Trust Nepal

Ang Rita Sherpa

Program officer at The Mountain Institute; co-founder of Mountain Spirit; current chair of the Himalayan Trust Nepal

Ang Tshering Sherpa

Owner of Asian Trekking; president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association; co-founder of the Climate Alliance of Himalayan Communities

Dawa Steven Sherpa

Co-founder of numerous initiatives including Himalayan Climate Initiative, Everest Basecamp Bakery, Eco Everest Expeditions; managing director of Asian Trekking

Dr. Kami Temba Sherpa

Director of the Khunde Hospital

Karma Sherpa

Owner of Cyber Café in Dingboche; member of KACC

Kasang Sherpa

Guide and sirdar on Everest and other mountains

Mingma Sherpa

Current chair of Khumbu Alpine Conservation Council (KACC) in Dingboche

Lakpa Dorge and Ang Tashi Sherpa (married)

Owners of Ama Dablam lodge in Kyangjuma

Nima Wangchu Sherpa

Two-time chief warden of Sagarmatha National Park; former chief warden of several other national parks in Nepal; owner of Thamserku Lodge

Pasang Sherpa

Vice president of the Khumjung Alumni Association

Dr. Pasang Yangzi Sherpa

Lecturer at Penn State University, USA

Pasang Sherpa

Worker at Khumbu Agro Farm in Monjo

Pemba Sherpa

Owner of the Mount Everest Bakery in Khumjung; on the new water committee, where he initiated the big Indian-funded water project; chair of an education committee

Pertemba Sherpa

Founder of the Sherpa Heritage House in Khumjung; former director of French and Japanese foundations that support Sherpa education; former guide and expedition organizer on Everest since 1970s

Serap Jangbu Sherpa

Owner of Panorama Lodge; chair of Health Clinic; renovator of the Namche Gompa with Francis Klatzel; on committee for the new drinking water project serving Khunde-Khumjung-Namche; co-owner of the Khumbu Agro Farm in Monjo

Thukten Sherpa

Works for Bijuli Company (KBC); chair of the Thame School

Yangjie Sherpa

Public relations officer for the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC)

Prashant Singh

Co-founder of Himalayan Climate Initiative, former director of WWF Nepal