Nepal’s Historic Buildings Are At Risk From Climate Change

Centuries-old buildings are threatened

Nepal's Mustang District.
Gerd Eichmann, CC BY-SA 4.0

In a 2012 article for The New York Times, journalist Edward Wong described Nepal’s Mustang District as “a caldron of myth.” Wong observed that “the stories that people told had evolved little over centuries,” and noted the “deep ravines and stinging wind and ancient cave homes” he saw in the region. The Mustang District is located in the northern part of Nepal, and Upper Mustang has only been open to visitors from overseas since 1992. There is, to put it mildly, a lot of history found there.

And now, as is the case with so many things, climate change has put some of it at risk.

Writing at Atlas Obscura, Tulsi Rauniyar documented the style of architecture found in the region and the threats it’s currently facing. A number of the Buddhist monasteries in the region, which have stood for centuries, were made via rammed-earth techniques. That style of building is exactly what the name suggests; it’s considered highly sustainable, and it’s also been used for thousands of years.

That’s one of the benefits of rammed-earth buildings — they’re made with a technique that’s worked for countless generations. The down side, though, has to do with climate. Should a region’s climate begin to experience rapid change, the buildings that have sufficed for centuries could start to falter. And that’s exactly what many residents of the Mustang District are finding with respect to the places they live and work.

Rauniyar writes that the Mustang District is experiencing higher temperatures and damaging precipitation, both of which have adverse effects on the local structures. Further complicating matters is the use of cement to replace rammed-earth buildings — given that it’s also not a building material that’s optimal for the regional climate. It’s a challenging situation with few easy answers.

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