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Climate change driving nomadic Rautes out of forests

Hikmat Bahadur Nepali

Hikmat Bahadur Nepali

Climate change driving nomadic Rautes out of forests

A draft of policy for the protection of the endangered tribe is gathering dust at the Karnali province’s Ministry of Social Development

A small settlement sits on an open land next to Katti stream in Bhagawatimai Municipality Rural Municipality, Dailekh. There are 40-odd crudely made shacks and unlikely inhabitants occupying them: the endangered Raute people.

Historically, Rautes are known to live mostly in forest areas and never in the same place. They are always on the move, and they have their own way of life.

The Raute settlement in Dailekh is an aberration in that it is a permanent dwelling. Also, most of its occupants do not practice their traditional trade of making wooden bowls and crafts. They live off the allowance provided by the state.

One might say that the modern way of life is attracting these tribal folk, but that is half the truth. There is a lure of modern comforts but there is also a more serious reason: forest degradation.

Surya Narayan Shahi, a Raute tribe leader, says his people can no longer follow their traditional lifestyle because timber logs, with which they made kitchenware for trade, and wild tubers, their main source of sustenance, are hard to find.

“The forests in this region are not like what they used to be. It is hard to find wild tubers and herbs,” he says. “Perhaps, there are dense forests in the upper reaches of Humla and Jumla districts but not here in Dailekh.”

Shahi fears the tradition and culture of his people will disappear. 

His fears are valid, says Satyadevi Khadka, who leads an organization that works closely with the Raute tribes of Nepal. She says the government should do more than just provide monthly allowances to protect Rautes and their heritage. 

“The governments of all three tiers have been building roads and other infrastructure by clearing forest areas, all in the name of development,” says Khadka. “They are essentially invading the homes of these tribespeople.”    

Climate change is another factor that is driving Rautes away from their traditional way of life. Changing climate patterns and increased human activities are causing water sources to dry up. Natural disasters like floods and landslides have also become more frequent in recent years.

“Rautes have been described as ‘kings of forests’ but this moniker does not fit them when they are no longer masters of their domain,” observes Hira Singh Thapa, of Social Service Center Nepal. “Their traditional profession and culture are in danger. And the saddest part is, many of them are not aware of this.”

The latest census puts the population of Raute people at 144. They are scattered in Dailekh, Surkhet, Salyan, and Jajarkot districts.

Khadka says it’s the government’s responsibility to protect these endangered people, their indigenous rights and culture. 

A draft of policy for the protection of endangered Raute tribe has been gathering dust at the Karnali province’s Ministry of Social Development for over a year now.      

“The government should act before it is too late,” says Khadka.