, KALAPATTAR, Nepal, Dec 4 – Nepalese ministers held a high-altitude meeting on a remote mountain plateau in the shadow of Mount Everest on Friday to highlight the impact of global warming on the Himalayas.
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and 22 other ministers, equipped with oxygen cylinders, travelled by helicopter for the gathering on the Kalapattar plateau, 5,262 metres (17,192 feet) up in world\\\\\\\’s highest mountain range.
Environment Minister Thakur Prasad Sharma denied that the meeting, just days before the start of a key international climate meeting, was a publicity stunt following criticism in some local media about the cost.
"The fact is that the glaciers are melting due to global warming. That has become a critical issue and we want to draw global attention to it," the minister told AFP.
Scientists say the Himalayan glaciers are melting at an alarming rate and creating huge glacial lakes that threaten to burst, devastating mountain communities downstream.
They warn that the glaciers could disappear within decades, bringing drought to large swathes of Asia, where 1.3 billion people depend on rivers that originate in the Himalayas.
On Kalapattar, ministers are to take part in a traditional Sherpa prayer ceremony before approving the speech to be delivered by the prime minister at the December 7-18 UN climate change talks in Copenhagen.
Organisers said weather conditions for the meeting were favourable, with clear blue skies and low wind.
"The ministers will remain at the meeting place for around 20 minutes before returning," Suman Pandey, one of the organisers, told AFP.
Helicopters ferried in a team of doctors and medical equipment to the remote Kalapattar plateau ahead of the meeting and each minister has been given an oxygen cylinder and face mask in case they get into difficulties.
Subhash Khanal, a doctor with the Himalayan Rescue Association, said all 23 were in good health when they left the small Himalayan settlement of Syangboche where most of them spent the night before leaving for Kalapattar.
Crowds of Buddhist monks playing traditional drums and cymbols gathered in Syangboche, site of the highest landing strip in the Himalayas, to welcome the ministers when they return from Kalapattar.
There, the ministers will hold a press conference on the challenges of tackling the effects of climate change in one of the world\\\\\\\’s poorest countries.
Scientists say temperatures in Nepal are rising at a much higher rate than the global average.
Last year, the country suffered its driest winter in 40 years, bringing the first widespread forest fires the country has ever experienced and destroying crops that depend on the winter rains.