Mount Everest disputes continue

Last week, thirteen Sherpas were killed in an avalanche on Mount Everest.  This is the latest tragic chapter in what has become an extraordinary case study of conflict involving big business, wealthy adventure-seekers, economically depressed communities, and profound environmental concerns.  (See here and here for earlier posts on the infamous 2012 fight between Sherpa guides and European climbers.)  The New York Times reports that Sherpas are now demanding a share of the government’s proceeds from Everest tourism, which has become a multi-million dollar business. The article quotes a Sherpa guide criticizing the influx of inexperienced but wealthy climbers who do not appreciate the dangerous conditions under which Sherpas work:

“Climbers actually say, ‘I’ve paid $50,000, you are here to work for me, and you have to accompany me’ … The mountain itself feels like it is losing its value. Just about everyone seems to want to climb it by paying a Sherpa who will ensure reaching the summit.”

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One response to “Mount Everest disputes continue

  1. When I visited Nepal (going on 20 years ago) I spent a few weeks living with the Sherpa’s, and travelling through Namche Bazaar – the jumping off point for Everest expeditions. I was struck by both the natural and cultural beauty of the Himalaya, but also by the poor living conditions of the Sherpas. I lived with one Sherpa family in a small town called Ghat, where my group helped carry sand up from the river to a spring to make concrete, and put in pvc piping so that the town could have “running water.” That work freed up the kids in the village for school – otherwise, they had to spend most of their time hauling water up the steep, eroded hillsides.
    This town is just a days walk from Lukla, where climbers fly into the Solu Khumbu to begin their Everest expeditions. The flight in for one climbing team probably cost more that what it would take to ensure the local kids had a school with supplies for a year. The stoves and sleeping bags the climbers carry with them are worth well more than the average yearly income of most people in Nepal. It is no wonder that those affected by the recent events on Everest are seeking not only compensation for their losses, but a fair distribution of the funds that the Nepali government receives each year from the climbing industry.
    We are taught in law school that there is a background principle of equity that drives much of our legal system. The Sherpa’s have become a symbol of strength and stamina, yet they are treated as dispensable by the government in many ways. I must note that the climbers I know have nothing more than respect for those that make climbing to the top of the earth possible, and treat them as friends and colleagues. However, the government of Nepal must do more to make sure that there is am equitable distribution of the profits that come from climbing. I am hopeful that these events will shed light on the disparity that exists between the climbers and their support teams, and help the Sherpas gain a more stable life.

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