Land and Resources
Nepal covers an area of 147,181 sq km
(56,827 sq mi). It is divided
into four topographical zones: the Great Himalayas, the Middle
Himalayas, the Outer Himalayas, and the Tarāi. The highest zone is the
Great Himalayas, in northern Nepal. Eight of the ten highest mountains
in the world are located either wholly or partially in this area. These
include Mount Everest (8,850 m/29,035 ft), Kānchenjunga (8,598 m/28,209
ft), Makālu (8,481 m/27,825 ft), Dhaulāgiri (8,172 m/26,811 ft), and
Annapūrna 1 (8,091 m/26,545 ft).
To the south of the Great Himalayas are the Middle Himalayas,
dominated in Nepal by the Mahābhārat Range, with peaks averaging less
than 3,000 m (9,900 ft). Several rivers run through Nepalís Middle
Himalayas including the Seti, Karnali, Bheri, Kali Gandaki, Trisuli, Sun
Kosi, Arun, and Tamur. In the Middle Himalayan zone most rivers converge
and form four main river systems: the Karnali, Narayani, Gandaki, and
Kosi, which traverse the Mahābhārat Range through deep gorges, making
navigation difficult or impossible.
South of the Middle Himalayas lies the Siwālik Range of the Outer
Himalayas, with an average elevation of about 1,000 to 2,000 m (about
3,300 to 6,600 ft). This area of Nepal has a number of flat valleys well
suited to agriculture.
The Tarāi, a generally flat, fertile lowland, is the southernmost
topographic zone in Nepal. Much of this area comprises the northern
extension of the Gangetic Plain of India. Rivers rising in the Himalayas
emerge in the Tarāi and continue southward, some of them becoming
tributaries of the Ganges in northern India. The Tarāi is susceptible to
flooding, which occurs regularly with the summer monsoon runoff from the
mountains. The fertile soils of the Tarāi make up a major agricultural
area where nearly half the countryís population lives.
A. Plant and Animal Life
Forests occupy 27 percent of Nepalís land area. The Tarāi supports
extensive hardwood and bamboo forests in areas not cleared for
agriculture or resettlement. On the lower slopes of the mountains, pines
flourish amid oaks and wildflowers. Firs and shrubs thrive in the higher
regions, most notably the tree rhododendron, Nepalís national flower,
which produces beautiful red and pink blooms from March to April.
Smaller plants, such as mosses and grasses, grow at elevations above
3,700 m (12,000 ft). Above the snow line of the Great Himalayas (higher
than about 4,300 m/about 15,000 ft) no vegetation grows.
Deforestation is a major problem in Nepal. The country lost half its
forests between 1950 and 1980 because of increased demand for
fodder, fuelwood, and land for agriculture and settlement. Much of the
deforestation has taken place in the Tarāi, although the Middle and
Great Himalayan regions have also experienced serious deforestation.
With the assistance of the United States and international agencies,
Nepal has embarked on several programs to extend and restore its forest
The wildlife of the Tarāi includes tigers, leopards, deer, and
elephants. The Royal Chitwan National Park, located in the Tarāi, was
set aside to house and protect endangered wildlife such as the
rhinoceros, tiger, sloth bear, gaur (a large species of ox), and Ganges
River dolphin. Wild goats, sheep, and wolves live at higher elevations,
and yak are herded by local people.
B. Natural Resources
Fertile soils are limited to the Tarāi and some of the larger valleys
of the Middle Himalayas. Some 21.7 percent of the countryís total land
area is cultivatedóa figure that includes hillsides with thin, poor
soils terraced for farming. Due to population pressure, the percentage
of Nepalís cultivated area has increased from only 10 percent in the
Nepalís mineral resources are limited. Low-grade deposits of iron ore
are found in the mountains near Kathmandu. Small deposits of copper
exist in many areas and small reserves of mica have been found in the
hills northeast of Kathmandu. Mineral extraction and transport is a
major problem due to the countryís rugged terrain.
Nepalís climate varies according to elevation. The Tarāi of southern
Nepal has a tropical monsoon climate characterized by rainy summers and
the southwest winds of the monsoon, and almost dry winters. The effect
of the southern monsoon climate extends northward into mountain valleys.
In the Middle Himalayan valleys the amount of precipitation varies with
the extent of exposure to the rain-bearing monsoon winds. Several high
valleys located in the rain shadow (area where precipitation is
partially blocked by mountains) are dry. In the Kathmandu Valley the
average rainfall is about 2,300 mm (about 90 in), most of which occurs
from June to September. Between elevations of about 500 and 2,700 m
(about 1,640 and 8,860 ft) there is a warm temperate climate; between
about 2,700 and 3,000 m (about 8,860 and 9,840 ft) a cool temperate
climate prevails. Between about 3,500 and 4,100 m (about 11,480 and
13,450 ft) summers are cool and winters are very cold. Above 4,100 m
(about 13,450 ft) a severely cold, alpine climate prevails.