The Weight of Water and the human cost of climate change

The documentary is currently being screened at the Climate Crisis Film Festival. (Instagram/Neelima Vallangi)

During Neelima Vallangi’s third visit to Nepal for a travel writing-cum-photography project in 2018, she heard about glacial lake outburst floods and the impact of climate change on the Nepali people.

Climate anxiety hit her hard as she read and researched carbon emissions and global warming. The freelance writer and photographer told The Indian Express that she didn’t have enough information on climate change. She was worried that there was no way for her to convey her thoughts or anxieties.

The Weight of Water, her first documentary, attempts to capture how climate change has hit the daily lives of the Nepali people. Shot and co-produced by British documentary film-maker Deej Phillips, the film follows three stories that highlight three issues in Nepal’s three geographical regions. The documentary is currently being screened at the Climate Crisis Film Festival.

With water as the central theme, the film peeks into the life of a mother who is faced with health issues as she walks almost three hours a day to fetch water, a football team battling a training field that gets flooded every year, and a family that lost a daughter to flash floods.

The story of Kamala echoes that of thousands of Nepali women who trek for hours for water. A 2016 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Nepal Institute of Medicine report said 6% of Nepali women suffered from weakening of the tissue and muscles in the pelvis (uterine prolapse). According to doctors, early marriage, multiple deliveries within a short time, and heavy work post childbirth were behind these uterine prolapse cases.

Though uterine prolapse was declared a human rights issue by the country’s Supreme Court in 2008, an Amnesty International report said the government had failed to address the gender discrimination that was behind uterine prolapse, thus failing to ensure that Nepali women could exercise their reproductive and sexual rights.

The country’s varied topography has made Nepal vulnerable to climate- and geology-related disasters such as flash floods, droughts, and landslides. Asian Development Bank studies suggested that climate change-driven events could cost Nepal almost 10% of its annual gross domestic product by 2100.

Capturing climate change stories
Speaking to The Indian Express, cinematographer Phillips said the film was a snapshot of the situation. He added that they wanted to do the people, country, and the story justice with the film.

When the film crew met the family of 13-year-old Sanchana, washed away in the 2019 floods, they were still coping with the loss.

Philips said he was careful not to be intimidating. The team was getting the family to relive the moment and bringing back a memory they were trying to cope with.

He added it was a challenge.

Vallangi said the team planned physical screenings with NGOs in Nepal. Their initial plan was to cover Nepal’s four regions — plains, hills, mid-hills, and snow-covered areas. They have applied for funding and are hopeful of going to the Himalayas for filming.

She added that the next projects would be around the glacial lakes and glaciers.

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