For Nepali climate activist Poonam Ghimire, action was never a choice, it was a responsibility.

As a young woman from one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries, she is fighting not only for people at home who are already suffering but all our futures.

Disaster hit Nepal’s Sindhupalchow District in June this year with a flash flood of the Melamchi River ripping through the communities of the narrow Himalayan valleys 40km from the capital, Kathmandu.

It washed away hundreds of homes and killing at least 10 people. Higher up in the mountains, rainfall and snowmelt had caused a glacial lake to burst, adding to the torrents of water downstream.

When Poonam, 26, recalls the events, her eyes widen, and her voice shakes slightly. “200 families were evacuated. There was huge loss of property,” she says. “And that wasn’t the end of it.”

Just last month again, heavy monsoon rains swept through Western Nepal, flooding the plains on the border with India and Tibet.

“It wasn’t the time for rainfall in Nepal,” Poonam says. “More than 77 people died. And the bloody rice fields, which had rice ready to be harvested, were gone. That has caused huge damage to our farmers. Huge, huge damage to our farmers. It has now been said that we will have food insecurity.”

Around 70 per cent of Nepal’s population depends on agriculture. “In Nepal, farming is subsistence. If there is flooding it means farmers are not having enough food for next year.”

The extreme weather which this summer alone destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of Nepali farmers are by no means isolated incidents.

Landslides and floods caused by rain and glacial melting have been washing away the country’s rich natural landscape for decades. The United Nations has ranked Nepal the fourth most vulnerable country to climate breakdown in the world.

It is estimated that five million people were affected by natural disasters between 1971-2007 alone – that’s just less than Scotland’s total population. With global temperatures rising, tragedies like the ones Poonam speaks of are becoming more and more frequent.

She is clearly distressed when she talks of the effects of the climate emergency on her country, but her words also carry a sense of urgency and brisk determination.

“As young people, we should raise our voice, because our people are suffering,” she says. “Climate change is a serious issue, and I am a young person, I have the responsibility.”

It is this sense of self-empowerment that has always made Poonam a woman of action. At school, she learned that climate change was caused by deforestation, so she decided to study forestry and now has a master’s degree in forest sciences.

When at university she realized that environmental breakdown is inextricably linked with “social, economic, political issues, the lives of people,” Poonam started to speak out.

She has now been involved with several major UN-initiatives, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change, making sure young people are included.

Poonam is one of eight young activists from across the world who is currently working with the UN Secretary General’s office on a sustainable recovery from Covid-19. Together with the other Next Generation Fellows, she is hoping to give a voice to young people at the gatherings where their futures are decided.