Climate change is driving the glaciers in the Himalayas to melt more rapidly than at any point in the last 10,000 years, and could soon cause water supply shortage in parts of India, Pakistan, China and Nepal.
Nearly 50 per cent of the springs in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) are drying up, according to a report released by NITI Aayog early this month. This has affected thousands of villages that depend on natural spring water for domestic and livelihood needs.
In fact, the water crisis in Shimla and other hill towns in India are a direct result of drying up of springs, the NITI Aayog report observes. The water shortage and reduced snowfall might directly affect around eight million people residing in the region.
The degeneration of the Himalayan ecosystem due to climate change is going to severely affect water and food security for millions of people across Asia, including India and China.
Around five hundred representatives from governmental, non-governmental organisations and the corporate sector across 50 different countries participated in 7th Regional Conservation Forum organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Ministry of Climate Change in Islamabad.
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Nearly 170 delegates from Asian countries attended the event “Greening Asia for Nature and People” to examine the different adaptation and mitigation measures to control the adverse impacts of climate change.
According to experts – “If the trend of limited snowfall, increased rainfall and shrivelling of Himalayan glaciers continue, the results will be catastrophic for millions of people. Food productivity of the entire region will be negatively impacted due to droughts and floods.”
The Himalayan mountain range is 2,500 kilometres long with an average width of around 300 kilometres spanning China, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan. It is home to around 15,000 glaciers, holding around 600 billion tonnes of ice, which feed major perennial river systems including the Indus and Mekong, and sustain 1.65 billion people — over 20% of the world’s population] across the region.
There are 5 million springs across India, of which nearly 3 million are in the Indian Himalayan region alone. Over 200 million people in India depend on springs, out of which 50 million people are in the 12 states of the region.
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But despite this, these springs have not received due attention and continue to dry up due to increasing demand for water, ecological degradation of the mountain areas and unsustainable land use.
According to a study published in the journal Science Advances, “Shrinking Himalayan glaciers pose challenges to societies and policy-makers.” Melting glaciers are one of the main reasons that results in the “seasonal runoff, especially in climatically drier western regions, and increase risk of outburst floods due to expansion of unstable proglacial lakes.”
Experts have emphasized that – “We need to recover our forest lands to preserve biodiversity, improve the quality of our soil for agriculture and ensure green growth. It is unfortunate that our Himalayan resources, especially glaciers, are melting rapidly due to rising temperatures.”
The Hindu Kush Himalayan region is one of a global asset as it is the origin of 10 major river basins, provides ecosystem services like water, food and energy that directly sustain the livelihoods of 240 million people, and nearly 1.9 billion people living in these river basins also benefit directly and indirectly from its resources. More than three billion people, according to the report, enjoy the food produced in its river basins.
A recent report on the Hindu Kush Himalaya region found that increasing global warming was decimating its glaciers, and extremes in floods and droughts through much of the upcoming century may destroy the food production base of the region.
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“The glaciers have exhibited a rapid shrinkage in recent decades, coinciding with the rapid warming in the region,” says the report, warning that even if the carbon emissions are rapidly cut and global warming limited to 1.5C, 36 percent of the glaciers along the Hindu Kush and Himalaya range will have gone by the year 2100.
Rapid deforestation, increasing global warming and haphazard development projects in the Himalayan region were the major causes for migration, water scarcity and biodiversity loss. Experts state that it is vital to conserve the mountain ecosystem to ensure water and food availability for the whole region.”
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