Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Melting glaciers in Himalayas imperils water supply for billions

According to India News, some two billion people face acute water shortage this century as Himalayan glaciers melt due to global warming. Yet detailed science about the behavior of these glaciers barely exists:..."In India, glaciology has not received the attention it deserves," Rajendra K. Pachauri, head of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), said here Wednesday. "We've been ignoring it at our peril. Adaptation measures are crucial now."

Pachauri was speaking at a session on melting Himalayan glaciers, held in association with the Feb 7-9 Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) that is being organised by TERI. Climate change is the DSDS theme this year.

Two billion people in the basins of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Indus, Mekong, Yellow and Yangtze rivers depend on the Himalayan glaciers for their water supply, Sayed I. Hasnain of the Centre for Policy Research pointed out at the session, which was organised by the German development agency GTZ. Hasnain, one of the few glaciologists in India, said the melting of glaciers in the southern slopes of the Himalayas caused by climate change was being accelerated by the "Asian brown cloud", a pea soup of dust and soot, caused mainly by burning poor quality coal and firewood.

Agreeing that there was a serious dearth of research activity on Himalayan glaciers, Hasnain said the little work that had been done predicted that there would be a 20-30 percent increase in the water flow of the Ganges in the next four decades as the glaciers feeding the river melted, followed by a severe water shortage.

Such a scenario was quite likely to trigger major conflicts locally and internationally, warned Dirk Messner, director of the German Development Institute. Messner identified South Asia as one of the major potential conflict zones, as people clashed over water and land and more migrations were caused by climate change and governments bickered over who would foot the bill.

The major rivers dependent on the Himalayan glaciers for a large part of their water flow include the Ganges, which drains an area of over a million square km with a population of over 407 million, Brahmaputra, which drains 940,000 sq km with a population of over 118 million, and Indus, which drains over 1.2 million sq km with over 178 million people, according to the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development...

The Himalayas, as seen from the International Space Station, by NASA. This is considered one of the finest images on Wikimedia Commons.


Anonymous said...

The fact that no one has left a comment dramatically reveals the ignorance in the affluent nations of one of the most serious causes of global warming. I have been to the sources of the Ganges, Indus, Brahmiputra, and Mekong. It was my joy to travel all along the side of the Indus from Tibet through Pakistan. Maybe it is really too late!

Unknown said...

I just saw a PBS Special (part of the NOW series) called "On Thin Ice," in which the melting of India's main water-supplying glaciers is a featured issue. The situation in India is already serious right now, with family members becoming violent as they fight over the dwindling water resources. If you think this is a chilling scenario, with so many lives on the line, just wait until India's population doubles by 2050 (as is predicted). The irony is, overpopulation is one of the main causes of global warming (according to Al Gore and many other experts), so now an 'instant karma' type of effect will occur in which global warming will *return the favor* as it becomes a major causative factor in the curbing and reduction of certain populations that have exploded out of control. No doubt the same thing happens in animal populations: when the food supply diminishes, starvation results and the next generation born is a much more slender crop. Nature is a wise master, and when mistreated or abused, as in physics, there is an equal and opposite effect.