Suruchi Bhattarai & Bhuwan Singh Bist | The TrickyScribe: The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, comprehending 3,500 km over all or few parts of the range countries (Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar) from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east; includes the largest mountain system in world.
Being one of the most dynamic, geologically fragile with formidable mountain range notwithstanding; a variety of regional climatic condition, the region serves as the most important water tower and the source of ten Asia’s largest rivers. Holding the third largest volume of ice and snow after Arctic and Antarctica, the region has been colloquially called as the Third Pole.
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The region contributes drinking water, environmental services and basis for livelihoods to the region´s 240 million population and its river basin serves water for 1.9 billion people. Being the cultural and spiritual crucible for centuries, it acts as the home for global biodiversity hotspots, significant ecological buffer zones, source of multiple resources, services for the mountain and lowland people is upheld, value and recognized globally and regionally. Hills and mountains, particularly of the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) mountain system, have always constituted places where adaptation, mitigation, and resilience are hallmarks of the people and their livelihood and resource use strategies.
Meanwhile, HKH region is highly susceptible to climate change. Rising temperature has disturbed the balance of snow, ice and water. As a result, many glaciers are melting, shrinking and retreating.
Surge in Vulnerability & Community Response
Cryosphere of HKH region is one of the most powerful indicators of climate and also climate change. Various climatic changes has been experienced early and most intensively in this region providing the evidences of global warming, affecting the cryospheric environment, threating the freshwater reserves and posing increased risk from climate induced hazards to mountain region. Warming trend in the Himalayas is higher than the global average. If the rise in average global temperature stays below 1.5 °C, the region will experience not less than 2°C of warming. It will rise up to 5 °C if current trends are allowed to continue unperturbed. This demonstrates that bearing the brunt of global warming, HKH region has faced the risk of losing up to two-thirds of its glaciers by the end of the century risking glacial lake outburst floods (GOLF) which can release millions of cubic meter of water in a very short span. This may result into devastating floods with high peak discharges and extraordinary erosive & transport capacity.
The HKH region has large variation in glacier elevation range with the lowest glacier in Indus basin to the highest glacier in Kosi basin with the variable impact of warming. Glaciers of eastern and central parts seeing accelerated melting; the ones in western parts remain unchanged. Some of them are also witnessing growth.
Indus and central Asian rivers have been affected by climate change; Mingyong glacier, one of the world’s fastest shrinking ones, lies in this region that retreated by 200 m in just four years. The world’s highest glacier, Khumbu glacier situated in the Nepalese Himalayas, is shrinking and receding at 30 mm per year.
Likewise, Indo-Gangetic plains, which is one of the most polluted region with the deposition of black carbon and dust causing multiple climate effects changing clouds, monsoon circulation as well as accelerating ice-melt. This leads to extreme events like storms, landslides, dried-up wetland and avalanches threatening both livelihood and infrastructure by making HKH region more vulnerable.
Threats, Coping Strategies & the Way Forward
Recent studies on different roasting impact of Climate change upon the vulnerable HKH recorded 30 GOLFs event since 1930s of which 14 GOLFs has occurred with in Nepal Himalayas. Outburst of the glaciers/lakes is sure to cause massive devastating effect on the upstream and downstream livelihood with country facing the economic loss, property loss, putting the region into the state of desert with least productivity for cultivation (agriculture); leading to poverty and various crises in the days to come.
Ultimately the future of this vast region, its people, ice sheets and arteries depends on us, how we shape it. In the Nepalese context, the region mentioned as the districts beyond the Himalayas (Mustang and Manang) also called as the dry region of Nepal, has upsurge in lack of drinking water.
Addressing the issue, the concept of developing ice stupas can be adopted in order to fulfill the livelihood needs of the people and curbing the water and agricultural related problems. This has also been successfully adopted in the Indian Himalayas, Ladakh. Not only the Manang and Mustang, but the entire country faces the consequence of climate change and has been adopting various adaptation measures in order to cope up with those impacts. Therefore, there is an urge to take immediate and long term actions so as to minimize the gobal temperature rise.
On reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, we will be able to minimize the impact of Climate change in this region. It’s high time, People focus on the tradeoff to reduce the emission and other vulnerable activities, co-existing and coping using suitable and effective measures curbing the impact in the face of changing climate change.