By: Isheeta Sharma
The Himalayas are the youngest mountain range and are also known as the ‘Third Pole’. A recent study published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) brings attention to the Hindu-Kush Mountain region and the devastating effects of its melting glaciers. Hindu-Kush region is known as the Water Tower of Asia for being the third largest storage of frozen water in the world. It circulates water in the 10 major river systems that flow into India, Pakistan, China and other South Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Additionally it also contributes water to many hydroelectricity plants and hydro dams.
The UNDP study says that if the emission trends of today continue the region will lose one-third of its ice volume by the year 2100 impacting almost 2 billion lives. Along with its shrinking glaciers, the snow cover and permafrost in the area are also decreasing. This negatively impacts the area’s reflectivity, melts ice faster and will lead to significant changes in the Asian Monsoon as well. With the melting of the glaciers, the increase in glacial lakes is also an important concern. Glacial lakes are usually controlled by unstable moraine dams and when they break they end up causing glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF). As per the study 65 GLOFs have been recorded in the Himalayas since 1930 which have caused considerable damage to human life and infrastructures such as roads, railways, etc.
The impact on everyday life of the people who live around the area and even those who live away will be humongous. There will be a shortage of water for agriculture and drinking purposes, especially in areas which are increasing their dependency on glacier-fed river basins such as in India and Pakistan for agriculture and Nepal for drinking water. Philippus Wester of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod) who led a 2019 report on the region called it “the climate crisis you haven’t heard of” while speaking with The Guardian.
There is an urgent need to focus on reforms which reduce the damage in the region. Even in the best case scenario, as the study notes, the area will lose a significant amount of its water storage capabilities. New water storage techniques for farmers will need to be developed, hydropower plants will have to take into these changes, infrastructures will have to be built which are aimed at controlling floods. A global attempt has to be made to curb greenhouse gases and climate pollutants. Currently, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Black Carbon (BC) are the top two contributors to global warming. Burning of fossil fuel and large-scale deforestation are the driving forces in the increase in CO2 levels. CO2 has an atmospheric lifestyle of over 100 years and it would be very difficult now to change its long-term impact regardless of its source region. On the other hand, BC is released in the atmosphere due to incomplete combustion. It warms the atmosphere by absorbing sunlight. East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia face the maximum load of BC. Black Carbon, however, is a short-lived climate pollutant (SLCP) and hence, stringent measures can help curtail its impact. These efforts have to be aimed at industries such as brick kilns and domestic burning of solid fuel. While maintaining the livelihoods of the people who work in these industries, serious steps need to be taken to reduce their carbon footprint.
Another issue that crops up in the region while dealing with climate change are the political dynamics. The political tensions between the South Asian and Southeast Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and China are bound to create more complications in dealing with this crisis. It is time for the region to transcend its nation-state boundaries and look for transnational solutions to a crisis that will impact all regardless of our regional boundaries.
: Isheeta is a features writer and a student of Gender Studies at Ambedkar University, Delhi. She enjoys dissecting popular culture through a gendered lens, adding new books to her overflowing book rack and sipping coffee in quiet corners. She is currently an Intern at Kractivist.org.