Climate Change

International Mountain Day: Highland people to face vagaries of weather, food insecurity

Released on the occasion of Mountain Day, two reports highlight climate threats to high altitude areas

 
By Vani Manocha, Deepanwita Gita Niyogi
Last Updated: Friday 11 December 2015
Photo: Soma Basu
Photo: Soma Basu Photo: Soma Basu

Temperatures across Hindu Kush will increase by up to 5°C

People in mountains are one of the biggest victims of climate change. As negotiations at COP21 are heading towards a conclusion, there is clear agreement that adaptation to climate change needs to begin now.

To flag off the increasing dangers to mountains and suggest a way forward, three non-profits have jointly released a report or an atlas on World Mountain Day, December 11, titled “Mapping an uncertain future: Atlas of climate change and water in five crucial water basins in the Hindu Kush Himalayas”. The atlas offers a comprehensive, regional understanding of the changing climate and its impact on water resources in five of the major river basins in the region – the Indus, Brahmaputra, Ganges, Salween and Mekong.

The report has been released by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), GRID-Arendal, and the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo (CICERO).

Global water resources are facing increasing pressure from climate change and rising consumption. “This problem is especially acute in the Hindu Kush Himalayan mountains, which are home to 210 million people and provide water to over 1.3 billion people, more than the entire continent of Europe,” says the report.

The range that is about 3,500 km forms a part of eight countries, from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east. Its people live in one of the most populous, disaster-prone and vulnerable regions in the world. Recent earthquakes in Afghanistan and Nepal are a testimony to its vulnerability.


 
The atlas offers a comprehensive, regional understanding of the changing climate and its impact on water resources in five of the major river basins in the region – the Indus, Brahmaputra, Ganges, Salween and Mekong. It uses maps and infographics to show how the region’s climate is changing now and into the future, with severe consequences for populations, both local and downstream.
 
“This Atlas sheds light on the state and fate of the water resources of the Hindu Kush Himalayas, a region that is highly vulnerable to climate change and one of the poorest regions in the world,” says David Molden, Director General of ICIMOD. New findings in the atlas include:

  • Temperatures across the mountainous Hindu Kush Himalayan region will increase by about 1–2°C (in some places by up to 4–5°C) by 2050

  • Precipitation will change with the monsoon expected to become longer and more erratic

  • Extreme rainfall events are becoming less frequent, but more violent and are likely to increase in intensity

  • Glaciers will continue to suffer substantial ice loss, with the main loss in the Indus basin

  • Communities living immediately downstream from glaciers are the most vulnerable to glacial changes

  • Despite overall greater river flow projected, higher variability in river flows and more water in pre-monsoon months are expected, which will lead to a higher incidence of unexpected floods and droughts, greatly impacting the livelihood security and agriculture of river-dependent people

  • Changes in temperature and precipitation will have serious and far-reaching consequences for climate-dependent sectors, such as agriculture, water resources and health

Vulnerable mountains of India

From Jammu and Kashmir in the north to east-most Arunachal Pradesh, mountain-dwellers across India are battling more climate vagaries than ever before. While residents of villages in Ladakh are battling severe water shortage as a result of changing patterns of glacier melting, Uttarakhand is still recovering from the disastrous floods of 2013. Meanwhile, farmers of mountains in the northeast are struggling to find ways to deal with changing rainfall patterns.

“Despite overall greater river flow projected, higher variability in river flows and more water in pre-monsoon months are expected, which will lead to a higher incidence of unexpected floods and droughts, greatly impacting the livelihood security and agriculture of river-dependent people,” says the new report.

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