A man with a child walks in front of the Gankar Punsun glacier at Dochula in Bhutan November 18, 2009. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (AlertNet) – More than a billion people living in Asia’s major river basins are at risk as glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region melt due to the effects of climate change, the findings of three new scientific studies have shown.
According to the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the earth’s temperature has increased by an average of 0.74 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years, but warming across the Himalayan region has been greater than the global average.
“Snow and glacier melt in Asia’s mountainous Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) region highlight the region’s extreme vulnerability to climate change, as rising temperatures disturb the balance of snow, ice and water, threatening millions of mountain people and 1.3 billion people living downstream in Asia’s major river basins,” an ICIMOD statement said .
According to the three studies, which were released on the sidelines of the Durban climate changes talks over the weekend, over the past 30 years Bhutan’s glaciers have depleted by 22 percent and Nepal’s by 21 percent.
Experts say melting glaciers will have an adverse impact on biodiversity, hydropower, industries and agriculture and make the region dangerous to live in. The melting also causes lakes to form at the base of glaciers, lakes which can subsequently burst their banks as temperatures continue to rise with devastating effects downstream.
There are more than 3,200 glaciers in Nepal, 14 of them have lakes which are at risk of bursting, officials say.
Thousands of glaciers in the Himalayas are the source of water for ten major Asian rivers whose basins are home to people from Afghanistan to Myanmar, including parts of China and India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
The HKH region offers livelihoods to the 210 million people living there and indirectly provides goods and services to the 1.3 billion people living in river basins downstream who benefit from food and energy.
ICIMOD said the findings represented a “significant” step in bridging the knowledge gap on climate change in the Himalayas, home to Mount Everest and many of the world’s highest mountains frequented by thousands of climbers and hikers every year.
“Up until now, there has been complete uncertainty on the numbers and area of glaciers and the present status of their environmental conditions in the region,” Basanta Shrestha of the ICIMOD said.
(Editing by Nita Bhalla and Rebekah Curtis)