Two billion face water famine as Himalayan glaciers melt
By Joydeep Gupta, IANS
New Delhi : Two billion people face acute water shortage this century as Himalayan glaciers melt due to global warming. Still, there is hardly any detail on what exactly is happening to these glaciers.
"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 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had pointed out in its fourth assessment report last year that "annual average river runoff and water availability are projected to increase by 10-40 percent at high latitudes and in some wet tropical areas, and decrease by 10-30 percent over some dry regions at mid-latitudes and in the dry tropics, some of which are presently water stressed areas".