In the upper reaches of the Himalayas, the rate at which glaciers are disappearing is frightening, say scientists. The 55,000 Himalayan glaciers account for 40% of the earth’s fresh-water and provide water to over two billion people. The massive cloudburst at Dhundi in the Kullu valley on July 21, killing workers in the Rohtang tunnel project, and the cloud-burst in Leh, illustrate how climate change has disturbed weather patterns.
A recent film by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ‘Revealed: Himalayan Meltdown,’ examines the shrinking glaciers of the Himalayas and the immediate effects they are having in the countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, and Nepal.
Pollution is the main cause of the glacial melt. Black carbon that is emitted across the world gets deposited on these glaciers. This results in glaciers absorbing rather than reflecting sunlight, leading to them melting.
Patrice Coeur-Bizot, United Nations resident co-ordinator and UNDP resident representative, India, says, “Melting glaciers will alter river flows, causing both, floods and water scarcity and influence the climate, monsoons and rainfall patterns. Community resilience and innovative local solutions will be crucial to adapting to the changing climate.”
The danger of the glacial melt comes in the form of water-towers or high altitude lakes that form from thawing of the glaciers. One such lake formed in Nepal is 100m deep and two kilometres in length, which was not in existence before the 1960s. In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, high-altitude lakes are an ever-present threat. Glof’s or ‘glacial lake outburst floods’ wreak havoc on life, livestock and property in these high stretches. The last glof in Bhutan had claimed 29 human lives. In Bangladesh, however, the effect of glacial thawing is in the form of rising water-levels of the
rivers. A country of numerous rivers, the rate at which
enormous tracts of land is going under water, is to be
seen to be believed. With land masses disappearing in a matter of days, farmers are being forced to migrate to cities to fend for themselves and their families.
Villages in the Himalayan foothills are adopting innovative measures to fight the ill-effects of this change. One such change agent is Chhewang Norphel of Nepal. Norphel realised that water for crops is the most important need for villages at such high altitudes who can afford to grow only one crop in the short summer.
Norphel came up with the idea of constructing artificial reservoirs to store the water which turns into artificial glaciers in the harsh Himalayan winter. Water from these artificial glaciers is then channelised to the fields for farming. His innovation has been a life-saver. Besides global accolades that Norphel has received for his work, it has earned him the title of the ‘ice man,’ which he is very fond of.
Another technique that people in Nepal employ to harvest precious water is ‘fog catching’. With scanty rain but dense fog, the locals use porous nets to convert fog into water droplets that are collected and used. In small communities that cannot get water from wells, rain, or a river, this method is a lifesaver.
Far away from the Himalayan ranges, in Bangladesh, where villagers are struggling against the rising water levels of rivers that are fast devouring their land and property, villagers have started to plant more mangrove trees on the banks which act as a natural barrier against erosion. Villagers are cultivating mangrove saplings with a sense of urgency to save their lives and land.