by: Suresh Nautiyal
While discussing the issue of melting glaciers and drying rivers due to climate change in the Pan-Himalayan Region, it is important to take note of the view that the process of global warming is not new. According to this view, the process of climate change actually began some 18 thousand years back. I believe, if such a process was already in place, the industrial revolution and introduction of the combustion engine must have accelerated the process.
I, however, have no idea on what scientific basis and logic this view has been built. What I know is that most of the theories are built on hypothesis. But for sure, the climate change is for real and there to stay so as to deeply impact common people’s lives over the years.
So, I feel at ease in subscribing to reality, the thing, which I can see, and feel, rather than depending on a hypothetical study, as I am a layman with no scientific and academic knowledge. In my opinion, the climate change is directly related to the human activity and humans’ symbiotic relationship with the Nature. A tree species called ‘bhimal’ always exists within the periphery of a human habitation. And as soon as there is no human habitation for some reasons, the bhimal species disappears. This is because the species cannot exist without humans around it. This is nothing but symbiotic relationship between humans and other species.
Today the whole world is thinking about the same issue and on the same theme. That is the issue of climate change. However, we — the ordinary or wretched inhabitants of the Earth — are still oscillating between “Copenhagen” and “Hopenhagen” even as we remain divided between two dominant thought streams. One that says the climate change has happened due to global warming because of excessive human activity; and the other has already explained that the climate change process has been or is/was natural and cyclic, therefore to take it easy!
My understanding is that the climate change due to global warming is for real and alarming. I have seen it in my village, Onchar, and in other parts of my state, Uttarakhand, in the Central Himalayan Region (CHR) in particular. In the CHR, people have already been seeing changes in the flowering patterns because of the changing climate for last few years. The red-hot and beautiful rhododendrons bloomed ahead of the usual season. Who does not know that the year 2005 was the second warmest year in last 125 years?
The Himalaya, which is home to the largest glaciers outside the two poles, is feeling the heat of the climate change. The melt waters of this area drain through 10 of the largest rivers in Asia and the basins are home to more than 1.3 billion people. These water resources play an important role in the global atmospheric circulation, biodiversity, rain-fed and irrigated agriculture and hydropower, though we are against high dams beyond 15 metres in height!
With climate changes happening, the most widely reported impact is the rapid reduction in glaciers, which causes massive repercussions to livelihoods downstream. The scientists say the glacier retreat in the Himalaya results from precipitation decrease in combination with temperature increase and glacier shrinkage will speed up if climatic warming and drying continues. These two terms “warming” and “drying” have special reference to the river systems in the Pan-Himalayan Region.
The Himalayan Region is the origin of many glaciers and important rivers of Asia. The most important is the Siachen glacier, which is the largest glacier outside the Polar Regions. It stretches to a length of about 72 km and about 2 km wide and scattered with rocks and boulders on its sides in J&K. The central part of Siachen glacier is a vast snowfield. The altitude of this glacier is between 6,000 and 7,000m above sea level. It is the source of the Mutzgah or Shaksgam River that flows parallel to the Karakoram Range before it enters Tibet. Other glaciers like Baltoro, Biafo, Nubra and Hispar in J&K and Bandarpunchh, Dokriani, Khatling, Doonagiri, and Tiprabamak in the Central Himalayan state of Uttarakhand are sources for several rivers. Today, most of these glaciers are retreating, unfortunately.
In other words, the rivers originating from these glaciers will get dry in near future. According to a report brought out by the World Bank in collaboration with the Government of India, most of the Himalayan glacial rivers will deplete in next seven-eight decades. Ten years have already passed!