Status Report on the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Glaciers
The Himalayan Mountains is the largest mountain chain the world. The Hindu Kush region of the Himalayan Mountains is located in the northern Pakistan and extending through Central Afghanistan. Its name literally means "Kills the Hindu", in reference to the past when slaves from the India subcontinent died in the harsh mountain weather while being transported to Central Asia. The big issue today in the Hindu Kush-Himalayans is shrinking glaciers and what that will mean for the region's water supply. Many of Asia's great rivers are born in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan including the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra. The region supplies water for drinking, irrigation, and other uses for about 1.5 billion people.
Recent studies have shown that for areas of low elevation, glacial retreat is unlikely to cause significant change in water availability. Instead other factors will play a greater role such as groundwater depletion and increased human water use. Areas of higher elevation will feel a greater impact from the glacial melt due to alterations in water flow in some river basins. However, for those in the higher elevations, the biggest impact to water availability will be changes in climate and the increased variability of rain and snow.
The most recent report on the status of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas was published by the National Academies of Sciences in the United States.
Several key findings include the following:
- Most glaciers are retreating, and over time, normal glacial melt will not be able to contribute enough to the region’s water supply each year.
- Glaciers in the eastern and central Himalayas are retreating at rates similar to the rest of the world. However, glaciers in the western Himalayas, which include the Hindu Kush, are more stable and may even be increasing.
- Melting glaciers will offset the lack of rainfall caused by climate change, acting as a buffer through periods of drought. Water stored as glacial ice would act as a hydrological insurance. This will benefit the region in the short term, but may prove problematic in the long term, as the glacial "insurance" becomes less and less.
- The populations of this region is expected to become increasingly urbanized. As cities absorb more migrants and standards of living increase, water use is also expected to increase, further exacerbating water stress.
- Water resource management and the provision of clean water and sanitation has been an ongoing challenge for the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. Existing water management institutions will also have to focus on natural hazards and disaster reduction.
Link to published report: National Academy of Sciences
Himalayan image via Shutterstock