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A climate-change curse?

Source: The International News Pakistan

by Adil Zareef

August 03, 2010 - According to UN climate-change experts, the melting of Himalayan glaciers threatens 1.3 billion Asians. Over a billion people in Asia depend on Himalayan glaciers for water, but experts say they are rapidly melting, thereby threatening to bring drought and disease to large swathes of the continent.

The Himalayan glaciers, a 2,400-kilometre range that sweeps through Pakistan, India, China, Nepal and Bhutan, provides headwaters for Asia’s nine largest rivers, are a lifeline for the 1.3 billion people who depend on the rivers’ downstream water resources.

But rising temperatures in the last 30 years are dramatically accelerating the rate at which the glaciers are shrinking. Campaigners warn that some glaciers could disappear within a few decades. Scientists predict that most will be gone in 40 years as a result of climate change.

According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s top authority on climate change, the deal reached at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December 2009 “will have huge ramifications for the lives of hundreds of millions of people living in the Himalayan drainage systems who are already vulnerable due to widespread poverty.” It has warned that “Himalayan glaciers could disappear altogether by 2035.”

Experts say the effects of global warming are already being felt in the region. The Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which has conducted research on Himalayan glaciers for 30 years, warns of an “urgent need for more research on the impact of climate change. Most experts accept that temperatures are changing, and this is happening more rapidly at altitudes. Current trends in glacial melt suggest flows in major Asian rivers, including the Ganges, the Indus and the Yellow River, will be substantially reduced in coming decades.

When the shortage arrives, it may happen abruptly, with water systems going from abundant to scarce in perhaps a few decades. When the glaciers get hotter, you get more water, but there comes a point when the water will run out.

It seems Pakistan’s massive glacier melt and flooding pattern fits the grim picture UN climate experts predicted for South Asia. We need to look into the scientific cause of this huge environmental disaster rather than consigning it to the will of Allah or divine retribution. Where do we go from here?

Reports from upper Swat and Chitral confirm the predictions of UN climate-change experts regarding Himalayan glaciers’ vulnerability to global warming and its cataclysmic consequences, which are already painfully evident today. This does not appear to be simple monsoon rain precipitation resulting in heavy flooding as our meteorologists and government suggest. Matters are certainly more challenging.

Mother Earth is extracting a heavy price for humans’ deliberate ignorance, extravagant lifestyle and callous policies. UN experts at the Copenhagen Conference listed Pakistan, together with Afghanistan, as most vulnerable to climate change in South Asia.

“Pakistan’s troubles pale compared with what it might face 25 years from now. When it comes to stability of the world’s most volatile regions, it is the fate of the Himalayas’ glaciers that should be keeping us awake all night!” according to Foreign Policy Magazine.

“Pakistan’s ability to tackle droughts, floods, food shortages, large ecological migrations and disease outbreaks, and still continue as a viable entity, will depend on its preparedness.”

There is no evidence that Pakistani decision-makers are taking climate-change warnings seriously enough. It is time to face the terrible reality, especially the vulnerable majority, for the wrongs of the affluent in the developed world, and Pakistan’s elitist, environmentally destructive policies.


The writer is general secretary of the Sarhad Conservation Network, an advocacy NGO for conservation of natural and cultural heritage, biodiversity and healthy lifestyles

For the complete article, please see The International News Pakistan.