Glacial melting in Himalaya: Local Impacts of Climate Change on Mountain Ecosystems and Livelihoods
Mountains are amongst the most flimsy environments on Earth. They are prosperous repositories of biodiversity, water and providers of ecosystem goods and services on which downstream communities, both regional and global, rely. The transport of atmospheric pollutants and climate-altering substances can significantly impact high mountain areas, which are generally considered “clean” regions. The snow glaciers of the Himalayas, considered the “third pole”, one of the largest stores of water on the planet and accelerated melting could have far-reaching effects, such as flooding in the short-term and water shortages in the long-term as the glaciers shrink. The data available on temperature in Himalayas indicate that warming during last 3-4 decades has been more than the global average over the last century. Some of the values indicate that the Himalayas are warming 5-6 times more than the global average. Mountain systems are seen globally as the prime sufferers from climate change. There is a severe gap in the knowledge of the short and long-term implications of the impact of climate change on water and hazards in the Himalayas, and their downstream river basins. Most studies have excluded the Himalayan region because of its extreme and complex topography and the lack of adequate rain gauge data. There is an urgent need to close the knowledge gap by establishing monitoring schemes for snow, ice and water; downscaling climate models; applying hydrological models to predict water availability; and developing basin wide scenarios, which also take water demand and socioeconomic development into account. Climate change induced hazards such as floods, landslides and droughts will impose considerable stresses on the livelihoods of mountain people and downstream populations. Enhancing resilience and promoting adaptation in mountain areas have thus become among the most important priorities of this decade. It is important to strengthen local knowledge, innovations and practices within social and ecological systems as well as strengthen the functioning of institutions relevant for adaptation. A common understanding of climate change needs to be developed through regional and local-scale research so that mitigation and adaptation strategies can be identified and implemented.
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