Worldwide 214 river basins host 40 percent of world’s population and Himalayas with huge stocks of water in the form of snow and ice, are biggest source of surface fresh water in frozen form, after Polar ice caps. Himalayan region consist of extremely fragile ecosystem, and source to 10 major Asian river systems, on which over 1.3 billion people rely for sustenance, water, livelihoods and prosperity.
Water Related Disasters
During fall of 2010 floods in North Western part of Indian Himalayan region affected over 3 million people and killed 300, in Pakistan left 14 million homeless and killed 1500, and in China killed at least 1,117 people.
Glacial Melt Story
The scientific evidences have shown that, Himalayan glaciers are retreating faster than in any other part of the world.
The glacial melt water accounts for 60 percent to Indus River, 20 to Brahmaputra and about 10 percent to Ganges and others. One of the scientific studies by Indian defense research organization on Himalayan Glaciers shows-16 percent of glaciers shrank in last 50 years, while in 100 years period there is rise of temperature about 1.6°c and rise in precipitation rate, while decrease in snow fall and river discharge. This study is based on the estimates from 1,317 glaciers in 10 sub-basins since 1962.
GLOF as threat
It has been learnt that, due to climatic changes there are threats from Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), impact on the hydrological cycle, reduction in snow cover and glaciers, availability of water downstream.
In Himalayan mountains there are massive plans of building several hundreds of dams for hydropower generation in next 20 years are underway that will generate 150,000 MW power in countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan.
It is said that, India’s hydropower projects are in troubled waters. Once touted as an important engine for power capacity addition, the share of hydropower in total installed generation capacity has hit a historic low of 22 per cent. And, it is expected to slow down further, as the sector is mired in controversies and technical problems. The faulty designs, technical issues and floods have delayed project construction in many parts of Indian Himalaya. But monitoring of the projects is poor.
According to the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP), there is little attempt at a credible assessment of performance. “Unfortunately, project appraisals—from not only an environment and social but also technical angle—are poor,” says Himanshu Thakkar, convener, SANDRP. During floods or the lean season, when there is less water in the river, and hydel units underperform that defeats the purpose of hydropower projects meeting peaking demand.
What Next: studies, research and share information
Though, it is also said that many of the inferences regarding glacial melting are based on terminus fluctuation or changes in glacial area. Therefore, it is suggested that measurements of glacial mass balance would provide direct and immediate evidence of glacier volume increase or decrease with annual resolution.
One of the region centers in Himalaya says that, there are still no systematic measurements of glacial mass balance in this part, and there are promising signs that this is changing. Need of Mass balance study-done by China and India started glaciers for regular mass balance measurements.
Based on various scientific evidences there is the need of further ecological research on water related issues, strengthening local institutions and governance system, collaboration between national and international scientific communities, sharing of information and adopting various ecosystem approaches.
Our government, scientists and researchers are aware that the region is earthquake prone and there are various factors leading to water related hazards, so developing huge infrastructure without considering various environmental factors is like inviting disasters.