Friday, February 4, 2011

Himalayan Glaciers and Water Diplomacy

Reproduced from The Morung Express (Ref.)

World got the shocking revelations on Himalayan glaciers before Copenhagen climate summit of 2007, and as we headed toward Cancun Conference during the end of 2010, concerns did spread across many nations. Climate change in and around the Indo-Himalayan glacier systems raised many eyebrows. It what was first published in 2007 - Fourth Assessment Report of Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set up by United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) pointing toward some factual observations.
India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh have enough reasons to be alarmed. Future of about two decades from now might lead to a deserted Pakistan, a dehydrated Bangladesh and almost ruined northern India.

As studied and reported by noted glaciologists and environment scientists like Dr. S I Hasnain, Himalayan glaciers are retreating and thinning faster than any other glacial system of the world and with its current rate, if persists, will disappear by year 2035. Himalayan and Hindukush glaciers are the greatest source of fresh water and have been the cradles of one of the largest and oldest existing civilizations of the world. Almost all the major rivers of India, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, including the Ganga-Yamuna, Indus and Brahmaputra river systems, are streamed out of the Himalayas and raise close to 700 millions of lives on their alluvial catchment.

With the most alarming example, Gangotri glacier has its receding rate increased recently. Gangotri retreated at a rate of 23 meters per year between 1985 and 2001, compared to 7.3 meters between 1842 and 1935. With this rate, by 2035-50, Ganga will reduce to a seasonal river along with its other two siblings Indus and Brahmaputra. Smaller glaciers of less than 4 km in length, like those in the Tibetan plateau, are likely to evaporate off. This will lead to a reduction of 50% of agriculture in Gangetic India and Bangladesh, while population of India will touch 1.6 billion by that time. A disaster foretold.

Not only receding icebergs, microclimate changes in Himalaya-Hindukush area have triggered many more side effects. Farmers in Nepal have already reported unforeseen pests and diseases recently. Water supply in Kyrgyzstan has been predicted to reduce by 80%. The Yangtze and Hwang Ho rivers in China will lose their volume. Over a short term, it threatens hydel power projects impacting heavily on smaller economies like Bhutan and Nepal while long term results can be unsettling.
Last month, Norway vowed to spend $12 million to expand monitoring of Himalayan glaciers and helping local communities to adapt to the change. It is a surprise that very little attention is being paid by government of India. Environmental concern is still perceived as activism in India.

Now this gives rise to other big apprehensions. The rising tensions between growing economy India and imperialist giant China may turn gruesome in few years. Water sourced from these glaciers is the key to sustain lives, agriculture and industries at the bottom of Himalayas and the largest of the glaciers are in China’s forceful occupation. This is one significant contributor to Pakistan’s ‘lick-the-dragon’ stand. China’s illicit control of Aksai Chin and claim on Ladakh and Zanskar range are nothing but driven by desire to get hold of the perennial sources of water. Conflicts along Arunachal and Sikkim borders also expose similar intentions. The tussle will aggravate with the diminishing glaciers and India cannot afford to lose its territories anymore.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War stresses on the need of winning battles with minimum loss to exchequer and lives, by knowing enemy more than one’s self. It is evident in China’s strategy in winning more friends around in India’s neighborhood. This is going to be the fiercest battle of nerves and needs. Water diplomacy will make or break both India and China’s future as global power.


  1. India is fast losing the battle over tables. It will happen till our politicians will keep spending all their energy on dirty street politics.

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