KATHMANDU: South Asian environmentalists, hydrologists, climatologists and scientists at a regional training workshop on Saturday said that climate change in conjunction with other drivers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region would have a serious impact on water accessibility, people’s vulnerability to water-fuelled hazards and socio-economics.
They underlined a need to close the knowledge gap on the cryosphere and the availability of water resources in time and space. Basin-wide water availability scenarios should be developed and linked to water demand and socio-economic uplift, they stated.
The three-day regional ‘Climate Change Effects on Water and Agriculture from the Mountains to the Sea and Adaptation’, organised by in Dhulikhel and Kathmandu by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIDOM) in support with the Asia-Pacific Adaptation Network, Asia Pacific Mountain Network, concluded here on May 20.
Director General of the ICIMOD, Dr Andreas Schild, said that the high Himalayan and inner Asian ranges have the largest areas covered by the glaciers and permafrost outside the polar regions. The ice and snow covers an area of more than 112,000 square kilometers, providing important short long-term water storage.
The region and its water resources play an important role for biodiversity, agriculture and hydropower, serving more than 1.3 billion South Asian people in the downstream basin areas of ten large Asian rivers, which originate in the mountains. Besides, environmental services provided by the natural resources area the basis for a substantial part of the region’s total GDP and have an unprecedented importance far beyond the region, he highlighted.
The United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Young-Woo Park in his key note address to the participants of the workshop said that climate change is projected to compound the pressures on natural resources and the environment associated with rapid urbanization, industrialisationn and economic development.
It would potentially have deep and widespread implications on the availability of, and access to, water resources for South Asian people, particularly Pakistan and India, he warned.
The UNEP’s regional director, however, said that by the 2050s, access to freshwater in Asia, particularly in the large river basins, is projected to decrease. Unless urgent measures are taken to mitigate the impacts of climate change, the economic advances in China, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan could be severely curtailed.
He said that in Asia, it is most likely that warming during this century will be significant in arid regions and the Himalayan highlands, including the Tibetan Plateau. Warming will affect the amount, timing and distribution of rainfalls, resulting in increased droughts and floods and cause increased glacial retreat, leading to loss of water storage capacity, destabilisation of slopes and glacial lake outburst floods, increased snowmelt and runoff, affecting river water supplies.
Dr. Schild suggested several strategies to cope with the climate change challenges including such as: fostering generation and exchange of knowledge and practices on climate change adaptation, increasing adaptive capacities of the people, facilitating integration of knowledge into decision making processes and actions, bridging gap between knowledge provides and users and promoting partnerships for transformative actions among the regional countries.
Dr Ahmadul Hasan warned that in South Asian countries, crop yields could decrease up to 30 per cent by mid-21 century, if pre-emptive measures are not taken at the regional level. Otherwise, falling productivity of agriculture due to damaging effects of the climate change would further aggravate the food insecurity situation for the 1.6 billion people of the region.