RAWALPINDI, March 17: The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) has launched a study on “melting of Himalaya glaciers, particularly Siachen, to human intervention” keeping in view the facts that mountain warfare, pollution and global warming have put the life of glacier under threat.
PMD Director-General Dr Qamar Zaman told Dawn that the study would be completed in one year and would be submitted to the government to take decisions on the future of glaciers. However, he said a preliminary report had already been sent to the government. The main crux of the report is to save water for future. Dr Zaman said: “Siachen glacier is a natural dam and needs to be saved for future generations.”
The PMD in its preliminary report has said that Himalayan glaciers have been receding for the past 30 years, with losses accelerating to alarming levels in the past decade. Arshad H. Abbasi, strategic consultant on water, environment and renewable energy, is carrying out the study on behalf of the PMD.
Mr Abbasi has already conducted a study on Siachen for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “Siachen glacier was rapidly melting because of the ongoing military activity at the highest flashpoint of the world,” the study notes.
Though there are indications that both India and Pakistan were progressing well towards an agreement on the Siachen dispute, it is for opinion makers and defence strategists in the two countries to strongly suggest their respective governments to stop ruining the future of water supplies and the weather system.
The military activity on Siachen glacier considered as the highest battleground on earth has resulted in the reduction of the volume of glacier. Global warming has had one of its worst impacts on Siachen in the Himalaya, with the glacier melting at an unprecedented rate.
It is learnt that the Indian army is launching a massive clean-up operation as part of its ‘Green Siachen, Clean Siachen’ plan. The Indian army will take help from the air force to lift garbage from the glacier. Interestingly, the Indian army is using bio-digesters in the Siachen glacier to break down and degrade human and other waste left behind by the army and mountaineers in the high altitude.Due to much lower activity on the Pakistani side, western glaciers are stable, as shown by recent independent studies by researchers from the UK and Italy. While vehicular traffic from the Indian side and heat generated from activities on this 21,000-ft high glacier have led to unprecedented melting and diminishing of this 72-km long glacier.
Currently, temperature rise in the area is recorded as 0.2 degrees Celsius annually, resulting in destructive snow avalanches, formation of glacial lakes and snow holes.
It has been estimated that the melting of Himalayan glaciers contributes about 25 per cent to the sea-rise globally.
India and Pakistan have fought intermittently since April 1984. Glaciologists describe the mountain warfare by India and Pakistan on Siachen glacier as futile and wasteful conflict. Both the countries maintain permanent military personnel in the region at a height of over 6,000 metres. In November 2003, India and Pakistan declared a ceasefire along the International Border, Line of Control and Siachen.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its most recent report forecasts that global temperature would rise by 1.8 to 4.0 Celsius this century. There are already signs that South Asia will be one of the worst affected regions -– monsoon affected with reduced agriculture production, sinking of island communities and increase in vector borne diseases.
The Siachen glacier is located in the eastern Karakoram Range in Himalaya Mountains. It is the longest glacier in the Karakoram and second largest in the world’s non-polar areas.
A World Bank report says that Pakistan is moving from being a water-stressed country to a water-scarce country due to high population growth. Only a small quantity of water is left to mobilising but Pakistan can get much more value from the existing flows, the report says.
The report says that Pakistan has a large endowment, with an estimated replacement value of $60-70 billion of water infrastructure, most owned and managed by the provinces, and much now quite old. The condition of this stock of infrastructure is a major cause of concern. In some instances, such as Taunsa and Sukkur barrages, the precarious state of major structures puts the wellbeing of tens of millions of people at risk.
Pakistan has only 150 cubic meters of storage capacity per capita. Dams of Colorado and Murray-Darling rivers can hold 900 days of river runoff. South Africa can store 500 days in its Orange river, and India between 120 and 220 days in its major peninsular rivers. By contrast, Pakistan can barely store 30 days of water in the Indus basin.
The report calculates that Pakistan needs to raise storage capacity by 18 MAF (6 MAF for replacement of storage lost to siltation and 12 MAF of new storage) by 2025 in order to meet the projected requirements of 134 MAF.