Changing Himalayan ecosystem matter of great concern | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, September 11, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, September 11, 2009

Global Warming

Changing Himalayan ecosystem matter of great concern

Endangered snow leopard and blue sheep (bottom).

Sonam W Sherpa lives in a village called Jiri, 4300 metres above the sea level, near mount Everest. He works as a tour guide. The Everest bound mountaineers start walking from Jiri camp. The Everest base camp is fifteen days walk from his village.
Now Sonam is 40 years old. Most of his life he spent without facing the mosquito menace. They never had to use mosquito net at night. But now things are changing and villagers in Jiri cannot do without mosquito net.
Historically the mountain community never needed to worry about saving their single crop potato from rodents. But now they have to. They have been experiencing invasion by pests like rats for last few years.
The Himalayan climate is getting warmer day by day and new species of insects and pests are moving towards the higher altitudes. “ For the last few years we have been experiencing mosquitoes and also suffering from bacterial diseases like diarrhoea, a new phenomenon here,” said Sonam.
Sonam W. Sherpa came to attend the South Asian Climate Change summit, held at Kathmandu, Nepal on August 31 and September 1 where he shared his experience.
While describing the changes in the ecosystem, he said they have also spotted some species of snakes at much higher altitude, which was an exception before.
Though no major study has been conducted on the Himalayas in this regard so far but the experts say, about 1.2 degrees Celsius rise in temperature has been experienced in the Himalayas over the decades. The warm weather has been causing serious concern for the tens of millions of people living in countries in and around the Himalayas, the sweet water tower of Asia.
Glaciers of North Pole and South Pole were the centre of concentrations(melting) over the years -- what is going to cause sea level rise and inundation of small islands countries and parts of floodplains like Bangladesh. But now experts say, the Himalayan glaciers have been melting faster than any other glaciers in the world, though no significant scientific study has been conducted on the Himalayas in this regard so far.
Now climate change is the harsh reality the globe is facing, and is being treated as very severe threat to mankind.
Earlier, after studying different ecosystems of sea, desert, floodplains, islands, forests and glaciers of the North Pole and South Pole the scientists of Inter-governmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) said in 2007 in their fourth assessment report that 'Climate change is irreversible'.
But interestingly in that report, the IPCC did not present any assessment about the Himalayan ecosystems. They mentioned the entire Himalayan region as a 'white spot' in the IPCC report as the scientists did not have any study about it.
But now the scientists and experts have started working on the Himalayas and are saying that the ecosystem of the Himalayas is changing fast. Much faster than they imagined it could be.
The Himalayan glaciers are the source of nine major rivers of Asia including the Ganges, Indus, Yellow, Brahmaputra, Mekong, the sweet water sources for almost one-third people of the world living in this region.
All these rivers might die as 67 percent glaciers of the Himalayas, the source of these rivers, have been retreating at a rate of about 10 metres every year, said the experts at the conference. These retreated glaciers created around 7,500 lakes in the Himalayan countries, including India, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan, and are increasing flood risks for downstream Bangladesh.
It is not a threat for downstream countries only, in the mountains too, the glacial lakes are causing concerns for people living in some parts of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan as some of these can burst anytime.
Of the 2674 glacial lakes in Bhutan, 24 have been identified by a recent study as candidates for Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF). International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) study identified 27 lakes as dangerous. A glacial lake holds millions of cubic meters of water and may burst suddenly anytime washing away bridges, hydropower and other structures and crops.
One of the major barley producing areas of the Tibetan Plateau was destroyed by GLOFs in August 2000. More than 10,000 homes, 98 bridges and dykes were destroyed and the loss was estimated as about $75 million.
The gradual rise in temperature in the Himalayas is changing its ecosystem pushing the Himalayan people and wildlife almost on the verge of extinction.
Now snow leopards and spotted leopards are sometimes seen at the same spot what never happened before. Spotted leopards are moving towards the higher altitudes but snow leopards cannot as the snow is melting fast and they have nowhere to move and hunt.
The scientists and wildlife experts know the behaviour of these leopards is most unlikely now but they are yet to ascertain what other changes are taking place in the Himalayas since they do not have proper research.
The Himalayan blue sheep live in the altitude between the grass line and snowline, but as the snowline is now moving higher, these blue sheep too are under the threat of extinction.
Not only the wildlife, the increasing temperature in the Himalayas is projected to play havoc with agricultural sector in the region and frequent catastrophes like, floods and droughts might occur.
Besides reduction of black carbon emissions by emerging giant industrial countries like China and India, the experts see basin wise management of the rivers also could reduce the loss of property and lives.
Forgetting the political boundaries, the experts urged all the governments in the region to work together to minimise the risks.

The writer is a Senior Reporter, The Daily Star/

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