There is no alternative but for the inhabitants of the region to adapt to climate change and its aftermath
It is almost a foregone conclusion that glacier melt will accelerate in the Himalayas as a result of climate change, with severe consequences for the livelihood of those populations living downstream. Scientific study carried out at a height of 5,200 m on the Khumbu glacier, in the Everest region, has shown that more than half, or 56 per cent, of its ablation area contains ice that is warmer than the air temperature. The study, or the EverDrill (2016-2019) project, was conducted jointly by universities of Britain and Nepal and Himalayan Research Centre. The research team used pressurised jets of hot water from a machine to drill boreholes as deep as 190 metres into the glacier ice. Temperature sensors installed in the boreholes collected data over several months. Since warm ice is vulnerable to even a minor increase in the atmospheric temperature, future climate warming would accelerate the melting of glaciers at high altitude. According to the research, air temperatures in Solukhumbu will continue to increase, and precipitation will become unpredictable.
The consequences of glacier melt as a result of global warming are enormous, and one can only make assumptions about what this could mean to the Everest region, and the entire Hindu-Kush region. The research has found evidence to suggest that ice was warming at the rate of 0.5° C per decade, which means floods and droughts are likely to be more common, and glacial lake growth along with its hazards would increase in the coming decades. The Khumbu Icefall and other mountain routes will become more dangerous for climbers in the days ahead. Rockfall could be frequent and glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) more common, causing extensive damage to people’s homes and farms as well as infrastructure, such as roads, irrigation canals and hydel plants. Nepal has recorded about 16 GLOF events in recent decades, including the Bhote Koshi and Sun Koshi GLOFs of 1964 and 1981, and the Dig Tsho Glof of 1985. While the Sun Koshi outburst damaged the Kodari road to Tibet, the Dig Tsho GLOF destroyed the Namche hydel plant.
Nepal has had little role in pushing up global warming, nonetheless, it must live with its impact like any other country. What we can do is try to mitigate the impact of climate change and subsequent glacier melt on the lives of the people of the region. There is no alternative, but for the inhabitants to adapt to climate change and its ramifications. For this, the government must start planning now about the measures it should take and not wait for the natural hazard to take place. Since glacier melt will not be confined to Nepal but a phenomenon the whole Hindu-Kush Himalaya will have to live up to, it calls for greater cooperation among the countries of the region to see how the problem can be effectively tackled. What is of particular concern is that the melt water from the Himalayan glaciers charge the major rivers of the region that supply freshwater to almost a quarter of humanity. As the glaciers and glacier lakes are both a source of water as well as water-induced natural disasters, more studies are needed to optimise the benefits from them while mitigating the hazards they cause.
This year’s monsoon is just round the corner. Monsoon plays a vital role in the country’s economy as paddy plantation, the major cereal crop, is heavily dependent on it. However, it can also be a bane in the case of heavy cloud bursts, which could trigger landslides in the hills and floods in the plains. In view of the approaching monsoon, the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DoHM) has developed an efficient action plan in close coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs to minimise loss of life and property caused by monsoon-related disasters.
The government needs to be extra cautious during the monsoon that starts from the second week of June and lasts until September. The DoHM will broadcast a three-day weather forecast and will also update its bulletin twice a day. This will help people to be prepared for the impending heavy rains in any part of the country. The DoHM will also make public the condition and level of water in major rivers like the Koshi, Gandaki and Karnali, among others, during the period. The early flood warning system will alert the people through the mass media and SMS about the possibility of heavy rains in any part of the country. Saving the life of the people should be the government’s priority.
A version of this article appears in print on June 13, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.