The rate of glacial retreat in the Himalayan region and the polar ice caps has been a big source of alarm for the scientific community. Climatologists and environmentalists have been warning that at this rate of glacial meltdown, major climatic shifts and regional hydrological inequilibrium are bound to occur in not too distant a future. Only recently, a study predicted that those river basins dependent on the Himalayas for water source would first be flooded and later made to suffer droughts. Indeed, glaciers in the last two decades have been retreating faster than recorded earlier. The change in the meltdown has been ascribed to global warming, a phenomenon scientists say has been caused by increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Now a tripartite effort aims to assess the impact of global warming on those areas in Nepal, India and China on which the Himalayan glaciers determine the region’s weather patterns and water resources. Through the installation of Automatic Weather Stations in Solukhumbu in Nepal, Gangotri in India and Yangste river basin of China, scientists from the three countries will cooperate to establish a database to study weather patterns and predict floods.
The joint effort by the three nations is a welcome initiative. Besides facing the reality, it marks an attempt to acknowledge the need for finding shared solutions to common problems. The Himalayas are central to the lives of millions in Nepal, India and China, without which, life in the Indo-Gangetic river basin and those on the Chinese side of the Himalayas would be entirely different. The phenomenon of global warming now threatens to change the delicate ecological equilibrium which has somehow stayed in place for several epochs. This raises the spectre of changing the survival equations of the vast number of plant and animal species the Himalayan region is home to. It will also exert an influence on the lifestyle of the people living on the flanks and foothills of the great mountains. For example, the rate of water flow in the rivers has already increased and the water level in the glacial lakes have surged. The data collected through that study will throw up vital clues to the effect of global warming in the three countries. It will prove beneficial in evolving suitable models to minimise the threat to life and property from retreating glaciers and flooded lakes. While this is a local effort to the greater problem of industrial pollution, clues like fast retreating glaciers and polar ice caps are important indications that those countries which have thus far refused to respond to anti-pollution call will need to embrace the Kyoto protocol and cut down substantially on the greenhouse gases.