• Hifza Farooqi

Himalayan climate struggles cause suffering

Hifza talks about Himalayan glaciers melting and the immense trouble this causes for villagers and farmers living near the glaciers.

The villagers near the Himalayan mountains suffer greatly due to the climate crisis unfolding in the mountain range. The Himalayan glaciers are the third largest ice deposit, only smaller than Antarctica and the Arctic. Home to the highest peaks in the world, the glaciers lose billions of tons of ice each year.

Almost 800 million people in Asia depend on the ice runoff from the mountain for drinking water, irrigation, and power, including people from India, Pakistan, and Nepal. If that ice is getting lost, these people don't have constant sources of water or power. The cold areas near the Himalayas do not have an abundance of food or luxury, to begin with. Coupled with the volatile nature of the borders, the locals, in hundreds of settlements carved into the steep slopes of the Himalayas, are largely struggling to survive and do not have a high quality of life due to little fuel, clothing, food, and warmth.

Ranked as the 7th worst-hit country in 2019 by the Global Climate Risk Index, India has seen its fair share of difficult climate conditions. The primary effects are temperature changes and increases in flooding. The IPCC reports more deaths attributed to heat stress in recent years. Consecutive droughts in 2000-2002 droughts caused crop failures, leading to mass starvation and impacts on close to 11 million people in Orissa.

Researchers from the King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia have observed that the Himalayan mountain ranges will face an increase of more than 6 degrees by the end of the 21st century, which would further accelerate the glacier melting in the region. The resulting increase in flooding would have serious implications for the ecosystems and local settlements. For instance, 67 percent of the glaciers in the mountain range are retreating, which negatively impacts the sources of the Ganges and other major rivers in India.

The effect of the changing temperatures leads to the snow melting earlier in the spring, which leads to the soil drying earlier. This leads to 15 percent of aquifers in critical condition, and this condition is projected to increase to 60 percent by 2030. Farmers have to shift their orchards higher up in order to get the weather necessary to maintain their crops. Without irrigation, the small farmers and agricultural workers will have decreased earnings and may not be able to afford moving to higher grounds. The loss of livelihoods leads to farmers needing government or international aid in order to sustain themselves.

The risk of disastrous flooding remains as the glaciers continue to melt with the rising temperature. In a flash flood caused by hydropower projects in February of 2021, roads, bridges, dams, and power plants were damaged or washed away as 13 villages were completely cut off. Similarly, in 2013, flash floods killed about 6000 people despite a committee set up by India’s Supreme Court warning those people.

Other floods are caused by the melted water pooling into glacial lakes that fill until they burst through the rock piles, leading to devastating floods that collapse terrains and cause dangerous avalanches.

The climate changes near and in the Himalayan glaciers increase drought-related food insecurity, negative health impacts, and the loss of personal security due to the scarcity of food and finances. Many reports have cited the potential increase of desperate crime and/or suicide due to an inability to pay back loans or find methods of improving their conditions.

Home to one of the natural wonders of the world, it is a shame that the Himalayas and its inhabitants could be lost to the effects of climate change. Flooding, water loss, and temperature changes are all negatively affecting the environment and lives of the locals, and the future is predicted to be even worse. We can only work to reduce our emissions and climate impact so that we can reduce the damage that climate change is wreaking on these communities.