S1E124: Why the warming Himalayas are a water crisis for half of Asia

  • 2 Jun 2024

Local solutions are critical for vulnerable millions as the scorching heat rapidly melts snow and ice across the fragile "third pole".

Synopsis: Every first and third Sunday of the month, The Straits Times analyses the beat of the changing environment, from biodiversity conservation to climate change.

As the planet warms, with north India’s plains sweltering under an unprecedented heat wave, Himalayan glaciers are melting faster than ever before. On current trends, glaciers in just the Eastern Himalayas, which include Nepal and Bhutan, will lose up to 75 per cent of their ice in the near future. 

The accelerated melt will expand existing glacial lakes, and form new ones. The new and enlarged lakes are a hazard as they can burst their banks and let loose all the water in flash floods downstream. In October 2023, a lake in Northern Sikkim breached, destroying an entire dam and 33 bridges downstream, killing scores of people. 

But that is only one aspect of the impact of planetary warming on the so-called Third Pole - which supplies water to around 1.5 billion people. The climate crisis is a water crisis which is already affecting half of Asia. 

In this episode, Green Pulse host Nirmal Ghosh discusses the complex factors at play, and their implications, with Kunda Dixit, the Kathmandu-based publisher of Nepali Times, and visiting faculty at NYU in Abu Dhabi where he focuses on climate; and Dr Bandana Shakya - also based in Kathmandu - who coordinates the Landscapes portfolio at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

Highlights (click/tap above):

2:34 There is plenty of water; just not where it’s needed

3:53 Data sharing is critical but the process is inadequate

7:17 Depopulation of some mountain districts is up to 30 per cent in the last 10 years

12:20 Appreciating potential of co-designing nature-based solutions

17:20 Sometimes scientific collaboration is much easier than political collaboration

18:33 One major concern now: Climate despair and climate anxiety among younger people

19:30 Failure of governance has led to large parts of the Himalayan region being in food deficit

Produced by: Nirmal Ghosh (nirmal@sph.com.sg) and Fa'izah Sani

Edited by: Fa'izah Sani

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