Himalayan glaciers are receding at alarming rates: UN

March 18th, 2008 - 9:03 pm ICT by admin  

(Lead, Changing Dateline)

New Delhi, March 18 (IANS) Himalayan glaciers are receding fast and may disappear within a few decades, seriously affecting the around 750 million people living downstream, a new UN report says. The report released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) shows that of the two glaciers monitored in the Lahaul and Spiti area of Himachal Pradesh, Chhota Shigri receded 1.41 metres of water equivalent (mwe) in 2006, while Hamtah receded 1.39 mwe.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has pointed out that the glaciers are receding due to climate change. As a result, rivers in the region such as the Ganga, the Indus and the Brahmaputra, as well as others criss-crossing northern India may soon become seasonal - a development that could have adverse economic impact in the region, warns the report.

On the Indian subcontinent, people in the Himalaya and Hindu Kush regions and those downstream who rely on glacial waters would be seriously hit.

The report shows that the Chhota Shigri glacier receded at an alarming rate in 2006 after actually advancing 0.14 mwe in 2005, though it had receded 1.23 mwe in 2004.

The Hamtah glacier receded 1.86 mwe in 2004 and 2006, so its rate of melting has gone down a little in 2006.

The overall trend in the Himalayas is reflective of glaciers worldwide that are melting at more than double the rates existing until a few years ago, warns the report, based on data from 30 locations across nine mountain ranges.

The average glacier shrank 1.4 mwe in 2006, compared to half a mwe in 2005 and 0.3 mwe in the ’80s and the ’90s.

Some of the most dramatic shrinking has taken place in Europe, with Norway’s Breidalblikkbrea glacier thinning by close to 3.1 mwe during 2006, compared with a thinning of 0.3 mwe in 2005.

The report is based on findings of the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) - a centre based at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and supported by UNEP. It has been tracking the fate of glaciers for over a century.

“The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight,” said Wilfried Haeberli, WGMS director.

Head of UNEP Achim Steiner said: “Millions if not billions of people depend directly or indirectly on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, agriculture, industry and power generation during key parts of the year.”

A two degree Celsius warming by the 2040s is likely to lead to sharply reduced summer flows in most rivers fed by glaciers, which will coincide with sharply rising demand for water.

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