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Friday, December 7, 2007

Water politics and nature

Dec 5, 2007
Water politics and nature
WATER scarcity is not a mental picture people have of climate change. Rising waters are. National Geographic in an advance report drawn from a scientific journal has added an expanding tropical zone, by as much as 500km on either side of the Equator, as a new nature-warping phenomenon of global warming. It is scientists' misfortune that governments everywhere have a low attention threshold for esoterica such as this. But governments should be all ears when scientists present the issue of water shortage and consequent resource wars in graphic terms. This makes the matter of melting glaciers in the Tibetan plateau of the Himalayas, raised this week at the inaugural Asia-Pacific water conference in Japan, one more reason climate change should not be treated as the scientific equivalent of doodling. Governments need to get serious about it.
The Himalayan glaciers which feed river systems in China, South Asia and South-east Asia have been retreating at a faster rate in the last two decades, as ambient temperatures rose by 2.2 deg C, according to one study. The small print says this rate was more rapid than in the last 100 years. So what, so far? Try this for comprehension: The Himalayan glaciers hold the most plentiful supply of frozen water on Earth, aside from the polar ice caps. In summer months snow melt replenishes Asian rivers which otherwise would run low. More than two billion people in this swathe of the continent depend on the snow melt. What scientists are saying is that, at the accelerated rate of planetary warming, the seasonal rhythm of ebb and flow will sooner or later be disrupted beyond repair, with frightful results. A deluge, with disastrous flooding in China, the subcontinent and mainland South-east Asia, will be followed by a dryout of the river systems over a few decades. Droughts will follow, which will decimate crop cultivation. Almost all the Himalayan glaciers shrank in the last two decades, a doubling in quantity from the mid-20th century on. The World Wide Fund for Nature has said a quarter of the world's glaciers would be gone by 2050.

There is added danger in the sub-Himalayan region from the bursting of glacial lakes. A Japanese mountaineer, Mr Ken Noguchi, told the water conference of how Nepal and Bhutan lived in fear of burst lakes. Asian countries which have damming projects on the upper reaches of rivers, to conserve water stocks and to prevent flooding, invariably cause unhappiness to riparian states downstream. The political dimension of the water resource issue gets all the attention. Should not nations be looking at first principles?






WATER scarcity is not a mental picture people have of climate change. Rising waters are. National Geographic in an advance report drawn from a scientific journal has added an expanding tropical zone, by as much as 500km on either side of the Equator, as a new nature-warping phenomenon of global warming. It is scientists' misfortune that governments everywhere have a low attention threshold for esoterica such as this. But governments should be all ears when scientists present the issue of water shortage and consequent resource wars in graphic terms. This makes the matter of melting glaciers in the Tibetan plateau of the Himalayas, raised this week at the inaugural Asia-Pacific water conference in Japan, one more reason climate change should not be treated as the scientific equivalent of doodling. Governments need to get serious about it.
The Himalayan glaciers which feed river systems in China, South Asia and South-east Asia have been retreating at a faster rate in the last two decades, as ambient temperatures rose by 2.2 deg C, according to one study. The small print says this rate was more rapid than in the last 100 years. So what, so far? Try this for comprehension: The Himalayan glaciers hold the most plentiful supply of frozen water on Earth, aside from the polar ice caps. In summer months snow melt replenishes Asian rivers which otherwise would run low. More than two billion people in this swathe of the continent depend on the snow melt. What scientists are saying is that, at the accelerated rate of planetary warming, the seasonal rhythm of ebb and flow will sooner or later be disrupted beyond repair, with frightful results. A deluge, with disastrous flooding in China, the subcontinent and mainland South-east Asia, will be followed by a dryout of the river systems over a few decades. Droughts will follow, which will decimate crop cultivation. Almost all the Himalayan glaciers shrank in the last two decades, a doubling in quantity from the mid-20th century on. The World Wide Fund for Nature has said a quarter of the world's glaciers would be gone by 2050.

There is added danger in the sub-Himalayan region from the bursting of glacial lakes. A Japanese mountaineer, Mr Ken Noguchi, told the water conference of how Nepal and Bhutan lived in fear of burst lakes. Asian countries which have damming projects on the upper reaches of rivers, to conserve water stocks and to prevent flooding, invariably cause unhappiness to riparian states downstream. The political dimension of the water resource issue gets all the attention. Should not nations be looking at first principles?

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