If no other statistic about climate change gives you pause, this one should: 1/4 of the world’s population – an estimated 1.4 billion people – rely on water from rivers that source in the Himalayas. As glaciers retreat, snow packs shrink and spring thaws occur earlier and earlier, the precious gift of a well-timed water supply is disappearing before our eyes. Instead, flooding torrents race down mountain streams too early in the spring for crops to use, followed by months of drought when the flows of once reliably mighty rivers slow to a trickle. If that weren’t misery enough, alpine lakes swollen from glacial melt threaten to break their banks, unleashing “Nepali tsunamis” officially called “GLOFs” (Glacial Lake Outburst Floods) that threaten to drown villages and fields and scour away topsoil.
Women, who do most of the water-fetching and firewood-gathering, are forced to walk further and further for essentials each day. Crop failures mean hunger and malnutrition.
Temperatures, like a seasoned sherpa hiking up Mount Everest, climb fast at higher elevations – as much as 8 times faster in the Himalayas than elsewhere on the planet over the last three decades. With warmer weather comes a raft of vector-borne diseases for which these cold-adapted communities have no defense.
Weak, sick, hungry, thirsty. So much for Shangri-La.
WHERE THE RIVERS NO LONGER RUN THROUGH IT
Downstream, as Newsweek’s Sharon Begley notes, “A special place in climate hell is being reserved for India and China.” Already, 20% of China has turned to desert. And the water table beneath India’s irrigation-dependent “breadbasket” has been so depleted, NASA satellites have been able to detect a change in earth’s gravitational field over the region.
It isn’t just the breadth of the water disaster that is so confounding, but the fact that it is accelerating. As worthy as the efforts by organizations and projects such as charity: water and Ripple Effect may be, it is hard to believe they can possibly make a dent when need is growing both exponentially and quickly. There is a great big climate change hole-in-the-bucket. (more…)
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