Tuesday, July 23, 2024
HomeWorld newsLow snowfall in the Himalayas threatens water security

Low snowfall in the Himalayas threatens water security

Millions of people who rely on melting snow in the Himalayas for water face a “very serious” risk of shortages this year after one of the lowest snowfall records, scientists warned on Monday.

Snowmelt is the source of about a quarter of the total water flow of twelve major river basins that originate high in the region, the report said.

“This is a wake-up call for researchers, policymakers and downstream communities,” said report author Sher Muhammad of the Nepal-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

“Lower snow accumulation and fluctuating snow levels pose a very serious increased risk of water shortages, especially this year.”

Snow and ice in the Himalayas are a crucial water source for about 240 million people in the mountainous areas, but also for another 1.65 billion people in the river valleys below, according to ICIMOD.

Although snow levels fluctuate each year, scientists say climate change is causing erratic rainfall and changing weather patterns.

The report measured “snow persistence” – the length of time snow remains on the ground – with levels falling almost a fifth below normal this year in the wider Hindu Kush and Himalayan region.

“This year’s snow persistence (18.5% below normal) is the second lowest in the past 22 years, narrowly trailing the record low of 19% in 2018,” Muhammad said.

In addition to Nepal, the intergovernmental ICIMOD organization also includes member states Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Pakistan.

The report warned that ICIMOD “observations and projections indicate significant changes in the timing and intensity of stream flows,” with snow playing a key role.

“Snow plays a particularly important role in ensuring seasonal water availability,” it added.

The organization has been monitoring snow in the region for more than two decades and notes that 2024 marked a “significant anomaly.”

The Ganges River basin, which flows through India, had the “lowest snow persistence” recorded by ICIMOD, 17% below average, worse than 15% in 2018.

Afghanistan’s Helmand River basin recorded the second lowest level of snow persistence, 32% below normal.

The Indus River basin was 23% below normal, while the Brahmaputra River basin, which ends in Bangladesh, had a snowfall rate “significantly below normal” at 15%.

Miriam Jackson, senior cryosphere specialist at ICIMOD, urged authorities to “take proactive measures to address potential drought situations.”

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