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Preserving our mountains

Anup Ayadi

Anup Ayadi

 |  Kathmandu

Since 2003, December 11 is marked as the International Mountain Day around the globe – an observance of ever increasing significance as underscored by rising temperatures that are exacerbating hazards in the mountainous region.

Data from ICIMOD shows that Climate change and global heating could directly impact over 12% of the world’s population that live in such mountainous regions as well as to an estimated 40% of the global population that depends indirectly on mountain resources such as water and timber. Furthermore, increasing hazards on these ecologically fragile areas could have far reaching ramifications to over one-third of global terrestrial bio-diversity.

The Hindu Kush Region in particular is one of the most valuable mountainous regions in the world. It is evidenced by an estimated 200 million people that depend on these mountains for their livelihoods, and another 1 billion people downstream who benefit from the water and resources that come from these mountains. The Hindu Kush mountain system is also the origin of 10 of the major river systems in Asia.

However, change in weather patterns and rise in temperatures pose significant threats and challenges to these mountains. Firstly, rising temperatures imply the melting of snow and retreat of ice in the Hindu Kush Mountain System. Often called the third pole of the world, the region contains the largest reserve of freshwater outside the Polar Regions in the form of ice and snow. However, since 1977 to 2010, the “water tower of Asia” lost almost one-fourth of its glacier areas. Such melting glaciers contribute to the increase of Glacier lakes and this expansion, combined with various factors like extreme rainfall, earthquakes, and avalanches, heightens the risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs).

(Photo by Rohit Tandon)

A glacial lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) is a type of flood caused by the sudden bursting of a glacial lake, releasing large volumes of water. It can have devastating impacts on life and property. For instance, the 2016 Gongbatongsha glacial lake outburst flood is estimated to have caused a loss of over 70 million USD dollars. Many hydropower systems that rely on rivers originating from the Himalayans could be at risk.

Human health is another burgeoning concern in the mountainous region. Warmer temperatures provide suitable conditions for mosquitoes to breed and flourish. Subsequently, they aggravate the spread of infectious vector-borne diseases like malariya and dengue. For illustration, just a year ago, in September 2022, when droves of people in the hotter plains of Karnali were reporting symptoms of dengue, the village of Dunai, located some 2000 meters above sea level also saw locals visiting its only governmental hospital; a place once devoid of mosquitoes reported its first dengue infection.

Likewise, the Hindu Kush Himalayan region is a treasure trove of biodiversity. Unfortunately, change in water availability, erratic weather patterns and increased frequency of extreme disaster such as storms and landslides can pose risk to the endemic plants and animals of the mountains. Rising temperatures can also cause a shift in biodiversity – forcing animal and plant species to migrate to higher elevations in search of cooler climates. Ultimately, species may face risk of extinction as they run out of suitable habitat, causing disruption in the equilibrium of the mountain ecosystem.

These risks are not local – they are global. Be it the Alps or the Andes or the Himalayans, all mountain regions of the world are susceptible to human induced climate change. Hence, we as individuals, we as societies and we as countries must act today. In particular, while celebrating International Mountain day, we must remember why International days are designated by the UN in the first place: in order to educate general public on issues of concern and to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems.

(Anup is a student currently pursuing A-levels at Budhanilkantha School)

(Nepalkhabar encourages students to send in their articles on any issues of their interest. The article should be around 500 to 700 words in English and sent via [email protected]. We will select, edit and duly publish them in our blog section.)


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