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HindustanTimes Sun,21 Sep 2014

Glacial lakes a new Himalayan threat

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, July 19, 2011
First Published: 21:59 IST(19/7/2011) | Last Updated: 22:02 IST(19/7/2011)

For millions living in Himalayan mountains the faster melting glaciers are posing a new danger - glacial lakes that may burst.

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From just a few thousand lakes in mid 1900s, the number has grown over 20,000 lakes in the Himalayan belt from Pakistan in the west to Burma in the East, says a new United Nations Development Fund documentary highlighting the danger of climate change to 1.3 billion people living in downstream valley. 

"Some of these lakes pose danger to habitations as there is a risk of overflowing," said Andrew Schild, director of Nepal based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). About 15% of the lakes are said to be in the possible danger zone.

In 2005, Pareechu lake in China had burst in 2005 causing flash in the riverbed of Satluj in Himachal. At least 32 events of glacial lake overflows have been recorded in the Himalayan region causing huge lose to property and human life.

ICIMOD, a transnational body to monitor glaciers, says that lake Imja Toso in the Mount Everest region was non-existent in 1960s but now is one sq km in area and many lakes in eastern Himalayan region have increased by eight times over the past 40 years.

It is just tip of the iceberg as flow of water into glacial lakes is expected to increase further with half of the 32,000 glaciers expected to melt by end of this century. About 75% of glaciers in Indian part of Himalayan region are retreating at a faster than ever before, a recent Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) analysis said.

Ajay Chibber, under secretary in the United Nations said there are some successful solutions to fight danger of glacier lakes. One such solution highlighted in the documentary was of a glacial lake in Bhutan where manually drainage for excess water was created and boulders removed.

The melting glaciers posed a different kind of livelihood problem in Ladakh, where agriculture production had been on decline till Chhewang Norphel came out with a unique solution - creating artificial glaciers.

It was done by diverting water from streams to colder region to form ice during winter. During summer the water from these artificial glaciers was used to irrigate agriculture land. This won Norphel a UN award on Tuesday. "The cost of creating such a glacier is Rs. three to 10 lakh and it can be built in one season," he said.

What everyone including rural development minister Jairam Ramesh agreed was that melting of Himalayan glaciers pose a livelihood challenge to people in the hills and on the eight major rivers such as Ganga and Indus that flow from Himalayas. "We all have to work together to find a solution," Ramesh said, in a sms message read at a conference on Tuesday.


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