Environment specialists have long warned that the Himalayan glaciers, a source of water to rivers that flow across India, China, Bangladesh and Burma, are melting faster than the glaciers in the rest of the world.
Now, there are figures to back the claims.
In the last 40 years alone, the Kolhai glacier in the Zabarwan range in Kashmir has receded by 18 per cent, while the 72 sq km area in Suru basin in Kargil district of Ladakh — covered by over 300 glaciers — has shrunk by over 16 per cent.
This data was presented in an international conference on “Climate Change, Glacial
recession and Livelihoods”, organised jointly by the Jammu and Kashmir government, University of Kashmir and The Energy Research Institute, New Delhi, in Srinagar. Experts from the UK, the US, Australia and Nepal are participating in the conference.
Experts say the glaciers are melting at a rate of 0.8 sq km a year due to warmer winters and lesser precipitation.
“The glaciers in the Himalayas are receding at a rate which is higher than other parts of the world,’’ said Shakeel Ramshoo, associate professor of geology and geophysics in Kashmir University and convenor of the working group for climate change in Jammu and Kashmir.
The two glacier systems are the main source of drinking water and irrigation in the valley.
While Kolhai is the main source of water for Jhelum, Suru glaciers feed the Suru river and are a vital source for Kargil and Zanskar valleys.
Kolhai, which covered an area of 13.87 sq km in 1976, has shrunk to 11.24 sq km.
In Suru basin, the rate of melting varies: Glaciers with areas over 5 sq km have melted by 11.6 per cent on an average.
Those with areas less than 2 sq km have melted by about 31 per cent already.
Conference delegates will bring out a strategic plan suggesting policies and actions various organisations in the state need to take to mitigate the effects of climate change.
In Asia, climate change-induced glacial melt could seriously affect half a billion people in the Himalayan region, according a 2006 review on the economics of climate change by economist Nicholas Stern.