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Melting glaciers and floods

world Updated: Apr 07, 2007 03:02 IST

After a tense night-long meeting, the United Nation’s top authority on climate change released its grimmest report in six years, which warned that rising temperatures will hit India hard as Himalayan glaciers melt faster and drinking water shortages worsen in the coming decades.

From Brussels, an exhausted Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told HT after a sleepless night of debates that the message for India in this latest assessment is stark.

“A substantially faster melting of glaciers, sea-level rise, increasing floods, droughts and heat waves are a matter of concern for India,’’ Pachauri said about the 1,400 page report after its acceptance by delegates of over 100 nations. “It is high time the Indian government looks at implications of climate change impact, especially for the poor dependent on rain-fed agriculture.’’

Poorer nations that contribute less to heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions will be most vulnerable in a warming world. Himalayan glaciers less than 4 km long will disappear if average global temperatures rise by 3 degree Celsius, causing floods, avalanches and a decrease in water supply from glacier-fed rivers like the Ganga and Brahmaputra.

In February, the IPCC had said that by 2100, temperatures would likely increase by 1.8 to 4 degree Celsius, compared to the 0.7 degree Celsius rise in the past century.

Ahmedabad glaciologist Anil Kulkarni, who recently reported that glaciers below 5 sq km size receded by 29 per cent since 1962, said further melting would threaten many settlements along glaciers.

“The extent of melting at temperatures 3 degrees hotter will be far more significant,’’ said Kulkarni.

Per capita water availability in India could drop from 1,900 to 1,000 cubic metres by 2025. The report listed climate change impacts on global health: increase in malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea cases; more deaths, disease from heat waves, floods and droughts; and more cardio-respiratory diseases due to higher concentrations of ground level ozone. Decreasing freshwater availability in Asia could adversely affect over a billion people by the 2050s.