Anamika Barua: The significance of Himalayan waters cannot be underestimated as it is the lifeline of a huge section of people which include people from countries like Nepal, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Tibet and China. In spite of such a huge dependency on Himalayan water unfortunately our understanding and knowledge regarding the impact of climate change and climate variability on the availability of water resources in the Himalayas is still at a very nascent stage.
Our database with regards to the Himalayas is still very poor, in terms of our understanding of global warming, the effect of warming on the climate patterns and finally how that is going to impact our natural ecosystem. Although this is true for both the western and eastern Himalaya, it is particularly true for the eastern Himalaya, which has received very little attention from the scientific community.
There has been some scientific studies conducted by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, but what information we have acquired through these studies is scattered data and trends, which cannot be taken as climate change evidence, but which is however, good, as a starting point analysis. However, with such data which are mainly based on climate model at a very high resolution (mainly regional climate models) provides a macro picture of the situation. Based on such a macro picture, adaptation strategies cannot be designed, as adaptation has to take place at the micro scale.
Hence, there is a huge amount of uncertainty and lack of knowledge regarding the climate variability and changes in the Himalayas.
Since we understand that the direct evidences of climate change is mostly determined by two conventional parameters – temperature and precipitation, the biggest challenge that the Himalaya (again Eastern Himalaya in particular) do not have sufficient data on climate parameters. For example, states like Arunachal Pradesh have merely 4 -5 hydromet stations, where as larger states like Arunachal Pradesh should have had at least around 500 hydromet stations.
Poor data base, serious data gaps, lack of scientific knowledge in the Himalayan region further increases the ‘uncertainty’ of future climate hazard.
The one issue which the scientific community is focusing on is called the impact led vulnerability assessment, where the future human exposure to climate hazards is determined through climate modeling studies and therefore it requires sufficient amount of reliable data to make a correct prediction about the future.
Although scientists are trying their best to improve the climate model so that this uncertainty regarding the climate change can be reduced and models can be downscaled in order to understand the impact of climate change on ecosystems at a micro level but this is definitely going to take some amount of time.
The apprehension today is that this prevailing ‘uncertainty’ about how the climate is going to behave may have a huge impact on the lives and the livelihood of the mountain community since for most of them; the Himalayan waters play a significant role in their day to day activity.
An urgent need to look for an alternative way to withstand the uncertain impact of climate change on water resources in particular and in turn on the livelihoods of the mountain communities is the need of the hour. This requires a shift in focus from, impact led, to vulnerability led, approach. Vulnerability led approach, examines the underlying socio-economic and institutional factors along with political and cultural factors, that determine how people respond to and cope with climate hazards.
The advantage that this approach offers is that it does not require detailed knowledge of how climate will vary over time (it just looks at the recent climate trends and extreme events) and so we do not require to wait until the science of climate “prediction” is more developed. While scientists are doing their part, the social science research on climate change study needs to be strengthened.
If you recall, my earlier write up was on ‘Building resilience among mountain communities’, I would reiterate that, while on the one hand we definitely need to strengthen our baseline data to precisely understand the changes in the climatic parameters in the Himalaya on the other hand, we need to stress on reducing the social vulnerability of the people in the Himalaya, because unfortunately, due to limited scientific data on climate parameters, the region does not have the luxury of waiting for the climate models to come up with the exact prediction of what kind of climate hazard the region is going to face in the future or when an extreme event is likely to occur.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya group.
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>