Glacier Change, Concentration, and Elevation Effects in the Karakoram Himalaya, Upper Indus Basin

Nov 15th, 2011 | By | Category: Adaptation, Advocacy, Development and Climate Change, Disasters and Climate Change, Ecosystem Functions, Energy, Environment, Flood, Glaciers, Government Policies, Hydropower, India, Information and Communication, Land, Lessons, News, Pakistan, Publication, Research, River, Urbanization

Map of Indus River Basin. Source: ICIMOD

MRD Journal: The Indus River Basin is characterized by downstream areas with the world’s largest irrigation system, providing food and energy security to more than 215 million people. The arid to semiarid basin is classified as a net water deficit area, but it also suffers from devastating floods.

Among the four basin countries, Pakistan is most dependent on water originating in high mountain catchments and is therefore most vulnerable to climatic, socioeconomic, and other global changes that are impacting both supply and demand. Given the consensus that there is a lack of systematic and consistent hydrological, meteorological, biophysical, and socioeconomic data to promote integrated water resources management (IWRM) at the basin scale, an international consultation of scientists, water managers, and development partners was organized in 2010.

These experts suggested developing a long-term Indus Basin Research Program aiming to build a robust, consolidated, and shared scientific knowledge base and thus improve understanding of the coupled human and ecological processes and their interrelationships in the basin.

This paper summarizes the rationale for initiating such a coordinated multidisciplinary research, knowledge management, and capacity development process aiming to support water management policies and programs from design stage to implementation, using the framework of integrated river basin management (IRBM).

The paper further stresses the need to implement IRBM using IWRM tools, recognizing that multiple factors and actors play critical roles in improving management of water and other natural resources to enhance overall water productivity. The steps needed to initiate and consolidate national and international institutional coordination, capacity development, and policy support to operationalize an IRBM process are spelled out.

A long-term research and capacity-building program for international organizations and scientists is recommended to foster transboundary cooperation and scientific collaboration.

Full Paper

The Indus Basin covers an area of about 1.10 million km2 distributed among Pakistan (63%), India (29%), and the People’s Republic of China and Afghanistan (8%) (Jain et al 2009). The main river originates at Lake Ngangla Rinco on the Tibetan Plateau in the People’s Republic of China and includes the flow of such tributaries as Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej in India; Swat, Chitral, Gilgit, Shigar, Shyok, Indus, Shingo, Astor, Jhelum, and Chenab in Pakistan; and Kabul River draining parts of catchments in Afghanistan.

The Indus Basin ranks among the largest basins of the world in terms of human dependence on irrigation water sourced from the river water. The river supports a population of about 215 million people (UNEP 2008), whose livelihoods rely directly or indirectly on agriculture and other vocations dependent on the river basin resources. Current average basin water availability is estimated to be 978 m3/person/y (Eriksson et al 2009), although the available countrywide data on per capita water availability ranged between 980–1300 (average 1100) m3/y.

High population growth in the downstream region and growing impacts of climatic variability upstream have produced increasing stress on the water supply from the Indus River Basin system. The lower part of the basin is now one of the most water-stressed areas in the world and is likely to become a water-scarce area (Briscoe and Qamar 2005). Further anomalous weather episodes such as the exceptional floods experienced in 2010 may increase the risk of flooding, droughts, or both in the area. In addition, climate change impacts are likely to be severe in the cryosphere and on the dependent water supply (Rees and Collins 2006; Immerzeel et al 2010).

In the Indus Basin, runoff is generated to a large extent by melting of snow and ice; nevertheless, the input due to rainfall varies depending on the season (Rees and Collins 2006; Immerzeel et al 2010). Disruption in the hydrological regime can have serious impacts on people’s lives in the basin, and better planning and implementation of adaptation measures thus require better information and knowledge. Policy- and decision-makers are increasingly stressing the need to improve the monitoring schemes of snow, ice, and water resources in the Hindu Kush–Himalaya region.

Although several initiatives are being implemented in the basin by national and international agencies, as well as academia, optimal coordination among researchers and adequate sharing of information are lacking. This paper summarizes the state-of-the-art with regard to knowledge of water resources and their dynamics in the basin and describes the process and agenda by which we hope this gap can be filled and we can move toward efficient integrated river basin management (IRBM).

Source and Full Paper>>


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>>

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