Kelly D. Alley: The Himalayas is a place of majesty where glaciers hug the world’s tallest mountains, snow melt and precipitation combine to form the water of many vibrant river systems, and millennia of cultural and linguistic diversity guide human life ways. The Silk Roads of the past navigated this complex region and laid pathways of trade and communication and philosophical and religious exchange between continents. Along with these human endeavors, the towering mountains of the Himalaya housed the great water storages of Asia. Over the last century these waters have doubled in their value for human civilizations. Today while the Himalayan rivers provide water to sustain millions of people, they also generate hydroelectric energy for populations across South, Southeast and Central Asia (Fig. 1).
Carved by the mighty power of the river flows, the steep mountain passages of the Himalayas steer water toward its long traverse across the plains societies. These rivers and their passages and pathways are the Silk Roads of today, linking the fundamental resources of water and energy to the vast needs and accomplishments of contemporary civilization.
Given its water wealth, all religions of the region have granted these mountains and rivers a revered position in cultural narratives and practices. The Himalayas are also a complicated land and river ecosystem. While their formidable geological barriers no longer prevent communication and interaction between neighbors, the region’s rivers still flow in the directions dictated by geology, and citizens are forced to share water according to the paths of the river flows. As water enters a new phase of global commodification, even more is at stake for these river pathways as citizens and nation-states of the region compete to meet basic needs and special interests.
Apart from this widespread interest in water wealth and river flows, the contemporary fascination for the Himalayas also relates to the growing discourse on climate change and to concerns about the extent of melting glaciers (China Dialogue 2010; Immerzeel
et al. 2010) (Fig. 2). The concentrations of water in the snowfields and glaciers of the Himalayas are a valuable storage and frontier resource, especially at a time when nation–states are vying for more water to meet growing demands and populations.
But what will happen to these storages if the planet warms? How fast will glaciers melt and how will this accelerated melting affect the region’s river flows? These questions are propelling a new wave of exploitation and policy on water management and climate adaptation in the region. The availability of water storage in the glaciers and the assumption that these glaciers might be melting faster are motivating a push for hydropower across the shared river basins.
The Himalayas and the Ganga-Brahmaputra- Meghna basin
Let us expand beyond the geological mountain system then and consider the Himalayas in the context of nested river basins and highlight the key human exploitations underway. Worldwide, glaciers provide the concentrated mass to supply melt water, stream flow and sediment to river valleys. In the Himalayas, the glacial system provides water and sediment to the intensively tilled valleys of the Indus, Amu Darya, Ganga (Ganges), Brahmaputra, Yellow, Yangtze, Sutlej, Mekong and Nu/Salween, and these river systems nourish food production and sustain the lives of millions. The Indian Himalayan ranges sit within two mega basins, the Ganga-Brahmaputra- Meghna basin and the Indus; both have raised great river valley civilizations through human advances in hydraulic engineering. If we take one mega basin in this paper, the Ganga–Brahmaputra–Meghna (Fig. 3), we can focus on the major water and energy interests at work today and model what is occurring across the river systems of the Himalayas.
Author: Kelly D. Alley Auburn University
Full Publication: Water Wealth and Energy in the Indian Himalayas
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on the mountain and climate related issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last two 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 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>>