ICIMOD Conference Focuses on Climate Change in Himalayas

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) held a conference, “Climate and Environmental Change Impacts in Indus Basin Waters,”in Kathmandu in February. At this conference, scientists shared the common idea that a lack of data on the Himalayas is impeding their knowledge of the region and how climate change might affect it— and how that, in turn, could affect the region’s many millions of people.

Participants in Indus Basin Conference, Kathmandu 2016 (source: ICIMOD)
Participants in Indus basin conference, Kathmandu 2016 (source: ICIMOD)

Over 80 people attended the conference, which was also supported by  the World Bank, and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).  It was focused on improving understanding of research on climate change’s effects in the Indus basin. The importance of this basin was underscored by Dr Eklabya Sharma, Director, Programme Operations at ICIMOD, who told the conference, “The Indus River supports a population of about 215 million inhabitants of Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan whose livelihoods are directly or indirectly dependent on it.” He indicated that cooperation among these nation was a necessary step for the development of research to understand climate change impacts in this basin.

The conference’s opening speech was delivered by Hafeez-ur-Rehman, the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan,  a large autonomous region in northern Pakistan . “The seasonal shift in snowfall to late spring and the subsequent heat waves lasting two to three days have caused rapid melting of snow — preventing glacier formation — flash floods, early avalanches, and loss of life and property,” Rehman said, according to a statement. James Clarke, the director of Communications and Marketing of IWMI, followed with a speech to welcome journalists from all four Indus basin countries, signaling the importance of the media and of outreach to civil society. 

According to Tobias Bolch, a glaciologist from the University of Zurich, over 80 percent of glaciers in the Himalayas haven’t been researched. “The bulk of the glaciers in Himalayas are yet to be studied in detail,” Bolch said, according to a report on SciDev.net. There are still many problems with scientific assessments and appropriate policy action because of significant uncertainties on Himalayan glacier changes. Scientific studies and data are currently inadequate for analysis of the status and trends of glaciers in the Himalayas. This in turn impedes the development of future predictions about the region, and obstructs effective action to adapt to anticipated changes there.

Journalists and researchers at a joint panel, Indus basin conference (source: Farah Ahmed/Tiwtter)
Journalists and researchers at a joint panel, Indus basin conference (source: Farah Ahmed/Twitter)

The conference took some concrete steps to address this need for regional coordination of research.  It suggested the importance of strengthening the Upper Indus Basin Network, a group which promotes coordination among organizations in the region and the involvement of policy holders and other stakeholders in defining research programs. This Upper Indus Basin Network includes ICIMOD as well as other organizations, including Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), the branch of the World Wildlife Fund in Gilgit Baltistan, and FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance, which is part of the Aga Khan Development Network. These organizations have already collaborated on other issues, including water resources and biodiversity protection. They have issued policy briefs which discuss concrete forms of management and governance for more effective water use under conditions of climate change.

The conference lent provided strong support to this network at a critical moment, when collaboration is an urgent  need. As Shakil Romshoo, of Kashmir University, told SciDev.Net, a lack of data and modeling impede studying glaciers and climate change. “Such constraints do not allow us to make scientific estimates as to how the future climate change will affect the water resources of Indus basin,” he said. The conference may well help the different parties in the region work together to overcome these constraints.

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