Communities

Farmers and Glaciers in Northwest China

Posted by on Jul 19, 2017 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts | 0 comments

Farmers and Glaciers in Northwest China

Spread the News:ShareExtending across the provinces of Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, and Gansu, the Heihe River Basin is the second largest inland river basin in China. With a core drainage area of 130,000 km2, it is home to 121 million people, and roughly 74 million of them practice farming or animal husbandry. In recent years, water demand has rapidly increased, while water availability has decreased due to glacier retreat and groundwater depletion. As a preliminary step to combat this looming crisis, a team of Chinese researchers set out to assess whether local farmers and herders were aware of glacial change and, if so, what their attitudes were toward state and local response strategies. The results, published last month in Theoretical and Applied Climatology, offer an intriguing look at the way local knowledge and state media intersect in rural China. Guofeng Zhu, a professor of geography and environmental science at Northwest Normal University and the paper’s lead author, spoke with GlacierHub in Mandarin about the stakes of this research for farmers in the region. “Alongside population growth and climate change in recent years, the pressures on the Heihe River Basin’s ecological system have become increasingly severe. Over 70 percent of the water used for agricultural irrigation comes from the river. The question of whether farmers can efficiently adapt is of grave importance to sustainable development in the region,” Zhu said. To carry out the study, the researchers conducted informal interviews in five villages. The villages were selected according to their location along the river, with upstream, midstream and downstream villages all represented. Individual villagers were selected to be interviewed so as to provide a diverse sample size across socio-economic, educational, and occupational values. The team asked open-ended questions and also distributed a multiple-choice survey. The researchers surveyed residents about their impressions of glacier change and used data from the China Meteorological Data Sharing Service Network to assess if residents’ perceptions were accurate. The glacial data itself paints an unsettling picture: from 1970 to 2012, the total glacier area in China’s northwest shrank by 10 to 14 percent. This, when coupled with population growth and reductions in cultivable land per capita, does not bode well for agriculture intensive areas in arid regions, such as the Hexi Corridor, which feeds nearly the entire population of Gansu Province. The farmers living in this fragile ecosystem are faced with annual droughts that in some years can exact a heavy toll on crop yields and animal abundance. Stemming primarily from changes to the permafrost active layer of the Qilian Mountains, the meltwater that accounts for 15 percent of total runoff of this life-sustaining river is in jeopardy. In an interview with GlacierHub, Dahe Qin, a glaciologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and an author of the paper, emphasized that the story of the Heihe River Basin resounds throughout the region. “The situation of Heihe is the same as that of the other river basins of the Hexi Corridor. Global warming, as well as degradation to glaciers and the cryosphere, is having a profound impact on the oasis regions, impacting the livelihoods of millions,” he said. The farmers and herders interviewed seem to be acutely aware of the situation. Of respondents, 82.1 percent indicated that glacier retreat was a fact. Unsurprisingly, those living upstream near the glaciers themselves were most cognizant of this fact, having observed firsthand their retreat. Their perceptions of glacier retreat were also the most highly correlated with scientific observations. Education level was another strong predictor of whether farmers were aware of glacier retreat. Gender, ethnicity and age had no impact on awareness of glacier retreat....

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2017 Equator Prize Awarded to Pakistan NGO

Posted by on Jul 18, 2017 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News | 0 comments

2017 Equator Prize Awarded to Pakistan NGO

Spread the News:ShareThis year, the 2017 Equator Prize recognizing local conservation and sustainability initiatives was awarded to the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO), marking the first time an organization from Pakistan has earned this biennial award. The Equator Prize, launched by the United Nation’s Equator Initiative in 2002, showcases community efforts to relieve poverty through conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity. BWCDO, a Pakistan NGO located in the Baltistan region of northern Pakistan, aims to protect snow leopards (and other wildlife) in ways that support local development by providing economic incentives to farmers, including insurance schemes and compensation, to combat human-snow leopard conflicts. Shafqat Hussain founded Project Snow Leopard in 1999 to conserve the snow leopard and wildlife population in the region by including local communities. Since 2006, Project Snow Leopard has been incorporated into BWCDO, with Hussain continuing to serve as an advisor to the organization, and currently operates in 17 villages in northern Pakistan. Additionally, BWCDO recently launched an education program in Pakistan to raise awareness and encourage local youth, including girls, to participate in conservation and development initiatives. One example of the NGO’s ongoing efforts is International Snow Leopard Day in Gilgit-Baltistan, which began in November 2015. BWCDO finances its operations by charging farmers annually a premium per head of livestock. However, most of the financing comes from selling snow leopard trekking expeditions through commercial tour operators. BWCDO and a village management committee promote these ecotourism activities in order to supplement farmers’ income, creating economic incentives for farmers not to harm the snow leopards. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), snow leopards are endangered. It is difficult to address and fund the protection of snow leopards when the herders in the area are poor and lack adequate resources to counter negative consequences of snow leopard activity. BWCDO’s goal is to address both of these obstacles. In northern Pakistan, local farmers make an average annual income per capita of $300. Therefore, an attack by a snow leopard on a farmer’s livestock threatens the entire livelihood of that farmer who already lives in extreme poverty. Occasionally, farmers have killed snow leopards after their herds were attacked, increasing the threat of the snow leopard’s extinction. The organization has further countered the economic losses caused by snow leopard attacks by assisting communities with predator-proof fencing and training on improved herding techniques. In addition to these initiatives, the abundance of glaciers in the region have helped to maintain rivers and wetlands essential to the wild antelope and sheep that snow leopards eat. However, global warming, deforestation, over hunting and logging in the area further threaten the snow leopards and jeopardize the livelihoods of the local people in northern Pakistan. If the degradation of environmental conditions continues unchecked in the region, an increase in flash floods, species extinction, pest attacks, and glacial melting is expected, placing the surrounding communities at greater risk for displacement, poverty, destruction of water bank infrastructures, and other problems. Increased glacial melting will also leave a third of the snow leopards’ habitats unsuitable and disrupt the migratory routes of other species. For example, if temperatures increase, then the tree line will move higher up the mountains, altering the plant species that can grow and making the habitat less appealing to the snow leopards’ prey. In an interview with Babar Khan, a Senior Conservation Manager at WWF- Pakistan, told GlacierHub that “in some places, particularly on shared habitats, [changing climatic conditions] has increased the negative interactions between human and the carnivores, which has ultimately led to retaliatory killing of top predators like snow leopards,...

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Photo Friday: Yak Rugby

Posted by on Jul 14, 2017 in All Posts, Art/Culture, Communities, Featured Posts, Images | 0 comments

Photo Friday: Yak Rugby

Spread the News:ShareKnown to many as the “roof of the world,” the Pamir Mountains are home to quite a few superlatives. But nothing in the Pamirs elicits quite as deep a gasp as the pastime of a group of ethnic Tajiks living in China’s Taxkorgan Autonomous County, near China’s borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Buzkashi, a popular game among many Central Asian communities, is a sport in which riders grapple on horseback over an inflated goat carcass. In attempting to wrest the goat away from other competitors, riders often fall into large scrums, contorting their bodies while trying to keep their horses upright. Many fall off their horses, and deaths are not uncommon. Buzkashi may in fact be the most dangerous game in the world. In Taxkorgan, a region dominated by curtains of clouds, rocks, glacier ice, and snow, it is played atop yaks one day each year.           Spread the...

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Climate, Economy, Family: Migration in the Bolivian Andes

Posted by on Jun 21, 2017 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts | 1 comment

Climate, Economy, Family: Migration in the Bolivian Andes

Spread the News:ShareHigh in the Bolivian Andes, the pace of glacial retreat is accelerating, which may significantly decrease the amount of glacial meltwater available to streams and aquifers critical to farming communities in the region’s river basins. In addition to the long-term threat posed by glacial retreat, these communities are also threatened by economic uncertainty and climatic variability. As a response to livelihood insecurity, many Bolivian farmers choose to migrate, temporarily or permanently, to nearby urban centers. But how exactly are migration decisions understood within these migrant households? In a recent chapter in Global Migration Issues, Regine Brandt and her team interview farmers in two Andean valleys to understand the factors contributing to migration decisions. The research demonstrates that migration has increased in importance as a livelihood strategy and that rural Bolivians consider environmental factors, social ties and economic needs together when making these decisions. To obtain these findings, the team conducted research in the municipality of Palca, a high-altitude rural area where 80 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. They asked members of migrant farming households in two separate glacier-fed river basins to describe any factors that had influenced temporary or permanent migration decisions. In analyzing their data, the researchers looked to the frequency with which each causal factor was mentioned in each interview. If, for example, climate change was mentioned several times as a factor for a household, but social conflict was only mentioned once, climate change was understood to be of greater importance to that household in making their decision. According to Raoul Kaenzig, one of the article’s co-authors, the impact of glacial retreat on farmers in the Andean highlands is still poorly documented. In the 1980s, Bolivia underwent a severe drought and has since experienced a rise in the frequency of extreme weather events, as well as a shift in rainfall patterns. In response, some peasants changed their agricultural practices, while others began sending individual family members to urban areas. Internal migrants rarely travel beyond their home region and maintain connections to their rural origins, often spending only part of the year in nearby cities, according to the study. In Bolivia, migration is seen as a means of contributing to the greater household economy— an individual may migrate to find work but with the intention of helping to support the family back home. In an interview with GlacierHub, Corinne Valdivia, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri, explained how the threats posed to farmers in this and surrounding regions have increased in recent years. “The production risks have increased in the region of the North and Central Altiplano of Bolivia, as well as in Southern Peru, with longer periods without rainfall, and short and intense rains,” she said. “Pests and diseases have also increased. These threaten the livelihoods of families who are producing for their consumption and for the market. Migration is a strategy to address this, but in turn means that less labor is available to tackle the stresses posed by the changing climate.” For 60 percent of the regional migrants interviewed in the study, better educational opportunities were the primary driver of their migration decision. Additionally, nearly every respondent pointed to an increasingly unpredictable climate as a factor in their migration. Individuals living near the Illimani glacier, which has become a symbol of climate change in Bolivia, were significantly more likely to emphasize climatic variability, glacier retreat and water problems as factors in their migration than those living near a less iconic symbol of glacial melting, Mururata. The authors attribute this difference to a combination of observable environmental change and discourse. Unsurprisingly, off-farm...

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Elderly Wisdom and Youth Action in Ladakh

Posted by on Apr 26, 2017 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts | 0 comments

Elderly Wisdom and Youth Action in Ladakh

Spread the News:SharePeople of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent live in one of the highest locations in the world, the Ladakh region of northwestern India. Ladakh extends over 45,000 square miles and includes the Ladakh mountain range, which is part of the glaciated Karakoram Range of south-central Asia. Many in the Ladakh region are Buddhist and believe in good moral conduct such as generosity, righteousness and meditation. This goodwill extends to the glaciers, which they respect and value. The Global Workshop, a project that allows students to create original work that thinks critically about science and development, recently created a video in which young people from Ladakh interview their elders about climate change and its impacts on the glaciers. In the video, the grandparents remember a time during the mid-20th century when streams were full, glaciers were more robust, and snowfall was heavy. Now, farms in the agricultural areas are suffering because of a decrease in glacier meltwater for crop production. “Himalayan Elders on Climate Change” (Source: The Global Workshop/YouTube). In a paper titled “Glaciers and Society,” Karine Gagné, a postdoctoral associate of cultural anthropology at Yale University, and her colleagues, discuss some of the approaches used by locals to counter the impacts of receding glaciers. Gagné spent a fair amount of time working in Ladakh observing everyday life and climatic changes. She told GlacierHub that in certain communities in the region, people depend on specific glaciers, have named them accordingly, and undertake specific actions to protect them. In the paper, Gagné et al. discuss Chewang Norphel, a retired civil engineer in Ladakh who created artificial glaciers to harvest snowmelt and rainwater. Norphel’s project brought attention to the plight of farmers who use meltwater for agriculture. It has since been replicated by the younger generation.   Still, receding glaciers have translated into water scarcity in some Ladakhi villages. Water is a pressing issue because villagers rely on snowfall in the spring to sow their crops. Elders have prayed to mountain deities that their glaciers will provide water in the spring.  Gagné explained that glaciers are “embedded in the local culture and religious views.” People believe, for example, that there is a guardian deity that inhabits the surrounding glaciers and that one’s actions can reflect in the condition of the natural environment. If one behaves unethically, it could lead to less meltwater than is necessary for growing crops that year. Using the information provided by their elders, the youth interviewers from The Global Workshop are documenting the changes in their environment and their elder’s responses. Their interviews will help to fill gaps in environmental data extending to the 1950s in an effort to better understand changes in the local water systems and health of the glaciers.  Many of the youth attend schools like the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) environmental school. Founded by education reformist and engineer Sonam Wangchuk, SECMOL works on renewable energy and climate change preparedness with the youth from Ladakh. The campus is a student-run, solar-powered eco-village, where students live among staff and volunteers. The Global Workshop’s video shows the importance of passing down generational knowledge, demonstrating how helpful it can be for youth involvement, community building, and environmental data collection. If you are still curious about Ladakh, see GlacierHub’s recent piece on climate change adaptation to learn more about other efforts in the region.   Spread the...

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The Messy Encounter of Volcanoes and Glaciers

Posted by on Mar 30, 2017 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, News | 0 comments

The Messy Encounter of Volcanoes and Glaciers

Spread the News:ShareLahars, or mudflows from the eruptions of glacier-covered volcanoes, are a threat that the communities of Skagit Valley in northwest Washington live with. These destructive mudflows can be triggered during volcanic eruptions when hot water and debris rush downslope from the volcano and mix with glacial water. A recent study from the Journal of Applied Volcanology by Corwin et al., identifies ways to improve hazard management and community preparedness in Washington’s Skagit Valley, home to Mount Baker, the second most glaciated volcano in the Cascade Range, and Glacier Peak, the second most explosive. The highly populated communities within Skagit Valley remain especially at risk for dangerous mudflows since both Mount Baker and Glacier Peak are considered active lahar hazard zones. All five of Washington’s Cascade Range volcanoes are active. These volcanoes are especially dangerous because in addition to flowing molten lava and spewed ash that can destroy everything downhill, volcanoes with snow and ice at their peaks can create additional perils. Heat from the eruption can melt the snow or ice that has accumulated, create mud, and pour down narrow mountain valleys. This mixture of water and rock fragments that flows downslope of a volcano into a river valley has dangerous repercussions for communities like those in the Skagit Valley. While lahars can be visually stunning when the volcanic material interacts with glaciers —  see the remarkable images in GlacierHub’s recent article on these events in the Kamchatka Peninsula in Far East Russia — lahars can cause extensive damage to the built environment as boulders destroy structures and mud buries entire communities. Moving lahars appear as a roiling slurry of wet concrete and can grow in volume as they incorporate everything in their path —  rocks, soil, vegetation, and even buildings and bridges. Corwin et al. determined that a crucial disaster risk management strategy for lahar events is “whole community” training programs, which emphasize household preparedness and help disaster responders better perform their duties. Since lahars can cause widespread damage to the surrounding environment, it is important for community members to understand how to address the hazard before it occurs. The focus of the research was on the ascription of responsibility on preparedness and the influence of professional participation in hazard management on household preparedness and risk perception. Disaster response professionals know  the best household preparedness measures, yet they sometimes fail to implement these measures in their own households. The study found that this may be a result of professional disaster responders being out in the field during a disaster, instead of in their homes. Even more surprising, response professionals failed to interpret local volcanic hazard maps more accurately than laypeople. There could be several reasons for this that need to be explored in a subsequent study, but as Kimberley Corwin, a geoscientist and the leading author of the study,  explains, it could be because “people in both groups drew on outside information such as what they remembered or learned about the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.” When asked by GlacierHub about her familiarity with lahars, Corwin described her closest experience with an active volcano in Chile’s March 2015 Villarrica volcano eruption. Corwin was in Pucón, Chile, for a volcanology course with Boise State University. The group of academics arrived two weeks after the main fire fountain event, which triggered a lahar. There was still active ash venting in the area. “While we were there, the alert levels in the town were elevated and a 5-kilometer exclusion zone was set up around the vent,” Corwin explained. “It offered a great opportunity to observe the reactions of locals, tourists, and officials.” Corwin’s further...

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