China must develop a more consensual approach to the Himalayas…

(MENAFN- Colombo Gazette)

During a seminar, the Democratic Forum (TDF) discussed the politicization of water and discussed the need for China to take its responsibilities to develop a more consensual approach to water in the Himalayan region.

“China refuses to participate in multilateral forums regarding the use of border waters for transport; instead, it negotiates through bilateral economic diplomacy, such as through the BRI, where it holds the whip hand,” said TDF Chairman Barry Gardiner.

The clash of natural and geopolitical issues, the politicization of water and China’s obligation to develop a more consensual approach to water in the Himalayas were among the points discussed by participants during a seminar organized on June 22 by the London-based non-profit organization The Democracy Forum (TDF), titled “Impending Water Crisis in the Himalayas: Causes and Effects”.

In his opening comments, Gardiner explained how the webinar brought together complex natural phenomena such as climate change and its effects on freshwater, and the most complex geopolitical issues, such as the strained relationship between those who depend from the Hindu Kush Himalayas (including Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, India and Nepal).
These mountain ranges are known as the third pole because they contain the most snow and ice in the world outside of the north and south poles, and Gardiner pointed out how large numbers of glaciers feed the many river systems. of the region, as well as its people.

It emphasizes both demand and supply of water: increased use through increasing urbanization, rising industrial production, intensive dam construction, etc., compounded, on the supply side , by the threat of climate change.

Given that the climate is increasing faster at higher altitudes, even meeting the Paris target of holding at 1.5 degrees as the global average could still see a 2.1 degree rise in the HKH, a scenario that would see a drastic melting glaciers, which would have a significant impact on food. and energy production, and on wildlife.

A third of people living in HKH and dependent on its resources already live below the poverty line, Gardiner said, and half face malnutrition – so the threat to agricultural production becomes a political issue.

The transboundary nature of the region’s water resources, Gardiner added, creates the potential for serious political and security impacts, and riparian countries should seek opportunities for cooperation.

Because China controls the Tibetan Plateau, it controls the headwaters of transboundary rivers that stretch through the four regions of Himalayan Asia. Yet its own needs are enormous, with a limited water supply and gargantuan demand. China’s upstream position gives it disproportionate power, and this hydrological asymmetry is coupled with geopolitical asymmetry.
India’s existential fear is that China will one day divert the Brahmaputra River to the north, while China also views India’s intentions through a security lens, seeing India as a threat. Gardiner questioned whether the Indus Water Treaty is comprehensive enough or malleable enough to deal with new challenges such as climate change in Indus water levels.
Dr. Paromita Ghosh, a scientist at the GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment, addressed the discussion on the water crisis in the Himalayas, its causes and effects from an ecological and socio-economic perspective.

She addressed issues such as deforestation, climate change, melting and retreating glaciers, land use change, landscape alterations through the construction of roads, dams and hydroelectric projects and the loss of religious and cultural values ​​regarding water, all of which have led to the water crisis in the Himalayas. .

Water scarcity leads to loss of livelihoods in agriculture, tourism and other water-related activities, Dr Ghosh explained, and also leads to food insecurity, while scarcity drinking water leads to waterborne diseases and other health threats.
Water deficit also causes human conflict, not only between nations and states, but at the local and regional level, and is one of the main factors for emigration from the hills. There is a need to create curricula in simple language, and local leaders are needed who have knowledge of the hydrological cycle in their area and are able to motivate people towards participatory water conservation and management. the Himalayas.

Social sciences, economics and ecology must be combined with hydrology and hydrogeology, Dr Ghosh concluded, to prevent the impending water crisis in the Himalayas.
Dr. Anil Kulkarni, Emeritus Scientist at the Divecha Center for Climate Change, Indian Institute of Science, examined the fate of the Himalayan cryosphere under a hot climate and how this will affect water security in the subcontinent.

He addressed the issues of temperature change, less rain and snowfall, the vulnerability of mountain streams drying up, the problem of glaciers rapidly losing mass – especially in the Karakoram region, where there is little water from the monsoons – and how investments are needed to help communities, especially agricultural ones, affected by melting glaciers.
Dr. Kulkarni also pointed to the great inequity of the Indus Water Treaty, which provides more than 70% of glacial water to Pakistan and less than 30% to India. With a differential loss of mass balance – the mass loss of the eastern river is higher than that of the west – this may influence water partitioning.

Is the water crisis in the Himalayas ‘natural’ or the result of bad science, bad development and bad management? wondered Dipak Gyawali, an academician at the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and former Minister of Water Resources of Nepal.
He looked at the drivers of the problem, the most important of which is verticality, since people cannot transport water from great heights and the cost of pumping it is prohibitive. He also looked at six different types and qualities of Himalayan water, saying that for each of these “problems” there isn’t even an agreed definition of what they are or who created them. not to mention solutions.

Gyawali also addressed the concerns of very different styles of social organization that view water differently: for example, as private goods to be dealt with by the market and those with money; public goods, which must be regulated by municipalities, government departments, etc. ; or pool commons.

The Himalayan waters will only find salvation, Gyawali said, when different styles of organizing (bureaucratic hierarchy, market individualism and activist egalitarianism) all find a place at the democratic political table and see their voices not only heard but also heard. But, he concluded, we are very far from this stage.

Dr. Aditi Mukherji, Senior Researcher, International Water Management Institute (New Delhi), focused on some of the latest findings from the IPCC and the Hindu Kush Himalayan Climate Change Impact Assessment In the region.
Climate change is man-made, not natural, she insisted, and human influence has warmed the climate at a rate not seen in at least 2,000 years. We therefore live in a world of climate change – this is not a future phenomenon.

Extreme temperatures are increasing in almost all regions, as are heavy rainfall, and this is having an impact around the world. So what do global changes mean for the Himalayas? she asked. HKH will warm more relative to the global average and will warm faster at higher elevation. Even 1.5 degrees is too hot for the Himalayas, because at this temperature glaciers will lose 36% in volume by 2100.

On what these changes mean for the region’s water resources, Dr Mukherji spoke on the issue of climate justice – those who have contributed the least to global warming, with the lowest carbon footprints, are most affected. and disproportionately.

So, although we need infrastructure, we need to rely less on hydroelectricity and more on solar. The IPPC reports indicate that this must be a decade of mitigation, adaptation and embracing just transitions. Dr. Mukherji concluded with the following warning: “Every warming matters, every year matters and every choice matters.”

For Dhondup Wangmo, a researcher at the office of environment and development at the Tibet Policy Institute, the key question was the third pole and why climate change matters there.

Encompassing 46,000 glaciers that play a crucial role in maintaining Asian atmospheric circulation, the Tibetan Plateau is vital. This circulation has been kept intact by the natural melting of snow and ice and the moderate rainfall and temperature of the climate that generate the rivers flowing out of the Tibetan Plateau.

The rivers flowing from the Tibetan Plateau have also maintained the water and economic security of the lower riparian countries. The disruption and decline of glaciers, snow and ice on the Tibetan Plateau will affect the water security of all affected counties. Therefore, climate change on the Tibetan Plateau is a global concern, not just in Tibet.

Wangmo agreed with some previous speakers that climate change was caused by human activities, and she talked about the impact of the Chinese invasion of Tibet, such as excessive development and mining.

On the question of how to save the third pole, Wangmo said importance should be given to ecological processes vital to maintaining the mountain system. Since China is the supreme power of the rivers flowing downstream, all relevant countries should be integrated with China in tackling the water crisis, and China should be pressured to negotiate with them.

In the name of “development”, the continuous construction of dams in China has ignored human rights, social and environmental impacts, and Wangmo stressed that hydropower projects should only be built with the consensus of local people, while the larger issue should be tackled on a global scale. level.

Charles Iceland, Global Director of Water (Acting) at the World Resources Institute, offered an overview and broader perspective on water security and water-related risks around the world. He addressed the issue of chronic risk – using too much water compared to what we naturally have from rainfall – and episodic risk, such as flooding.

Iceland also spoke about the issues of forced migration or displacement caused by water shortages, conflicts over water scarcity, and how droughts and floods can contribute to soaring water prices. food, food insecurity and related disorders. (ANI)

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