Tag Archives: Himalayas

Just few good photos

Today’s post is going to be just few good photos …

Here is a wonderful banyan tree with a massive canopy. This is found at a place called Shukrataal in Uttar Pradesh.

So after Shukrataal, I go straight to Ratnagiri in Maharashtra. Such a cute yawn, I just could not resist capturing it.

Mani myau … a cat jaw this

Again I go north, to be precise, to the north-east. This is a beautiful scene from the banks of Noahdihing river in Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh.

Noahdihing river in Lohit district

That brings me to central India. This is a wonderful place, Narmada river cutting across mighty volcanic rock formations to showcase a veritable design, an absolute delight to our eyes. Unfortunately this place is submerged under waters of the Omkareshar dam downstream.

Dharaji, the wonderful place along the Narmda river

And the last one for today. A gem from the hypnotic Himalayas – the Bhagirathi I II & III peaks, who form the headwaters for the Gomukh glacier and then the holy Ganges.

Bhagirathi peaks @ Gomukh

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Are we going to wait till nature says — ‘I told you so’ !!!

Amid clamour for development, there are warnings for even the blind persons to see and deaf to hear. But is the government hell bent on pursuing a “wrong model of development”?


Garhwal Himalayas witnessed widespread destruction in June 2013 deluge (Photo: www.uttarakhandpanorama.com)

Suddenly all the headlines of the stories I had done and read cautioning about a looming earthquake to hit the Valley flashed right in front of my eyes. What we had dreaded for years but only gave thought on Earthquake Safety Days and anniversary of the great earthquake of 1934 was unfolding right in front of us now.”

Bhrikuti Rai, my journalist friend from Nepal wrote this on April 25 in the middle of the night as she kept vigil with her brother in wake of the 7.8 magnitude disastrous earthquake that had hit the Himalayan Kingdom. “This was the big earthquake we had all dreaded for years,” she had written in her blog.

It was a déjà vu moment for me. In June 2014 – a year after the devastating 2013 cloudburst followed by flash floods and landslides in Uttarakhand – I had exactly these thoughts swell up in my mind as I drove up the winding road parallel to the Bhagirathi. Travelling towards Gangotri, as I passed the site of the now-stopped Lohari Nagpala hydro-power project, the rubble that still lay strewn along the approach road to the project site still reminded of the last year’s fury. The scratched mountain faces as portions were swallowed by flash floods made for a horrible spectacle in the otherwise scenic Bhairo Ghati, one of the worst affected areas around Harsil, near Gangotri, as the vehicle made a steady climb up on the precariously narrow newly built road.

As if, the nature was mocking at every passing human being: “I told you so.” It was during June 15-17, 2013 when Uttarakhand, especially the Kedarnath region witnessed massive flash floods and landslides due to cloudburst leading to large-scale devastation downstream killing more than 5,000 people, destructing properties worth crores of rupees and above all, altering the topography of the region in a large scale.

Much water has flown down the Bhagirathi and the other tributaries of the Ganga. Post Nepal earthquake, the debate of having hydro-power projects in the seismically sensitive Himalayas is being re-ignited, mostly by environmentalists, who want the authorities to take cognizance of the empirical evidence available to prevent similar disasters even as the powers that be choose to ignore the warnings and pursue pro-hydro-power companies’ policies.

The free-flowing rapids of the Himalayan rivers bring down with them muck, debris and varied flora along with it. The existing series of hydro-power projects have already reduced the carrying capacity of the rivers and anthropogenic activities in and around the reservoirs only add to the potential of the possible disaster. It is nobody’s guess as to why should the government pay heed to the numerous studies and committees that have time and again suggested how more hydro-power projects can be suicidal for the ecologically fragile Himalayas, how these are destructing the aviral (continuous) flow of the rivers.

April and May’s Nepal earthquakes have only added to the list of don’ts for the hill state. As per a report published by The Third Pole, the 110 MW Rasuwagadhi Hydropower project on the Nepal-China border was destroyed by the Nepal quake prompting China to evacuate more than 200 of its construction workers stranded at the site. The incident had prompted fresh doubts and debates about the viability of hydro-power projects in the seismic zones.

The Expert Body (EB) lead by senior ecologist and director of the People’s Science Institute, Dehra Doon, constituted in October 2013 in wake of the June devastation earlier in that year, had in its report ‘Assessment of environmental degradation and impact of hydroelectric projects’ submitted in April 2014 had clearly said the existing and the under construction hydro-power projects had indeed increased the proportion of the disaster.


Devastation like these would be common if we fail to respect nature (Photo: www.uttarakhandpanorama.com)

The Centre has changed its stand much often on the issue of allowing hydropower projects in the Himalayan belt. The Uttarakhand government too has been a partner in crime, if not for anything else, for a simple reason of not having a clear policy on the issue. It is high time the state took a call and made public its stand about what kind of development model it wishes to pursue?

The state would do good to recall another Himalayan disaster that had unfolded in the Kashmir valley in September 2014. Excessive rainfall over a week had led to one of the worst floods of the century killing more than 150 people and causing huge losses to property and goods as large areas remained inundated for more than one month. Even though the government authorities, especially the India Meteorological Department, were reluctant to term it as an impact of climate change, the fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already talked of changes in precipitation in high altitudes, which it warned is set to increase.

Intensified hydrological cycle means fewer rainy days but those with more intense rainfall. Same is applicable for Uttarakhand. There are warnings for even the blind persons to see and deaf to hear, but the government seems to be hell bent on pursuing a wrong model of development.

So, do the hills which reverberated with the pioneering Chipko Andolan few decades ago, want to continue on the self-destructing path of ‘power’ oriented development model as pursued by conventional logic leading to pro-Corporate policies? Or, does the relatively younger state wants to vote for an ecologically sustainable model, which may not bring in the green notes for the cash-strapped economy (tourism and pilgrimage have suffered because of these natural disasters) but will help live up to its moniker of Devbhoomi.

This article first appeared on September 1, 2015 on www.uttarakhandpanorama.com and it can be read here

The Himalayan waters: complex challenges and regional solutions

Tibetan_part_of_the_Koshi_basin_Santosh_Nepal
Tibetan Part of the Koshi Basin (Pic by Santosh Nepal)

 

 

Santosh Nepal and Arun Bhakta Shrestha, ICIMOD

It is difficult to think of a resource more essential to the well being of people and their economies than water, yet managing water resources is a complex and challenging task. The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region heavily depends on water resources for irrigation, food, hydropower, sanitation, and industry, as well as for the functioning of many important ecosystem services. Water thus directly contributes to the national GDP and to livelihoods and income generation at the local level. Although water is the foundation of sustainable development, water management in the HKH region remains fragmented and uncoordinated, and does not take relevant regional issues into account.

Many big rivers like the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra originate from the snow and glacier covered high mountains, and have abundant seasonal and annual water supply. Despite this, mountain people living on the ridges and hill slopes have limited access to water for drinking and agriculture. Throughout the mountain region, springs are reported to be drying, and mountain agriculture has suffered from drought. The shortage of water has placed an increasing burden on mountain communities, particularly on women. Furthermore, the communities face loss of property and lives due to water-induced natural hazards. Climate change has exacerbated the situation by creating uncertainty about the future water availability and water security. Understanding the characteristics of water is crucial for sustainable water management. This article attempts to highlight some of the complexities and challenges of water management in the HKH region and discusses a possible way out for sustainable management.

Water and energy

Energy is one of the most important pillars of sustainable development. In the HKH region, hydropower is one of the most promising environmentally friendly sources of energy. With a potential estimated to be 500,000 MW, the region has abundant opportunities for hydropower development. Energy security can open up opportunities for development and employment and contribute to the national GDP. Moreover, innovative solutions such as electric transportation and a clean source of domestic and industrial energy supply would significantly improve the deteriorating environmental condition of the region. However, many countries in the region have been able to tap only a small fraction of their available potential. Out of the 42,000 MW potential reported in Nepal, only about 2% is harnessed so far, whereas Pakistan has harnessed 11% of its total potential. Still, people in both these countries face many hours of scheduled power cuts.

Water and the environment

Water plays a vital role in maintaining different ecosystem services in riparian areas. Freshwater ecosystems in particular largely depend on the specific flow regime of rivers passing through them. However, due to intervention of infrastructure development, the flow regime changes in the downstream areas, where, in many cases, communities depend on water resources for livelihoods such as fishing. A major concern is how to make sure that a certain minimum flow is maintained so as to sustain freshwater supply and support dependent ecosystems. There is very weak monitoring of the minimum flow requirement in the region.

Water for food

Water and food share a strong nexus, both being essential ingredients for human survival and development. Agriculture is a major contributor to the GDP of countries in the HKH. In Nepal, it contributes to 35% of the national GDP. The Indus River system is a source of irrigation for about 144,900 hectares of land, whereas the Ganges basin provides irrigation for 156,300 hectares of agricultural land. Access to water resources for food production and their sustainable management is a concern from the local to national level. Amid rapid environmental and socioeconomic changes, the growing population will require more water and food, and equitable access to vital resources has become a major question. Sustainable solutions to these problems require efficient use of water resources for agricultural use in which technological innovation plays a vital role.

Water and disaster

Due to its physical setting, the HKH region is prone to various water-induced hazards (e.g., landslides, floods, glacial lake outburst floods, and droughts). Every year, during the monsoon season, the floods bring havoc to the mountains and the plains downstream. These floods are often transboundary. Globally, 10% of all floods are transboundary, and they cause over 30% of all flood casualties and account for close to 60% of all those displaced by floods. The social and economic setting of the region makes its people more vulnerable to natural hazards. Lack of supportive policy and governance mechanisms at the local, national and regional levels, and the lack of carefully planned structural and non-structural measures of mitigation lead to increased vulnerability.

Regional cooperation in sustainable development of water resources

The examples above show that water has both beneficial and adverse traits, its management is complex, and often a regional approach is necessary. The hydropower potentials are primarily concentrated in the mountain regions have but the major users of the energy are the urban areas and industries in the plains. Strong technical and political barriers separate those regions, which is one of the major reasons of slow progress in hydropower development. However, recent trends have shown some positive change. In the recent 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu, the SAARC member countries signed a Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation. This agreement has opened up the energy market in South Asia, and thereby possibilities for cooperation in the energy sector. However, it remains to be seen to what extent the collaboration would play a role in energy security.

There are strong indications the HKH region is going to be warmer in the coming years. Precipitation is likely to increase in different places and have more inter-annual and intra-annual variability. What does the change in temperature and precipitation mean to water availability in the HKH region? What complexities do the cryosphere dynamics add to this equation? Should these changes be of concern to water resources development in the region? These questions cannot be answered without concerted efforts of the regional countries.

The regional nature of the natural hazards requires a regional approach to the solution. Effective flood management requires sharing data and information between the upstream and downstream areas, not only within the country, but also at the transboundary level. Technological innovations based on satellite information, in combination with ground-based data, can be transformed into information that can prove vital in saving lives and properties. For example, the Koshi Flood Outlook (www.icimod.org/?q=14181) being developed by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and its national partners in Nepal and India has high potential for saving lives and properties in the basin. Such efforts should be promoted widely in the region. During the Jure landslide event of August 2014 in Nepal, during which the Sun Koshi River was blocked for several days, a great concern emerged from the Indian side regarding the status of the landslide and the likelihood of an outburst flood. The flood outlook was helpful in providing important information. This example shows that disaster risk reduction could be an entry point for immediate regional cooperation. This will create trust, which can be a basis for future cooperation for maximizing benefits such as energy trade. Countries of the HKH region should recognize the potential of water resources for sustainable development. These resources can help reduce poverty, improve livelihoods, conserve ecosystems and contribute to flood and drought management in the region. This will not only help us face the present crisis, but also open up avenues to deal with issues of future water availability amid climate and socioeconomic changes. Regional cooperation should be based on the three pillars of sustainability: economic vitality, environmental integrity and social equity, both at the national and local level.

This is a special feature article prepared by ICIMOD to mark the World Water day 2015 today, March 22, 2015

(Nepal (santosh.nepal@icimod.org) is Water Resource Specialist and Shrestha (arun.shrestha@icimod.org) is Programme Manager for the River Basins and Cryosphere and Atmosphere Regional Programmes at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

South Asia slow to act on water threats

The Ganges river delta in Bangladesh and India Image NASA World Wind via Wikimedia Commons

Satellite image of the vast Ganges river delta in Bangladesh and India
Image: NASA World Wind via Wikimedia Commons

A study of the five countries sharing and relying on the Indian sub-continent’s great rivers shows that Bangladesh is the only one that is taking climate change seriously

Even before this year’s delayed and inadequate monsoon recently brought some relief to the Indian sub-continent, researchers discovered widespread concern by local experts that their governments are mismanaging the water supplies on which a billion people depend for survival, and giving insufficient attention to climate change.

A new report, Attitudes to Water in South Asia, explores domestic water management and transboundary water issues in five countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. It focuses on two river systems, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and the Indus-Kabul basins, which are vital to the lives of a vast population.

Chatham House – the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs − worked on the report with India’s Observer Research Foundation, and similar partner organisations in the other four countries. Their findings are based on evidence from almost 500 interviews conducted in the five countries in 2013 with a range of water experts, government officials, policy-makers and decision-makers from NGOs and the private sector.

Observing that water is “highly politicised in the region, with strong links to food security and the livelihoods of the large proportion of the population dependent on agriculture”, the report underscores the relation between the domestic mismanagement of water in each country and the failure to address transboundary water relations.

Few agreements

“In spite of the shared river system and the interdependencies, South Asian governments have signed few bilateral water agreements and no regional ones,” the report says. “Those transboundary water treaties that do exist face criticism on a number of grounds: for time periods too short to too long; and for their lack of provision for environmental factors or new challenges, such as climate change.”.

Yet the ability of countries in South Asia to deal with the possible effects of climate change will be in part determined by their ability to manage water, and also how they deal with weather events such as floods and droughts.

“The majority . . .  expressed concern that their governments
were giving the issue of climate change insufficient attention”

While many respondents across the region felt that other immediate concerns were more pressing, the majority of those interviewed expressed concern that their governments were giving the issue of climate change insufficient attention,” said Gareth Price, a senior research fellow at Chatham House and lead author of the report.

For instance, in Afghanistan, even where respondents had some knowledge of the body responsible for setting government-wide policy on climate change, they were equally certain that the amount of practical action on ground was virtually zero.

In Bangladesh, where most respondents were acutely aware of climate change and its possible effects, many said their government was doing better. There was a general consensus that ministers had made climate change a priority by setting aside funds for adaptation and mitigation.

However, Afghani and Bangladeshi respondents noted the lack of availability of important policy documents − currently available only in English − in local languages..

And Indian respondents felt that climate change was not a major priority for the government, although it was widely recognised that it could wreak havoc on the country.

“Inadequate water storage leaving farmers vulnerable to the vagaries of weather suggest an urgent need for appropriate investment in such facilities in order to not just increase agriculture production, but also to ensure farmers have an option to adjust to changing climate,” the report says.

Food security

Climate change could also have a big impact on the transboundary water relations, the report warns. Some respondents from India and Bangladesh feared that a variation in the timing and intensity of monsoons could affect agricultural production and weaken food security, “driving tension between the two countries over access to water in a dry period”.

Interviewees from Nepal perceived climate change as a “future threat”, in comparison with immediate challenges and the need to increase access to water and electricity. Most respondents felt that Nepal’s approach was “inadequate” and pointed out the gap between national plans and local implementation.

Pakistani respondents believed their country’s approach to climate change lacked “urgency”. They particularly pointed out that a Ministry of Climate Change had recently been reduced to a mere division of another ministry, and had had its funding slashed by 62%.

Brink of cataclysm

The report quoted a climate change expert working with the Pakistan government, who said his country stood on the brink of an environmental cataclysm, with the seasonal monsoon shifting away from traditional catchment areas towards Afghanistan. “This trend, reinforced by climate change, [has]increased the likelihood of extraordinary rainfall patterns, cloudbursts, and flash floods,” he said.

The researchers’ recommendations Include: improving domestic water management, and rainwater harvesting; enhancing data collection, data sharing and discussions between the five countries, particularly in relation to floods and droughts, and the management of watersheds and river basins; easing water demand through less water-intensive crops and irrigation methods.

They also stress that existing treaties should be revisited, ensuring that they address technological advances, environmental factors and climate change. – Climate News Network

(This was first published by Climate News Network on July 7, 2014 and it can be read at http://www.climatenewsnetwork.net/2014/07/south-asia-slow-to-act-on-water-threats/ )