OM ASTHA RAI
KATHMANDU, March 6: A new study has revealed that three glacial lakes in Tibet are in very critical condition, posing serious threats to people living downstream on the banks of the Bhotekoshi River.
The study, jointly carried out by the Central Department of Geography at the Tribhuvan University (TU) and the Asian International River Center at the Yunnan University of China, has concluded that You-Mo-Jian-Co, Qui-Ze-La-Co and Jia-Long-Co glacial lakes, which are located within the watershed area of the Bhotekoshi River, are highly vulnerable.
“If these lakes burst out, severe impacts could be felt along the Bhotekoshi River, particularly between Tatopani and Dolalghat areas on the Araniko highway,” said Narendra Raj Khanal, a professor at the TU´s Central Department of Geography. According to Khanal, who was the team leader for the one-year-long study, there are several other potentially dangerous glacial lakes in the Bhotekoshi River´s watershed area but three could possibly burst out in future.
“These three glacial lakes in the Tibetan region require constant monitoring and immediate mitigation,” said Khanal. “Our government should also be constantly monitoring these lakes, considering the threats that the Nepali people face.” Khanal also stressed the need for setting up of effective early warning systems to protect human lives in events of Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) in Tibet.
The finding of this new study, the final report of which is yet to be published, implies that the risk of GLOF in Nepal is higher than what is generally assumed. In Nepal, understanding of GLOF has been largely shaped by scientific studies carried out by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). A 2011 report by the ICIMOD states that Nepal has 21 potentially dangerous lakes – six of which need immediate mitigation measures.
“In our new study, we have tried to see the risk of GLOF in Nepal beyond the northern border,” said Khanal, who was also a member of the team that prepared the ICIMOD´s report on Nepal´s glacial lakes. “We cannot ignore possibilities of GLOF in the Tibetan region.”
Experts also stress the need for mitigating the risk of GLOF in four glacial lakes of Nepal, which the ICIMOD report says are as critical as Tsho Rolpa and Imja. Currently, mitigation measures, like lowering water level of glacial lakes, have been taken only in Tsho Rolpa and Imja. Such measures have not been initiated as yet in other equally vulnerable lakes like Lower Barun, Lumding, West Chamjang and Thulagi.
“These four glacial lakes also need immediate mitigation measures,” said Pradeep Mool, Coordinator of Cryosphere Initiative at the ICIMOD. “But, mitigation measures are very costly. Millions of dollars are required just for transporting equipment to glacial lake areas. So, cost-benefit analysis is done before starting such initiatives. Imja was chosen over other lakes for mitigation measures, considering tourist destinations downstream.”
Published on 2014-03-06 00:00:00
OM ASTHA RAI
One recent sunny afternoon, Krishna Maya Sharma, 42, was hoeing her crop field soaked in winter rain which lashed most parts of north India just a day before. “I used to plant paddy here,” says she, showing her land where the upper layer of soil looks covered with sand. “Now, I can grow just taro roots.”
In 2012, when a flood in the Brahmaputra River, seen as the most devastating since 2004, caused havoc in the north Indian state of Assam, Krishna Maya lost much of her fortune. “I was about to harvest my crops,” she says. “But the flood damaged everything.”
Not only did the flood damage Krishna Maya´s crop but also trigged a chain of effects, rendering her family poorer. When the flood retreated, her land was covered with such a thick layer of sand that she is still unable to grow paddy there. “After the flood, I tried to plant crops but nothing grew,” she says.
Krishna Maya´s family owned about 11 bighas of fertile land before the flood. “The land is still there but it’s just sand. Only a small plot of land is left for growing taro roots,” she says.
The flood, which reportedly killed at least 125 people and displaced thousands of families in Assam and Bangladesh, also damaged a vast area of grassland, adding to difficulty in collecting fodder. With no green pasture to graze on, all her five cattle died.
The severest aftereffect of the flood turned out to be the deaths of two oxen, which her husband, Punya Prasad Sharma, would use to plow the land. “After our oxen died, my husband couldn’t plow the land and now he works as a manual worker at a nearby construction site,” she explains.
Today, even for cultivating whatever land is left, Krishna Maya needs to purchase chemical fertilizers. Earlier, she used to grow plants by using compost fertilizers – mostly made up of cow dung. “As we have no cattle now, we can’t make compost fertilizers,” she says.
Krishna Maya´s is not a unique tale. In Lawpani, a nondescript village in Tinsukia District of Assam, which is mostly inhabited by people of Nepali origin, everyone has similar tales to tell.
Like Krishna Maya, most of people in Laowani, which now has more than 150 households of Nepali origin, are affected by floods, followed by inundation and erosion, every year. They find it very difficult to save their crops and livestock from floods in monsoon months.
To read the full story, please click the link below
The Cost of Relying on Diesel
Reeling under power-outage, Nepal relies heavily on diesel to generate power in winter, adversely affecting public health and environment. Also, black carbon that diesel engines emit is accelerating glacier melt, rendering the mountain people more vulnerable to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs).
Click the link to ready my full story:
OM ASTHA RAI
KATHMANDU, Dec 20: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its 2007 report, presented the startling projection that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 if the earth keeps warming at the current rate.
The IPCC report, which apparently lacked sufficient data to substantiate its projection, was criticized by scientists for what they said was an erroneous calculation of glacier melting rates. After a global furor over its erroneous statement, IPCC admitted its mistake.
Five years after the IPCC fiasco, a study being conducted by a team of experts at the Mera and Pokalde glaciers in the Everest region has come up with yet another finding that could possibly rub salt into the wound for the leading international body for assessing climate change.
Note: Please, click the link given below to read the full story.
By Saleem Shaikh
October 17, 2013
Science and Development News Network International
A short video story on how shifting rains are leading to changing crop patterns.
Watch the climate video story on this weblink: http://www.scidev.net/south-asia/climate-change/multimedia/nepal-s-shifting-rains-and-changing-crops-1.html
[KATHMANDU] With weather becoming more erratic every year as a result of climate change, Nepali farmers are progressively shifting their approach, turning vast areas of rice paddies into small-scale vegetablefarming. Vegetables are more resilient as they can be hand watered in case of drought. Farmers say that with rains that used to come in April now shifting as late as mid-June, vegetables that can be sown at the time the rains finally fall are now a better investment.
But large parts of their fields now remain uncultivated due to lack of water.
The situation raises concern among experts, who warn that a shift from rice to vegetable cultivation may harm food security. They also say that without adequate support from the government farmers’ livelihood could be at risk. According to researchers, there is now a need for insurance schemes, public subsidies and improved early-warning systems to forecast extreme weather.
By Saleem Shaikh
Tue, 8 Oct 2013
AlertNet Climate, Thomson Reuters Foundation
KARIMABAD, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In the mountains of northern Pakistan, some farmers say rising temperatures are giving them bumper harvests, even as climate and agricultural experts worry about the consequences of warming for the glaciers that are vital for the country’s irrigation.
“Many years back, the weather used to remain cold and cloudy most of the year. But now we have (more) warm months that are helping our staple, cash and fruit crops to grow faster and longer, and post higher yields,” said Sultan Khan, a farmer in Karimabad, a village in the picturesque Hunza valley of Gilgit-Baltistan province.
Farmers in Hunza say maize never used to grow taller than 3 feet (1 metre) during its five-month season (June to October). But a longer growing period and warmer days are helping the stalks reach up to 7 feet (2 metres). The maize yield has increased by an estimated 20-25 percent, they add, and harvests of other crops are also bigger.
Nonetheless, farmers in this remote area also complain that a lack of government guidance has left them uncertain as to whether to adjust their planting schedules to take advantage of the earlier onset of summer, since they do not know if the changes in weather patterns are permanent.
The Hunza valley perches on the north side of the Hunza River in the Upper Indus Basin, some 675 km (420 miles) from Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. The valley lies at an elevation of around 2,500 metres (8,200 feet) and is surrounded by much higher mountain peaks and glaciers.
Ali Madad, a 76-year-old farmer in Barashal village, said that because of warmer temperatures, glaciers are melting more consistently, which makes his livelihood easier. “Now the streams, which are a major source of irrigation for mountain agriculture, flow even in winter,” he said.
Whereas snow used to begin falling in the valley around mid-October and continue for six months, it now begins in late December and ends a couple of months later, he added.
Temperatures that would fall as low as minus 16 degrees Celsius a dozen years back now rarely drop below minus 2 degrees. Summer, previously a three-month season, has become correspondingly longer, Madad said.
In Karimabad, Sultan Khan observed that winter snowfall is now less than 5 inches, in sharp contrast with the 13 inches or more typical a decade ago.
Local agriculture expert Fida Karim said only the mountain peaks now get covered with snow in winter, while the middle and lower latitudes hardly receive any snowfall. Rakaposhi, a spectacular peak in the Karakoram mountain range and the twelfth highest in Pakistan, has not been completely covered in snow since 2008, he added.
According to Karim, over the last five years, the winter snowfall in the valley has melted in just a few weeks in March. It used to remain until at least the end of April.
The changes experienced by farmers in the Hunza valley are different from those happening elsewhere in Gilgit-Baltistan. In other parts of the province, the winter season both begins and ends later than it used to, delaying the snow melt needed for irrigation and stunting the growth of crops.
But even in the Hunza valley, the changes in the onset of the seasons are a problem for vegetable and fruit farmers like Shehla Hayat.
“Every year in October, the shift from summer to winter used to be gradual. But for the last four years each October, hotter summer days (have) become cooler abruptly,” the 35-year-old farmer said, while harvesting fodder outside her house in Barashal village.
The sudden plunges in temperature, together with unexpected rainfall, have badly affected local crops of apples, apricots, pears and potatoes when they were nearly ripe, causing losses for farmers, Hayat said.
GLACIER MELT FEARS
Climate and agricultural experts warn, meanwhile, that the long-term consequences of the rising temperatures and glacial melt could be dire.
Inayat Karim, a mountain farming conservationist at the Baltit Rural Support Organisation in Hunza valley, said the Ultar glacier, which looms over Karimabad to a height of 7,400 metres (24,300 feet), has been shrinking since 1999, and a previously snow-covered peak is now bare.
Shahana Khan of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme said the valley now receives rain as well as snow in the winter months.
“This points to a scary scenario for sustainable flows of the Hunza River,” Khan said, pointing out that declining snowfall will eventually reduce levels in the Hunza River, which accounts for 25-30 percent of the water that flows into the Indus River – in turn vital to much of the nation’s agricultural economy.
There are short-term problems for the Hunza River too. Farmers say it has become increasingly turbulent in recent years due to increased glacial melt in the summer months, which sometimes causes it to breach its banks.
The director general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, Arif Mahmood, is concerned by the retreating snowline in the high mountains.
“In the past, mountains in the valleys like Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu and Shigar in the Upper Indus Basin (UIB) used to receive huge snow in their lower altitude areas, between 2,000 and 3,000 metres. But this is no more the case,” he said.
“There has been a surge in heat wave incidences in UIB areas,” Mahmood continued. “The temperature now goes up beyond 40 degrees Celsius in summer as compared to (an earlier) maximum of 28 degree Celsius some 10 years ago.”
There has also been an unusual shift in monsoon patterns, which are becoming heavier and moving to higher altitudes, he added.
Mahmood warned of increasing flash floods and landslides in the UIB region if temperature increases continue.
The senior weather official called for urgent action to make public infrastructure more climate-resilient, such as strengthening river banks and bridges, and to introduce new crop varieties. Otherwise, local communities will be increasingly threatened by torrential rains, floods and wildfires, he warned.
By Saleem Shaikh
Thu, 3 Oct 2013 01:03 PM
AlertNet Climate, Thomson Reuters Foundation
DANYORE, Pakistan (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – One night was all it took for Bibi Baskiya’s fortunes to be reversed. In June the young farmer had sown maize on half an acre of land in Danyore, a scenic mountain village in northern Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan province.
On Sept. 12 it was sunny and the skies were so clear that Baskiya watered her crop from a nearby spring, certain there would be no rain. But that night, her hopes of a good harvest were destroyed.
“A sudden rainstorm and heavy winds flattened 80 percent of the standing crop,” she said. The maize is now only good to be used as fodder for her cattle, and she will not recover the cost of cultivating it.
Baskiya is one of many farmers in this remote region whose livelihoods are threatened by the effects of erratic weather and climate change. Experts say measures are desperately needed to help them adapt to unreliable rainfall, but few – if any – are available so far.
“We farmers are really helpless before the inconsistent weather,” said Baskiya. “We are thinking to abandon growing maize and wheat, and cultivate cash crops like tomato and potato instead that are short-duration and less water-intensive.”
Maize is the most important summer crop after wheat in northern Pakistan’s Upper Indus Basin (UIB). The grain is harvested to eat, while the stover (dried stalks and leaves) is used to feed livestock during the winter.
“Owing to erratic weather patterns, the area under the staple crops in most of Gilgit-Baltistan province in UIB has shrunk alarmingly, and vegetables are now being grown as cash crops,” said Asmat Ali, director of the province’s agriculture department.
An estimated 70 percent of the wheat consumed locally must now be imported from Punjab province in eastern Pakistan and Sindh in the south, Ali added.
Cash crop farmers are also suffering the consequences of extreme weather.
Ali Da’ad, 50, a vegetable farmer in Danyore, said his potato and tomato crops have been struck by lightning several times.
“There has been a significant escalation in lightning activity and thunderstorms over the last 10 years, particularly during summer months,” Da’ad said.
The lightning has triggered fires, damaging crops and endangering populated areas. At the same time, rainfall is increasingly unpredictable, causing crops to fail.
“In Gilgit district, rains are no longer even and fall patchily during the summer months,” Da’ad explained. “Sometimes it is intense and sometimes not.”
Muhammad Iqbal, chairman of Local Support Organisation Danyore (LSO-D), a nongovernmental group working for rural development, said rains are unequal even within Danyore village. “When it rains in the eastern part of the village, the west remains without it,” he said.
DELAYED SNOW MELT
Gilgit-Baltistan is home to the world’s largest frozen water reservoir, which feeds the Indus river system – a lifeline for Pakistan’s agro-based economy.
Farmers in the province depend on melting snow from April onwards to replenish streams, enabling them to sow seasonal vegetables and maize from late May. But Da’ad said prolonged winter weather is causing the snows to melt later, making it difficult to plant crops in time.
Nek Parveen of LSO-D said this year streams filled 50 days later than expected.
“Women wheat farmers in Sultanabad village (adjacent to Danyore) suffered substantial financial losses early this April, as they had to prematurely harvest after farmers sensed (the crop’s) growth had halted,” Parveen said.
According to Ghulam Rasul, a scientist at the state-owned Pakistan Meteorology Department in Islamabad, rainfall in the province has become less frequent but more intense over the past 50 years.
The decrease in winter precipitation and snowfall due to rising temperatures in the area is affecting Pakistan’s hydrological cycle and hampering the country’s agricultural growth, Rasul said.
“Investing in farmers’ climate adaptation capacity building and knowledge development can help them cope with impacts of climatic variability on their crops,” said LSO-D’s Iqbal.
HARD TO REACH
Iqbal sees a need for the construction of small or medium-sized reservoirs in the foothills and plains, so that water from streams can be harvested for use during the dry season and the winter, both for farming and domestic purposes.
But there has been little progress in the province so far, where development agencies are hampered by the inaccessibility of much of the terrain, political inertia, and a volatile security situation due to conflict between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim sects.
Jamil Uddin, who manages programmes in the Gilgit region for the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), said his organisation plans to introduce climate mitigation and adaptation measures for the province’s farmers.
“Our experiences show that information-sharing programmes for mountain farmers and communities about better, proven adaptation and mitigation measures can enable (them) to cope with the aftermath of rapidly occurring climatic variability,” he said.
The AKRSP hopes to bring climate-resilient crop varieties and water conservation technologies to farmers.
According to LSO-D’s Iqbal, transmitting weather forecasts via FM radio and free SMS texts on mobile phones would help farmers, who now rely on indigenous techniques that are increasingly inaccurate as weather patterns become harder to predict.
Iqbal emphasised that helping mountain farmers adapt to the impacts of climate change is vital to support the livelihoods of rural people and maintain an acceptable level of food security.
Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Islamabad, Pakistan.