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Climate Change and Asian Monsoon in the Hindu-Kush Himalaya (HKH)

By Environmentalists: Dipesh Raj Pant and Arjun Kumar Limbu

E-mail: arjunlimbu@hotmail.com

“Once the climate changes,
it is not only very difficult;
but, almost impossible to retain it”.

Can you imagine “HKH” without the “Monsoon Season?” “D-A”

The two simple words “Climate Change” is one of several biophysical factors encompassed by the term Global Environmental Change (GEC), and have always been intriguing herald scientists, due to its fragile nature. Human societies in both developed and developing countries can learn to adapt to some of these changes, although, clearly, poor societies cannot adapt so easily or quickly and hence are potentially more vulnerable. The southern Asian monsoon is one of the most important and influential phenomena of Earth’s climate system. Most of the population of Southeast Asia is completely dependent on variability in the onset and duration of the monsoon has profound impacts on water resources, human life, agriculture, economics and ecosystems. Ironically, Extreme events, like floods, droughts and cyclones, cause loss of livelihood and millions of dollars of damage every year. As a consequence of this dependence societies in Southeast Asia have evolved many strategies to cope with and take advantage of existing climate variability. Can you imagine impacts of monsoon failure in South Asia, especially for Nepal which is landlocked country? There’s an only disaster.

Nepal, along with over 150 other countries, signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. Nepal ratified the convention on 2nd May in 1994, and came into force on 31st July in 1994. Ratifying in international conventions is not the answer to the climate change as it is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration is left to complete in the real world. Still, the “inspiration” doesn’t seem so promising in the real world.

A Regional Seminar on Drought Mitigation was organized in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, 28-29 August 2001. The aim was that countries in the region could share experiences in preparing for drought, assessing drought damage and mitigating its consequences. Medium- and long-term strategies for drought preparedness and mitigation were discussed. The global mean temperature increased at a rate of 0.6oC per century since 1900; since 1976, temperatures have risen approximately three times faster.

“Melting Glaciers Said to Be Threatening Everest”, LONDON − Melting glaciers caused by climate change pose an urgent threat to Mount Everest’s unique environment, activists said Wednesday, launching a campaign to protect the Himalayan mountain range and the world’s highest peak. Lakes have swollen from runoff, and unless urgent action is taken, many lakes could burst, threatening the lives of thousands of people and destroying the environment, said the campaigners — a collection of mountaineers, Nepalese climbers and the Friends of the Earth, an environmental lobbying organization. November 17, 2004, Associated Press.

It is estimated that between 10 to 20 % of the total surface area of the Hindu-Kush Himalaya is covered by glaciers; a comparable to that of Swiss Alps. An additional, which is as high as 30 to 40 %, has a seasonal snowcover. The focal point in case of Nepal’s perspective towards climate change seems the Melting of the glaciers in the High Himalayan Mountains. The main argument is that as long as the monsoon season prevails in Hindu-Kush Himalaya (HKH), the glaciers’ melting doesn’t have a pressing one at least. For Hindu-Kush regional basis, Nepal, the focus or attention has to be the protection of “Monsoon Rainfall” which appears once a year and is the ultimate multifarious source of glaciers, water resources etc.

In 1998, drought dominated many parts of the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA) region like Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda. In some places, it was the worst for decades and in others was an extension of the persistent drought that began in 1998. Rainfall during March-May 2000 period (the long rains season in equatorial eastern Africa) was late and light; in some places, the rains failed completely. This failure was associated with La Nina conditions and cyclonic activity in the Indian Ocean. The same Indian Ocean which triggers the formation of the Asian Monsoon may one day change its influx pattern to Hindu-Kush Himalaya. Monsoon clouds from the Indian Ocean bring about 80 percent of the annual rainfall in four months in Nepal due to its mountainous topography and blessed with a high surface water potential. Therefore, the hydrologists, climatologists’ perspective towards climate change should taper towards the Asian monsoon so that Asian nations work more intimately together.

Currently, around the world, the herald scientists have been very much intrigued by the Indian Ocean’s anomalies. A NASA study suggests changing winds and currents in the Indian Ocean during the 1990s contributed to the observed warming of the ocean during that period. The findings, published in a recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters, have potential implications for long-term regional climate variability. “Establishing this correlation provides an important missing piece to the global ocean-warming puzzle and provides vital information for regional governments and climate modelers,” said Dr. Tong Lee, study author and researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Multi-decadal warming of the Indian Ocean in the past has affected the North Atlantic climate and was blamed for a devastating drought along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in the 1970s and ’80s. Lee’s findings are based on sea level measurements from NASA’s Topex/Poseidon oceanographic satellite, sea-surface temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer satellite, and wind data from the European Space Agency’s European Remote Sensing satellites. Collected between 1992 and 2000, the combined data reveal weakening of southeasterly trade winds over the South Indian Ocean caused a major circulation of this ocean to wane by nearly 70 percent of its average strength. The atmosphere heats the upper Indian Ocean. The circulation of this ocean counteracts the atmospheric heating by exporting warm surface water and importing colder subsurface water. The slowdown of this circulation tends to prevent warm surface water from exiting and colder subsurface water from entering the upper Indian Ocean, raising its average temperature. During this period, the average sea-surface temperature of the Indian Ocean increased by approximately 0.25 Celsius (0.45 Fahrenheit). Scientists studying satellite data have discovered an immense wintertime pool of pollution over the northern Indian state of Bihar. Blanketing around 100 million people, primarily in the Ganges Valley, the pollution levels are about five times larger than those typically found over Los Angeles. Now, what are its effects and what can be done?

This atmospheric pollution in the North Indian subcontinent is the place where exactly the attention is needed rather than melting of glaciers etc… Before its remedy issues, the impact of such pollution for the south Asian is supremely have a direct relationship with monsoon system. Those pollutants emanated are called aerosols that have either cooling or warming impact in its surrounding, even a source of condensation nuclei to have precipitation. Blanketing around 100 million people, primarily in the Ganges Valley, definitely have changes in the temperature and precipitation. The recent flood in Nepal may be the impact of those aerosols with an effect to be coined as “Arrested Monsoon”. Arrested Monsoon is the ensuing effect of precipitation resulting extreme floods in the lowlands before moisture reaching high lands as the monsoon moisture is trapped heavily and swiftly by aerosols forming condensation nucleases. Such formation may precipitate consistently in wide geographical areas due to heavy formation of condensation nucleases. This must have happened in the Terai region of Nepal, inundating millions of households in a few days of rainfall. Similar experience, Nepal may face in upcoming years, if such environment persists. Even, the loss of forest is another factor that enhances swiftness in the flow of water; it ultimately it ensues the flooding condition than forested land. In long term basis, the monsoon system may be arrested in India before reaching Nepal; the effect will immediately instigates the droughts in Nepal. And, Nepal may become no difference than the some African countries facing the loss of African monsoon season. The major GHGs productions also affect environment, therefore, concerned authorities should see its impacts to the Asian Monsoon in the Hindu-Kush Himalaya.

Nepal is the landlocked country and more than 80 % of the population depend upon agriculture (as the major activity of the economy) and on the forest (for the daily fuel wood supply) and all in all complete dependent upon natural Asian monsoon precipitation. If the monsoon season fails completely, the nation will have to face similar experiences that some African nations are going through. We cannot imagine our life without monsoon season. Already nation is hit by various socio-political disharmonies; can you image what it would be without Monsoon Season? It will be debacle and consequences will be no difference than Africa due to complete drought and related effects. There’s no other resources for survival of social life as well than agricultural for which an Asian monsoon is crucial. Nepal’s major source of survival is in fact completely dependent upon Asian monsoon from drinking waters supply, electricity generation from hydropower, agriculture for food; the basic necessities of a simple life are endangered by the climate change where the attention is needed. Virtually, water is the most vital factor in all resource development undertakings in South Asia.

For the management of Climate change, a complete integrated management aspect is essential at global scale. I see there are two measures to counteract the climate change: 1. Application of Technological Advancement (ATA) 2. Afforestation Programme Globally (APG). It is the time to dispense in accord to the aptness of countries. The first counter measure ATA is to use technology in our daily use like electric vehicles rather than petrol, where the government must provide incentives towards environmentally friendly subjects. On the other hand, the APG concept is to undergo through massive afforestation programme globally because warmer oceans absorb less atmospheric carbon dioxide, so we depend increasingly on the world’s remaining vegetation to filter the air for us. It is vegetation, the only means by which carbon dioxide is converted into life-giving oxygen. Only the levitation of social economy is not going to be the complete answer because increasing population keeps on altering the local environment. Asian monsoon is a regional scale. Therefore, at the present context, the afforestation programme has to be put forwarded to check the climate change because the temperature change in local climate drives the local wind pattern, which ultimately divert the route of Asian monsoon one day. A real action has to undergo grass root development of socio-economic conditions that encourages society to because whatever the changes brought due to anthropogenic activities rather than natural. On the other aspect of climate change could lead to the increment in the precipitation amount which can be coped better than devoid of Asian monsoon.

Vulnerability due to climate change is immense in environment. Therefore, our focus has to be not only just the local/country basis when climate is affected by regional basis in the South-Asian Countries. Once, climate changes especially the monsoon rainfall, the catastrophe is near to South-Asian countries as it is plausible as already stated. Asian monsoon water is an integral aspect of all facets of the both High Landers and low Landers that enters into virtually every resource development or management project in some way. The scientific and political connections also need to work even more intimately. In any disaster cases, the “pre-management” is the most crucial place to save millions.

I see the disaster of HKH without “Asian Monsoon” with multitude of effect on human, environment and their interactions? Can you imagine HKH without “Monsoon Season”?

“Once the climate changes,
it is not only very difficult;
but, almost impossible to retain it”.

If you have any comments on this article please email arjunlimbu@hotmail.com and they will be very happy to receive your comments, and ideas as to how the monsoon can be preserved.