July 20, 2024, Saturday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

Water shortages feared as Hindu Kush Himalaya sees “extraordinary below normal snow year”

The Nepal Weekly
June 18, 2024

Snow persistence, the fraction of time snow remains on the ground, is significantly lower than normal in the Hindu Kush Himalaya this year, with serious implications for downstream communities’ water security, states a report recently released by the ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development).

Leading experts from the ICIMOD, which publishes the annual Snow Update Report, warn water management officials to initiate drought management strategies and pre-emptive emergency water supply.

Snowmelt is the source of approximately 23% of the total water flow of 12 major river basins that originate high in the HKH. But its contribution to water supply varies from river to river – representing 74% of river flow to the Amu Darya; 77% of the Helmand’s flow; and 40% of the Indus’ flow.

“Monitoring shows snow levels almost a fifth below normal across the region this year, with figures falling dramatically in the west, where its contribution to water supply is highest.”

Helmand river basin shows the most dramatic fall in persistence at 31.8% below normal. Its previous lowest level was in 2018, when it saw a 42% reduction. In addition, the Indus Basin has fallen to 23.3% below normal, marking the lowest level in the past 22 years. The previous lowest year for this Basin was 2018, with a 9.4% shortfall. The lowest variation from normal snow persistence this year was the Mekong basin where snow persistence was around 1% below normal.

“We’ve seen a pattern of decreasing amounts and persistence of snow across the Hindu Kush Himalaya, with 13 of the past 22 years registering lower than normal seasonal snow persistence,” said ICIMOD Cryosphere Specialist Sher Muhammad, author of the Snow Update Report 2024.

“This is a wake-up call for researchers, policymakers, and downstream communities: lower accumulation of snow and fluctuating levels of snow pose a very serious increased risk of water shortages, particularly this year.”

Miriam Jackson, ICIMOD’s Senior Cryosphere Specialist underscored the need for proactive measures. “We encourage relevant agencies to take proactive measures to address possible drought situations, especially in the early summer, update plans to accommodate water stress, and to notify communities of the risks.

“Beyond that, it’s clear that governments and people in this region need urgent support to help them adapt to changes in snow patterns that carbon emissions have already locked in. “And that G20 countries need to cut emissions faster than ever before to prevent even more changes that will prove disastrous to major population centres and industries that rely on snow-melt in the mountains.” (Courtesy: ICIMOD)