Lesson Four: Impact of Climate Change in the Northern Himalayas

In my first three blog posts around climate crisis, I gave a holistic overview on the various climate change indicators, its direct and indirect consequences and the two most logical approaches against the crisis, which mostly constitute climate action. Today, I thought of going slightly specific and decided to come up with a more regional-based report for deeper understanding.

Let’s talk about the Northern mountain ranges of India. Also a part of the Indian Himalayan region, the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh offer a mesmerising view of the snow-capped mountains, shimmering waterfalls, plunging valleys and crystal-clear lakes. No matter how many times we visit, we are almost always in awe of their beauty and can never have enough of them!

But when we dig deeper, we realise that these places aren’t only about the respite and the beauty we so desperately seek. The changing weather patterns and urbanisation in the past two decades have not only resulted in a large scale damage to the environment but have also led to a potentially catastrophic loss of biodiversity across the region. In this regard, let us look into the various climate-driven disruptions across the states, which are consequently leading to the loss of environment by inches.

Increased risk in apple production

The beautiful apples of Himachal! Those flawless, red, juicy apples from the northern mountains provide a livelihood to over 2 lakh families across the state. Tourists across the country would agree to the fact that these delicious royal apples are nothing like they’ve ever had before.

 

However, recent studies have shown that increased temperatures, hailstorms, unpredictable rainfall and untimely snowfall have led to a severe decline in the quality and quantity of apples in the past few years. Horticulture experts believe that the extreme fluctuation in temperatures from winters to summers has been delaying the timing of flowering and bud breaking, apart from altering the blooming period. This has further impacted the taste, colour, size and texture of apples. If climate change continues to worsen, the overall productivity will decline further, thereby resulting in a loss of livelihood.

Declining snow cover in major river basins

Snow, snow, snow! That’s what keeps dragging us back to our favourite hill stations. But a few months ago, the State Centre on Climate Change had released a report that claims that the snow cover in the major river basins has decreased to about 0.72 percent of the total area covered under snow. This snow cover in the river basins melts to fill the rivers during the summer months.

However, recent studies have shown that increased temperatures, hailstorms, unpredictable rainfall and untimely snowfall have led to a severe decline in the quality and quantity of apples in the past few years. Horticulture experts believe that the extreme fluctuation in temperatures from winters to summers has been delaying the timing of flowering and bud breaking, apart from altering the blooming period. This has further impacted the taste, colour, size and texture of apples. If climate change continues to worsen, the overall productivity will decline further, thereby resulting in a loss of livelihood.

Scarcity of water

Shimla’s full-blown water crisis came into the limelight way back in 2018, when the internet was swarmed by pictures of hundreds and thousands of locals and hotel operators waiting in the queue with empty buckets, to collect water from several roadside hand pumps.

Tourists were cautioned about the condition and were requested to save water at every cost. Besides, the massive influx of tourists on top of growing urbanisation only adds up to the problem. Global warming has resulted in the disappearance of glaciers, and the retreating glaciers apart from poor water supply infrastructure combine to add to the menace. In fact, a study shows that the demand for water in Himachal Pradesh has increased by at least 7 times in the last fifty years.

Increased precipitation across Ladakh

The beauteous cold desert amidst the Northern Himalayas, Ladakh is more like a treat to one’s senses. It is well-known for its barren landscape and snow-laden mountains, which generally denies any precipitation throughout the season.

However, increased global warming has changed the weather pattern to an irreversible extent. In the past few years, there has been a tremendous increase in precipitation, and the increased downpours have been destroying many Buddhist paintings and carvings in the Ladakhi monasteries. The incessant rainfalls have always led to unexpected floods, deranging the lives of locals. The increased precipitation becomes all the more evident when we consider that a few years ago, Ladakh was all about houses with wooden rooftops. However, due to increased rainfall and precipitation, many buildings have chosen to go full concrete.

Although there have been several initiatives that have been undertaken by the respective state governments to tackle the impacts of climate change, we cannot deny that we must educate ourselves, and open our eyes to all that’s happening within our country. Climate change and overexploitation have put the Zanskar River under so much threat, that we might have to bid goodbye to one of India’s most celebrated trails, the Chadar Trek!

Please feel free to add in your observations. Have you heard of any stories related to climate change in the aforementioned states, which have largely disrupted lives?

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