Climate change has enormous implications in Himalayas: Senator

Climate change has enormous implications in Himalayas: Senator

Climate change has "enormous" geopolitical implications in the Himalayas, particularly in the region between India and Pakistan, where destabilisation of water flows make the area ripe not just for conflict but also for devastation, a top US Senator has warned.

Noting that Pakistan's major rivers are all fed by glacial meltwater from India, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse told a Washington audience this week that more melting meant more flow, and climate change also can intensify heavy rains during the monsoon season.

Referring to a study, he said even an optimistic scenario on climate change would cut the Himalayan glacier mass more than a third by 2100.

Business as usual means loss of nearly 70% of glacier mass, Whitehouse said, adding that "because they are melting, the glaciers are also shrinking".

"This has enormous geopolitical implications," he said in his key note address to The Hudson Institute, a top US think-tank, on the release of a report "An Integrated Approach to the Himalayas".

"In the region, relations between Pakistan and India have long been fraught; in human history, violent conflicts over water are as old as memory; Kashmir is a crucible of contest for riparian control of great rivers; and climate change is destabilising water flows. The result of this combination is a region ripe for conflict, even devastation," he said.

At some point, the swell of added meltwater is offset by the shrinkage of the glacier, and the system veers from flood toward drought. As glaciers in the Western Himalayas continue to disappear, the runoff that supplies Pakistan's rivers could drop by 40 to 50%, he noted.

"On top of all of this, India is planning to build dams on the Chenab River in volatile Kashmir, through which the river flows downstream to Pakistan. Pakistan fears India pinching the Chenab's flow to put pressure on Islamabad, especially in times of heightened conflict.

"Suspicions of riparian mischief run high, and partition-era memories linger. Food security, power generation and public safety are all at stake, giving nuclear-armed adversaries a lot to fight over," Whitehouse said.

The report, produced by a working group of seven US-based experts on Asia, lays out a plan for the US to pursue an integrated approach with friendly states in the Himalayas to address strategic and population security issues, regional connectivity, water usage, climate change and cultural preservation, besides the protection of women and minorities.

Aparna Pande, director of Hudson's India Initiative, said that weak states and contested sovereignties across the Himalayas have induced a number of regional actors to seek deeper physical and economic connectivity within the region through new infrastructure that supports transportation needs, trade and commerce, and access to resources.

"However, longstanding border disputes and rivalries mean that efforts to foster greater connectivity in the Himalayas are laden with geopolitical significance," she said.

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