March 14, 2005

Group Warns of Shrinking Glaciers’ Effect

GENEVA (AP) -- The shrinking of Himalayan glaciers could fuel an upswing in flooding in China, India and Nepal, before creating water shortages for hundreds of millions of people across the region, a leading environmental group warned Monday.

In a report, the Switzerland-based World Wide Fund for Nature said the rate of retreat of the Asian mountain range's glaciers is accelerating because of global warming, and has now reached 33-49 feet a year.

"The rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers will first increase the volume of water in rivers causing widespread flooding," said Jennifer Morgan, head of WWF's global climate change program. "But in a few decades this situation will change and the water level in rivers will decline, meaning massive economic and environmental problems for people in Western China, Nepal and Northern India."

Himalayan glaciers feed into seven of Asia's biggest rivers: the Ganges; Indus; Brahmaputra; Mekong; Thanlwin, formerly known as the Salween; Yangtze and Yellow.

WWF noted that this ensures a year-round water supply to hundreds of millions of people in the Indian subcontinent and China.

As glacier water flows dwindle, the energy potential of hydroelectric power will decrease, causing problems for industry, while reduced irrigation means lower crop production, it said.

Nepal has an annual average temperature rise of .11 degrees Fahrenheit. The report said that flows have decreased in three of Nepal's snow-fed rivers.

In China, the report said, the Qinhai Plateau's wetlands have seen declining lake water levels, lake shrinkage, and the degradation of swampland. In India, the Gangotri glacier, which supports one of India's largest river basins, is receding at an average rate of 76 feet per year.


On the Net:

WWF: http://www.panda.org/