Impacts of Climate Change on the Water and Ecological Security of the Himalayan Mountains and need for Adaptation through South-South Exchange

Madhav Karki, Pradeep Mool, and Arun Shrestha; ICIMOD, Kathmandu


Mountain regions have experienced above-average warming in the 20th century with significant implications for both mountain environments and vast population dependent on the ecosystems services derived from them. In the Himalayas, progressive warming at higher altitudes has been three to five times greater than the global average. The most noticeable impact of climate change has been the rapid recession of glaciers in both the Himalayas and Andes. The retreat of glaciers in Nepal Himalayas has resulted in formation of dangerous glacial lakes. In the Andes, receding glaciers has reduced water supply to Peru’s dry coastline by up to 12 percent. Degradation of permafrost and reduction of snow and ice caps are seen across the cryosphere leading to changes in land surface and water availability for mountain and downstream communities. Of particular concern to both the continents is the impact on dry season river flows affecting the supply of water to vast population. Policy and decision makers in both Asia and Latin America should recognise that there is an inherent interlinkage between the climatic and non-climatic drivers influencing the freshwater resources. Although it is extremely difficult to predict the type of changes, it can be safely assumed that both the regions face increased risks of devastating floods, extreme events and longer droughts. These negative scenarios will have regional and global implications in terms of hunger, food insecurity, health hazards and conflicts warranting urgent attention by global community.  Building resilient communities and adaptive development and management of vital sectors especially water, agriculture, energy and ecosystem services are the only way to adapt to climate change.

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