52_G15_Arena

Global Issue 15

affecting the Himalayas more rapidly than almost anywhere. Only the North and South Poles appear comparable. Over the last 30 years, average temperatures in some of the Himalayas may have risen by 1.5°C, far higher than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted. Rainfall patterns, too, have changed, with less rain in non-monsoon periods and bursts of excessive downpour during the monsoon. Many small Himalayan glaciers have disappeared. Larger ones are retreating at an alarming 10-60 metres per year. Glacial melt waters often feed lakes at the terminal ends, bounded by glacial ice or moraines, which eventually burst under the inflow. In the last 25 years, there have been more than 20 glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) in Nepal and five in Bhutan. The Dig Tsho GLOF of Nepal in 1985 washed away the Namche Hydropower plant. In 1994, the Lugge Tsho flood in Bhutan killed several people and extensively damaged a town 86 km downstream. Climate change is affecting wild species. Many plants flower earlier, while others are shifting their ranges and moving to higher locations. High altitude species already in mountain-top habitats, with nowhere to go, face extinction. Increased aridity outside the monsoon seasons is likely to reduce agricultural yields. Cropping patterns are changing. Some changes appear to have positive effects, such as longer growing seasons and experimentation with new crops even at high altitudes. However, growers also encounter agricultural weeds and pests previously unknown. The movement of mosquitoes to higher altitudes is another ominous portent. Disease-carrying agents for both people and other species, including agricultural crops and domestic animals, are likely to spread. Despite these widespread changes in climate, the impacts on biodiversity, hydrology and on people’s health and livelihoods all remain poorly documented. Government and other agencies are inadequately prepared to meet the inevitable challenges. So what can be done? We need: ■■ A biodiversity audit – an urgent programme of exploration, collection and documentation to assess the full range and conversation status of all Himalayan species and ecological communities ■■ An impact assessment to identify what is being lost, how, where and why. We need a comprehensive programme to monitor changes in biodiversity and society’s interaction with it ■■ A co-ordinated plan to manage interconnected resources such as water, land and biodiversity in a way that aligns the twin goals of development and conservation. Currently, these are often managed in isolation by state agencies, without society’s wider participation ■■ An informed consensus on the tradeoffs society is willing to accept to counter the immediate threats that infrastructure development and tourism represent to sustainable resource use and conservation of biodiversity Environmental change presents humanity with a set of challenges which few – if any – of us, are yet truly prepared to confront, intellectually or psychologically. The scale and complexity of forward thinking and commitment required to mitigate this problem is unprecedented. It will require substantial financial, technical and human resources to prepare government and civil society to cope with the change sweeping the Himalayas. Has the world the will to do it? Arena Himalayas Kamal Bawa is distinguished professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and founder-president of the Ashoka Trust for Research into Ecology and Environment (ATREE). Sandesh Kadur is an award-winning wildlife photographer and cinematographer. Text and photographs are extracted from their new book Himalaya – Mountains of Life, published by Ashoka Trust. (www.Himalayabook.com). It is a sequel to their first collaboration, Sahyadris – India’s Western Ghats Quest for the noble rhubarb us, and hours before monsoon rains closed the roads. We had witnessed a rare and wonderful natural phenomenon. Mission accomplished. Kamal Bawa Tenzing Ingty I shall not forget the day I found the Sikkim Rhubarb – Rheum nobile – in August 2010, flowering in perhaps the same spot as it was first recorded 170 years ago by J. D. Hooker, a friend of Charles Darwin. He had viewed it from a distance, dotting the black cliffs of Sikkim’s Lachen valley, at 14,000 feet and totally inaccessible. I‘d waited years to photograph this strange plant, with purported medicinal properties, and which even British Museum records said had to be seen to be believed. Now, after a perilous journey – our jeep rescued from mud after a landslide, and monsoon rains imminent – here it was: up close and personal. It was truly noble. White mini-towers, up to 1.8 metres tall, pierced low layers of rhododendron bushes, giving the alpine landscape an eerie, spectral look. The large, white leafy structures – translucent bracts that trap heat at high altitudes – hide hundreds of tiny flowers, presumably pollinated by insects huddled in the warm chambers of the bracts. One problem: Lachen is strategically situated on the now-closed, ancient valley gateway to Tibet. We were near India’s border with China. Huge military signs in day-glow colours blared: No photography! Undeterred, I set up camera and even exchanged cheery waves with passing soldiers. I took my pictures before fog engulfed Threatened: the golden langur, a rare monkey 52 l www.global -br ief ing.org thi rd quar ter 2013 global


Global Issue 15
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