India is Staring at a Water Apocalypse

A combination of climate change, bad policies and political apathy is steadily pushing India into a catastrophic water crisis that threatens stability in South Asia. From a report: Recent studies document that glaciers feeding the Indian subcontinent’s rivers will recede rapidly, while rapid ground water depletion poses an existential challenge to agriculture. The southwest monsoons remain the biggest source of water in the subcontinent. The monsoons lead to a combination of water sources supporting human habitats that includes glaciers, surface irrigation and ground water. But redundancy and surplus have gone missing from this once abundant system. Taking their place are galloping shortages.

Even the best-case scenarios are “scary,” water researcher Aditi Mukherjee told Asia Times. Mukherjee is one of the editors of a landmark study that was published earlier this year. It predicts a terrible loss of the glaciers that dot the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region. “The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment [PDF]” says that even if urgent global action on climate change is able to limit global warning to 1.5 degrees centigrade, it will still lead to a loss of a third of the glaciers in the region by the year 2100.

If the temperatures rise by 2.7 degrees centigrade, then half the glaciers will be gone. And if the current rate of global warming continues and temperatures rise by 6 degrees centigrade, then two-thirds of the glaciers will melt away. This has major implications for India, China, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. While the nearly 250 million who live in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region will be most impacted from the outset, another 1.65 billion people who depend on the glacier-fed rivers are primarily at risk. “Even if we look at the best case scenario, which means limiting global warming by 1.5C, we are looking at a 36% loss of glaciers,” said Mukherjee. Further reading: Nearly two dozen cities in India will be out of water by next year.

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