June 05, 2009

World Environment Day Today - Save Our Rivers Like Ganga, Timely Warning By Dr Sehra


Parmjit Singh Sehra
(First ever Indian to winter over the South Pole, and former
WMO/UN Expert & NASA/USA Consultant}
Department of Agricultural Meteorology
Punjab Agricultural University (PAU)
Ludhiana-141004, Punjab, India
(E-mail: parmjitsinghsehra@hotmail.com)

This article is written on the occasion of the "World Environment Day - 2009" with the sole objective that "Your Planet Needs You ! UNite to Combat Climate Change", as an awareness campaign started by the United Nations General Assembly under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) since 1972.

Some of the mightiest rivers on the planet, including the Ganges, the Niger, and the Yellow river in China, are drying up because of climate change.
A study by the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, USA found that global warming has had a far more damaging impact on rivers than had been realized and that overwhelmingly, those rivers in highly populated areas were the most severely affected. That could threaten food and water supply to millions of people living in some of the world's such regions including India.

In the subtropics this decrease is devastating, but the continent affected most is Africa. The prospects generally are for rainfalls, when they do occur, to be heavier and with greater risk of flooding and with longer dry spells in between, so water management becomes much more difficult.
The scientists examined recorded data and computer models of flow in 925 rivers, constituting about 73% of the world's supply of running water, from 1948-2004. It was found that climate change had an impact on about a third of the major rivers. More than twice as many rivers experienced diminished flow as a result of climate change than those that saw a rise in water levels.
In addition, those rivers that did see a rise were in sparsely populated, high latitude areas near the Arctic Ocean where there is rapid melting of ice and snow.
The greatest danger was posed to those dependent on the Niger in West Africa, the Ganges in India and South Asia, and the Yellow river in China. The Colorado river in the US was also experiencing a drop in water levels.
Other big rivers in Asia, such as the Brahmaputra in India and the Yangtze in China, remained stable or registered an increase in flow. But the scientists said they too could begin shrinking because of the gradual disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers.
The only rivers that could gain strength from climate change were those that flow north of the 50th parallel. Global warming raises temperature and precipitation there.
The study found that climate change, which had disrupted rain patterns and evaporation, had a far greater and more damaging effect on the world's rivers than other human-made factors such as dams, and diverting water for irrigation. For many of world's large rivers the effects of the human activities on yearly stream flow are likely small compared with that of climate variations during 1948-2004.

It also had a knock-on effect because the rivers empty into the world's oceans. As the rivers shrink, oceans were growing saltier.
About 1.3 billion people across China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bhutan and Afghanistan rely on the waters flowing from the glaciers in the Himalayan region Today, with the increasing effects of climate change, the source of these essential water resources, viz., the Himalayan glaciers are melting.
Apart from the Polar regions, the Himalayan expanse is the world’s largest glacial and
permafrost area. And according to the experts, in the past decade its glaciers have been speedily melting with striking changes in rainfall patterns. Himalayan glaciers are retreating
more rapidly than anywhere else in the world.
And in fact, the rapid melting of the glaciers in the Indian Himalayas can be heard.
In Lahaul-Spiti Valley where the rivers and streams have never been this noisy. These waters are almost entirely fed by the Himalayan glacier melt, and the deluge they are causing is a clear indication that the glaciers are receding at an unprecedented rate with dire consequences.
The glaciers retreat is enormous – up to 70 meters (230 feet) per year. The Himalayan glacier Gangotri is one of the largest glaciers.
The temperature on the Tibetan Plateau is increasing by 0.3 degrees Celsius each decade. which is double the worldwide average. Such a change in temperature has a colossal impact in an area where glacial melt and snow account for over half of the water that flows from the mountains into nine of Asia’s largest rivers.

The 'Water Tower of Asia' composed of over 15,000 Himalayan glaciers, has been melting into the nine rivers forever. However, the rate at which they are melting today indicates that they will dry up.
The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declares that Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and that if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high, if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate.
Needless to say, if largest rivers in Asia dried up, the consequences would be dire.
Today the Chandika Samundear glacier is nothing but a brown mountain. Its name means
'ocean of silver' coined when it was the largest glacier in the state of Himachal Pradesh.
Glaciers such as Chandika Samundear also function as carbon sinks, entrapping carbon dioxide that would otherwise cause more global warming.
With the increased glacial melt, the trapped Carbon doxide (CO2) will be released into the atmosphere causing further environmental damage.

Man-made emissions are the primary cause of rapid glacial melt. The receding and thinning of Himalayan glaciers can be attributed primarily to the global warming due to increase in anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases.
Although India produces few emissions compared to the world’s most industrialized nations it has been unduly affected by climate change.

Experts at the climate change panel believe that there are local causes for the melt as well.
A combination of high population density and deforestation has had a negative effect on the glaciers.

A 'brown cloud effect' caused by toxic gases that settle between 10,000 and 13,000 feet in the air, the same level as the Himalayan glaciers, has had adverse effects. This haze is created both by emissions of coal plants and the residues of burning cow dung across northern India for heating.
Besides this, there is some cultural impact also, because the Ganges is regarded as the most sacred and the holy river in India due to which it is called 'Mother Ganga'.
In fact, the Ganga (Ganges) is the most important source of fresh water in India for economic, agricultural, travel, and religious purposes. More than 500 million people rely on this river which finds its source in the Himalayan glaciers. So, the most holy river in the world, viz., Ganga is at peril.
Most of the Indians (about 90 per cent) cremate their deceased and immerse their ashes in the holy water of Ganga. People sing at its banks, and at day break more than six thousand people dip their bodies in it to wash away their sins, and many more carry some of its holy
water with them.
India’s first Prime Minister, the late Shri Jawaharlal Nehru had said, “The story of the Ganges, from her source to the sea, from old times to new, is the story of India's civilization”

Yet this sacred river is listed as one of the 10 most endangered rivers is the world by the World Wildlife Fund. Indians look at this as a direct threat to their culture.
It is, therefore, very essential that we all UNite to combat Climate change on the occasion of the World Environment Day - 2009, because Your Planet Needs You !
The National Action Plan on Climate Change in India, accordingly, focuses on the following eight missions: 1. National Solar Mission, 2. National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency, 3. National Mission on Sustainable Habitat, 4. National Water Mission, 5. National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem, 6. National Mission for a 'Green India', 7. National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, and above all 8. National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change, in order to achieve all the objectives of the World Environment Day - 2009.
Happy World Environment Day - 2009 to everyone ! Your Planet Needs You as much as You Need Your Planet ! So, let us all UNite to Combat Climate Change !

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