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Climate change and water in the Hindu Kush Himalayas

Groundwater Global environmental change Water Pakistan Afghanistan

The HKH is very important to the planet and human livelihoods. It hosts a complex ecosystem with unique biodiversity and ten river systems. It spreads across 16 countries and influences the monsoon seasons in Asia. The future of the HKH, however, is under threat from a variety of anthropogenic sources. Climate change, in particular, is likely to pose an intractable problem. Even at the lower limit set by the Paris Agreement, 1.5⁰ C, predictions indicate that rapid glacial melting and extreme weather will increase water insecurity across the region. Similarly, local human activity has already caused a number of problematic changes to the hydrology of the region, which have exacerbated the summer dryness and winter floods that are common in the HKH. These effects are also depleting groundwater resources beyond their capacity to recharge. As water resources continue to degrade, the poorest communities are the most likely to suffer severe consequences.

Key points:

  • Climate change poses a major threat to the watersheds of the Hindu Kush region of the Himalayas (HKH). Increasing temperatures are likely to exacerbate existing trends, which cause low water levels in the summer and floods in the winter.
  • Other anthropogenic activities also contribute to water scarcity and floods in the HKH, including agriculture, urbanisation and deforestation.
  • More data is desperately needed to assess the water resources of the HKH and how they are affected by human activity.
  • Water crises are already affecting communities in the HKH and as human activity continues to degrade water resources, the poorest of them will be the hardest hit.
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