Water ice society ecosystems in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

Source(s): International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development
Mt. Manaslu in Himalayas, Nepal.
Olga Danylenko/Shutterstock

Mt. Manaslu in Himalayas, Nepal.

Snow and ice in the Hindu Kush Himalaya are fast disappearing, with grave implications for people and nature.

Unprecedented and largely irreversible changes to the Hindu Kush Himalayan cryosphere, driven by global temperature rises, threaten two billion people and are accelerating species extinction. ICIMOD’s new report – Water, Ice, Society, Ecosystems in the Hindu Kush Himalaya – is the most accurate assessment of changes to the Asia high mountain cryosphere to date. It is also the first time their impacts on water, biodiversity and society have been properly mapped. The report urges policymakers to prepare for the cascading impacts of climate change in this critical mountain biome, which provides freshwater services to a quarter of the world’s population. It calls for urgent international support and regional cooperation for inevitable, near-term loss and damage, and to help communities adapt.

Key Findings

  • Glaciers disappeared 65% faster in the 2010s than in the previous decade
  • On current emissions pathways 80% of glaciers’ current volume will be gone by 2100
  • Availability of water is expected to peak in mid-century and then decline  
  • Vulnerable mountain communities are already experiencing major adverse impacts: loss and damage to lives, property, heritage, infrastructure  
  • Floods and landslides are projected to increase  
  • Impacts on fragile mountain habitats are particularly acute  

"While in all key areas, action on climate is either at a standstill or going backwards, this report shows that the HKH region is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of that inaction. We must act now to protect this region and its people."
- Prof. Saleem ul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Bangladesh, and on the Advisory Board to COP28

The snow and ice held in the mountains of the Hindu Kush Himalaya provide freshwater for 2 billion people in Asia. With glaciers disappearing at an unprecedented rate due to climate change, scientists warn of devastating consequences for people and nature from the region's changing cryosphere.

Water

Availability of water in the HKH is expected to peak in mid-century, driven by accelerated glacial melt, after which it is projected to decline, with variability in meltwater from glaciers and snow resulting in huge uncertainty both for mountain communities and vast lowland populations. Floods and landslides are projected to increase over the coming decades, threatening the lives, livelihoods, property and infrastructure of people and settlements downstream.

Learn more

Ice

Ice and snow in the Hindu Kush Himalaya feed 12 rivers that provide freshwater and other vital ecosystem services to 2 billion people in 16 countries: 240 million people in the mountains and a further 1.65 billion downstream. On current trajectories, glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayas could lose up to 80% of their current volume; snow cover is projected to fall by up to a quarter; and permafrost is decreasing.

Learn more

Society

While almost 2 billion lives and livelihoods are at risk because of the rapid cryospheric change happening in the HKH region, already vulnerable mountain communities are being hit hardest. Families in the mountains are facing crop loss and failure, fodder shortage, livestock deaths, with disasters causing loss and damage of lives, property, heritage and infrastructure and driving migration and psychological impacts. Hazards are becoming more complex and devastating.

Learn more

Ecosystems

The effects of the changing cryosphere on fragile mountain habitats are particularly acute, with cascading impacts reported in most ecosystems and affecting most inhabitant species. The region is already seeing both species decline and extinctions. With 67% of the HKH's ecoregions and 39% of the region's four global biodiversity hotspots outside protected areas, the HKH’s extraordinary biodiversity is particularly vulnerable to climate impacts.

Learn more

About the HI-WISE Report  

ICIMOD’s landmark Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment Report, published in 2019, focused specifically on climate change, cryosphere, water, and biodiversity and first established the region’s significance and vulnerability in global and regional fora. This new assessment report, co-authored by 35 researchers and scientists, from 12 different countries, and 23 institutions, zeroes in on the ecological and human impacts of changes in the cryosphere. The assessment went through a comprehensive, double-blind, peer-review process.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya  

The HKH stretches 3,500km from Afghanistan to Myanmar, has the highest mountain ranges in the world, the largest volume of ice of on Earth outside the polar regions and holds all or parts of four global biodiversity hotspots supporting diverse flora and fauna. Water flowing from these mountains feeds major rivers including the Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Yangtse, and Yellow.

View the report

CC NC-ND 4.0

Explore further

Country and region Asia
Share this

Please note: Content is displayed as last posted by a PreventionWeb community member or editor. The views expressed therein are not necessarily those of UNDRR, PreventionWeb, or its sponsors. See our terms of use

Is this page useful?

Yes No Report an issue on this page

Thank you. If you have 2 minutes, we would benefit from additional feedback (link opens in a new window).