M A I N   N E W S

Depleting glaciers worry Centre
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 16
Glaciers in the Himalayas, especially in Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Nepal and Bhutan, are depleting at an alarming rate causing serious concern among the authorities at the Centre.

Obviously, such a phenomenon can not only lead to the destabilisation of the agricultural economy of states such as Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pardesh and Bihar but also create serious problems on the hydropower generation front and cause flash floods in downstream areas.

Official studies have revealed that the Bara Shigri glacier, which is the world’s second largest glacier, in the Chandra valley of Lahul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh is receding at a shocking rate of 10 metres a year. Many small and isolated glaciers in Himachal Pradesh are retreating by about 20 to 30 metres per annum. The recession of Uttaranchal glaciers, which feed the Ganga, ranges from 3.7 to 21 metres a year.

“For us in the government it is a matter of utmost concern. We are keeping a close watch on the emerging scenario in this regard”, says Dr J.S. Samra, Deputy Director-General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, who deals with the subject of climactic changes in the country. “With the excessive melting of glaciers, glacial lakes are expanding menacingly, posing a threat of frequent flash floods in the years to come”, he adds.

Studies have identified more than 5,230 glaciers in the Himalayas. Of these, 3,252 are in Nepal, nearly 2,550 in Himachal Pradesh, 677 in Bhutan and the rest in areas such as Uttaranchal, Sikkim and Arunchal Pradesh. The glaciers in Himachal Pradesh alone hold ice reserves of 387.3 cubic km, which is equivalent to 18 per cent of India’s total utilisation of water resources. Glaciers contribute 60 to 70 per cent of the total water in the country.

“Global warming is playing havoc with our glaciers”, says Dr Samra. Major rivers such as the Beas, the Ravi, the Chenab and the Satluj, which provide water to Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh,

Jammu and Kashmir and even Delhi, are fed by 2,554 glaciers spread over 4160.50 cubic km. The Satluj basin has the largest number of 945 glaciers followed by the Chenab and the Beas. In fact, states like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are so much dependent on these rivers that without these their economy can collapse.

“If the glaciers continue to melt at such an alarming rate, power generation, irrigation and other allied benefits from rivers fed by glaciers will start diminishing”, says Dr Samra. The greatest concern at the moment is the expansion of lakes because of the fast depletion of glaciers. At present, 229 such lakes have been identified and 22 of these are dangerous for downstream areas.

In 2004, the Pareechu lake in Chinese territory had become a big threat to people in Himachal Pradesh. Now China has agreed to provide information on the level of water in that lake on a regular basis. There are other lakes, too, which are considered unsafe.

Environmentalists have warned the Union Government that downstream areas may be devastated by flash floods if the melting of glaciers continues at the existing rate. Studies indicate that the lake created by the Geopang Gath glacier has increased to 0.47 sq km from 0.27 sq km in the past 20 years.

Flash floods in the Satluj, which led to the death of nearly 200 persons in Himachal Pradesh last year, were caused by either cloudbursts or the bursting of lakes in the upper reaches, says experts. The Manali and Kulu areas suffered major damage last year because flash floods occurred due to “over-topping or breaching of glacier lakes”. In the next 15 to 20 years, there is every likelihood that such floods will occur more often.

HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |