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Local responses to too much and too little water in the greater Himalayan region
Local Responses to Too Much and Too
Little Water – Synthesis
populations are putting ever-increasing constraints on
available resources, including water. As livelihood
The greater Himalayan region spans from the Pamir,
options dwindle, seasonal and permanent migrations
Hindu Kush, and Karakoram ranges in the west,
are increasing in order to seek new and more
along the main Himalayan range in the centre, to the
prosperous opportunities. The price of food and other
Hengduan Shan and other ranges in the east. The
commodities at local levels is affected by improved
region is a vast area with many different climatic and
infrastructure, and globalisation and regionalisation of
geographical environments.
markets. Political turmoil influences all of the above.
The region has always had either too much or too little
The current, and much debated, changes and variability
water. Water availability has always been markedly
in climate overlay this wide range of drivers. These
seasonal, varying greatly over short distances whether
subsequent changes are exacerbating the already
located in the south Asian monsoon regime areas in the
constrained access to water in a sustainable and
central and eastern Himalayas or in the climate regimes
equitable way. Climate change will have an impact
dominated by winter precipitation from the north-
on the hydrological cycle in its entirety, starting with a
westerlies in the Pamir, Hindu Kush, and Karakoram.
reduction in snow cover and glaciers and, gradually,
availability of water downstream (Eriksson et al. 2009).
For example, about 80% of the precipitation in Nepal
falls within four months of the year; and much of this
The predicted – and to some extent extant – changes
falls during a few extremely intense rainfall events.
in rainfall patterns might be even more important as
The result is too much water during a very short time
the frequency and magnitude of high intensity rainfall
period, making it very difficult for both humans and
events increase and dry geographical areas and dry
plants to benefit from it. Most of it flows quickly through
periods become even drier. Monsoon patterns might
the watersheds and basins of the high mountains
shift, thereby increasing the uncertainty about when rains
and middle hills, causing floods and havoc without
will commence and diminish. Climate change will bring
much replenishment of groundwater and other natural
increased uncertainty to water availability in time and
reservoirs. During the rest of the year, the population
space. The changes are hardly new, but challenges
struggles to support household needs, agriculture, and
arise from the rate at which they are occurring, in
industrial demands with too little water.
combination with pressure on land, water, and other
resources from a constantly growing population,
Since these natural climatic regimes and environments
particularly in the greater Himalayan region. These
date back to geological time scales, people living in
challenges are pressing the same population to respond
this region have, of necessity, adapted their livelihoods
and adapt to the changes at a more rapid pace and in
and agricultural and cultural practices to these situations.
more innovative ways than before.
The seasonal changes in climate and subsequent water
availability determine the calendar for sowing and
This report presents people’s efforts to respond, cope,
harvesting; other livelihood activities, such as herding,
and adapt to the current rapid changes, focusing in
brick making, trade, or house construction; and the
particular on the impact of climate-induced changes on
cultural calendar for religious and other festivities.
water availability, which overlays other drivers of change.
The region and the world at large, however, are
Over the last couple of years, the global climate
currently experiencing a range of changes. Growing
change debate has made a noteworthy shift from
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