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The Changing Himalayas
Structural inequalities that make adaptation by poor people permafrost have been carried out in some areas, they
more difficult will need to be levelled. It is important to note are scattered widely in space and time. Few detailed
that poor and marginalised people already face all of the investigations of the response of snow and ice to climate
difficulties that we usually associate with climate change. warming have taken place in the Himalayan and other
This is nothing new to them. They are already facing poor high ranges. Baseline studies are lacking for most areas,
health, susceptibility to floods and landslides, and a lack particularly for areas higher than 4,000 masl, and there
of adequate shelter, food, and water. While they do need has been little long-term monitoring of climatic variables,
climate change adaptation, they need poverty alleviation perennial snow and ice, runoff, and hydrology in the
even more. extraordinary heterogeneity of mountain topography
(Liu and Chen 2000; Rees and Collins 2006; Messerli
China and India’s rapid economic development, which
et al. 2004). In addition, the one common feature that all
has been moving many tens of thousands of people out
mountain areas share with one another – complexity caused
of poverty every day, may also provide the best way to
by topography – causes temperature and precipitation
handle a changing world. It should be noted that much
to vary over very short distances (Becker and Bugmann
of the adaptation to climate change will be found outside
1997), which in turn makes projections difficult.
the sphere of natural sciences. For example, to focus
only on flood-safe housing or new types of pest-resistant Three levels of impact to climate change can be identifed:
crops is not enough. The focus must include enhanced i) local effects; ii) downstream effects; and iii) global
capacity to adopt (implying a comprehensive approach) feedback effects. The development of adaptive strategies
new adaptation strategies. “An adaptation strategy to can be approached from the perspective of each of these
reduce vulnerability to future climate change needs to be three different levels. Firstly, adaptive strategies can be
incorporated in regulatory procedures, integrated natural developed at the local level, looking at local effects within
resources management, and other development planning the Himalayas and giving priority to local adaptation.
procedures” (UNDP-GEF 2007). As poverty is widespread Secondly, adaptive strategies can be developed from
in the Himalayan region, the empowerment of poor people the perspective of the downstream level, evaluating the
to adapt to climate change is critical. downstream effects of climate change and designing
adaptive strategies around these effects. Thirdly, adaptive
Examples of adaptation at different levels may include good
strategies can be on the global level, based on the potential
governance to mainstream climate change into development
feedback mechanism of the environmental changes in the
and institutional reform (Mirza 2007); general political
Himalayas to global warming. All three levels are interlinked
reform and associated openness (ibid); health education
and interrelated, but full of uncertainty.
programmes (WHO 2005); and the development of early
warning systems for floods, flash floods, and droughts.
Local Effects
Lack of Knowledge – Unknown
Few model simulations have attempted to address issues
related to future climatic change in mountain regions,
Downstream Effects
primarily because the current spatial resolution of models
The impact of climate change on the Himalayan cryosphere is too crude to adequately represent the topographic and
is not understood sufficiently to be able to estimate the full land use details (Beniston et al. 2003). Most climate
scale of the downstream impact of reduced snow and ice models and predictions for high-altitude areas (above
coverage. While in-depth studies of glaciers, snow, and 4,000 masl) are dependent on extrapolation from hydro-
Water from the Hindu Kush mountains supports irrigated agriculture in Afghanistan
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