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The Changing Himalayas
Impact of Climate Change on Water Resources
and Livelihoods in the Greater Himalayas
Five ‘take home messages’
1 Reduce scientific uncertainty
There is a severe knowledge gap on a Himalayan scale in understanding the impact of climate change on the
availability of water resources in time and space, and changes in the frequency and magnitude of water-induced
hazards. Appreciable changes in the volume and/or timing of river flows are likely, but there is great uncertainty
about the rate, and even the direction, of these changes. There is an urgent need to close this knowledge gap in
order to provide policy and decision makers with knowledge upon which well informed decisions can be made
for water resources management and disaster risk reduction.
2 Reduce risk from floods and flash floods
Water induced disasters such as riverine floods and flash floods are the main natural disasters in the Himalayas
and downstream river basins. Water induced disasters account for more than 70% of all economic losses and
more than half of the casualties. Reducing the risks from these disasters is fundamental for poverty alleviation
and sustainable development. Sharing of hydrometeorological information in a regional transboundary
upstream-downstream context is crucial for the establishment of efficient early warning systems and for disaster
3 Support community-led adaptation
Local communities in developing countries are the first to encounter the adverse effects of climate change. Poor
and marginalised groups such as the Himalayan mountain population and downstream flood plain inhabitants
are particularly vulnerable. One approach to reducing vulnerability and strengthening local level adaptation
is that of ‘bottom-up’ community-led processes built on local knowledge, innovations, and practices. The focus
should be on empowering communities to adapt to a changing climate and environment based on their own
decision-making processes and participatory technology development with support from outsiders.
4 Regional cooperation for sustainable and prosperous water management
Climate change (and other drivers) poses a real threat to the Himalayan region and its large rivers and to the
inhabitants of their basins. The challenges ahead are of regional and overarching nature. The countries of the
greater Himalayan region need to seek common solutions to common problems. Regional cooperation needs to
advance in order to address the ecological, socioeconomic, and cultural implications of climate change in the
Himalayas. The international community, including donors, decision-makers, and the private and public sectors,
should be involved in regional cooperation ventures. This is of particular importance to achieve sustainable and
efficient management of transboundary rivers.
5 Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES)
The mountains of the greater Himalayas provide abundant services to the downstream population in terms of
water for household purposes, agriculture, hydropower, tourism, spiritual values, and transport. There is a heavy
responsibility leaning on the shoulders of upstream land and water managers to ensure reliable provision of good
quality water downstream. PES schemes can be developed at different scales, from local to national to regional,
and involve local communities, governments, and the private sector. So far, opportunities to establish PES schemes
in the Himalayas to ensure safe provision of good quality water are largely unexplored. However, land and water
managers, as well as policy and decision makers, should be encouraged to look for win-win solutions in this
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