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ICIMOD Report: Water, ice, society, and Ecosystems in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

GS Paper 1/3

 Syllabus: Climate/ Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation


Source: DTE

 Context: The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) released the Water, Ice, Society, and Ecosystems in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HI-WISE) report.


The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region:

  • It is a vast area, encompassing mountain ranges stretching from
    • the Hindu Kush range in northern Afghanistan to the Arakan range in Myanmar,
    • with the Himalayan range as its spine, and also includes the Tibetan Plateau.
  • The region harbours the highest mountain ranges in the world and contains the largest volume of ice on earth outside of the polar areas and is called “Asia’s water tower”.
  • Ice and snow in the HKH are important sources of water for 12 rivers that flow through 16 countries in Asia.
  • These rivers provide freshwater and other vital ecosystem services to 240 million people in the mountains and a further 1.65 billion downstream.
  • The region is undergoing “unprecedented and largely irreversible” changes triggered by global warming.



  • It is a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge-sharing centre serving the 8 regional member countries (RMCs) of the HKH region – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.
  • It was established in 1983 and is headquartered at Lalitpur, which is located in the Kathmandu valley of
  • ICIMOD promotes and fosters partnerships amongst the RMCs to secure a better future for the people and environment of the HKH region.


Findings of the report:

  • Many areas around the world have passed “peak water” and communities are dealing with less glacier meltwater.
  • For the HKH, the peak point has not been reached yet, but it is coming soon.
  • As Himalayan glaciers melt due to climate change, water availability in the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra is set to increase (through 2050) in the short term and decrease in the long term (~80% by 2100).
  • The Eastern/ lesser Himalayas have fewer glaciers compared to their western counterparts. Hence, rivers in the region get less contribution from glaciers and are less likely to be affected overall.
  • Climate change is severely affecting biodiversity in HKH. For example, the habitat of Himalayan ibex is likely to reduce by 33 to 64%.



  • The glaciers act as a savings bank account/ buffer in the hydrological cycle. However, the HKH has seen a 65% faster loss of glacier mass.
  • There is a chance for more floods and landslides and a loss of savings during the dry years.
  • Decreasing snow cover could dry up springs, which is bad for agriculture and will jeopardise the livelihoods of 129 million farmers in the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra basins.
  • This will make adaptation even harder, as people and ecosystems need to adapt not only to decreasing snow cover but also to decreasing meltwater.
  • Institutions aren’t equipped to handle the new dangers and fail to take climate change threats into account.
  • Governments have played a limited role in helping mountain communities of the HKH adapt to climate change.


Way ahead:

  • Generalised reports need to be replaced by specific ones: It would have been great if the report could have told which areas of the Himalayas are expected to be affected and how much.
  • Mountain-specific adaptation practices: As adaptation in one place might end up being maladaptation in another, the RMCs need to develop/ share a database on adaptation practices.


Conclusion: As the mountain population and biodiversity of the region (40% of which is under protected areas) are dependent on the cryosphere (the frozen water part of the Earth system), urgent adaptation measures need to be adopted.


Insta Links:



Mains Links:

How does the cryosphere affect global climate? (UPSC 2017)