Urban Himalayas is drying up, 5 Indian villages amid increased water insecurity: study

NEW DELHI: Thirteen cities in four countries, including five in India (Mussoorie, Devprayag, Singtam, Kalimpong and Darjeeling), in the Himalayas (HKH) region, face greater water insecurity, said a study, published in the journal Water on Sunday. .

The study also explained the reasons behind the phenomena where the urban Himalayas are drying up despite being in the region of high water availability.

The remaining eight cities are found in three different countries: Nepal (Kathmandu, Bharatpur, Tansen and Damauli), Pakistan (Murree and Havelian) and Bangladesh (Sylhet and Chittagong).

Case study sites in the HKH region. Source: ICIMOD

Although Shimla is not part of this study as one of the 13 urban sites, the reasons for the increase in water insecurity there during the summer could well be explained by this phenomenon that is marked by poor water governance, lack of urban planning and the risks related to the weather.

The study, the first of its kind in the HKH region, also shows that the interrelationships of water availability, water supply systems, rapid urbanization and the consequent increase in demand (both daily and seasonal) are leading to Water insecurity in these cities has constantly been showing population growth and tourist flow.

“There is a great dependence on the springs (ranging between 50% and 100%) for water supply in three quarters of urban areas. According to current trends, the gap between supply and demand can double by 2050. Therefore, a holistic approach to water management that includes shed management and planned adaptation is essential to ensure the supply of safe water in the Urban Himalayas, said one of the editors of the report on this study: Mapping challenges for adaptive water management in Himalayan villages.

Prakash, director of research at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and lead author of the IPCC special report on the ocean and the cryosphere, also noted the relevance of the study to other cities in the Himalayas, such as Shimla. The problems are very similar in every hill town, he told TOI on Sunday.

The study was conducted under a program led by for (ICIMOD), an intergovernmental body in Kathmandu that works for eight regional member countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. He analyzed the gap between supply and demand, the projected population, available water sources and the challenges of climate risks in case of extreme weather events in the HKH region to arrive at their findings.

Analyzing the water management of the urban Himalayas, the report noted that the invasion and degradation of natural water bodies (springs, ponds, lakes, canals and rivers) and the increasing disappearance of traditional water systems (stone pipes, wells and local water tanks) are evident throughout the region.

“This study is an extremely relevant and timely reminder of the need to ensure water supply to urbanized cities in the Himalayan region. It faces the impacts of climate change on the long-term distribution and availability of water, while it has to deal with the immediate stress of the disappearance of natural water bodies and traditional water conservation practices, said the Institute's professor of Economic growth.

Underlining the need to take action in view of future demand, the study notes that although only 3% of the total HKH population lives in larger cities and 8% in smaller towns, projections show that more than 50% of the population will live in the cities by 2050. This will naturally exert tremendous stress on water availability, he said.

As part of its suggestions to address problems related to water insecurity in the urban Himalayas, the study emphasized the need to protect springs, increase water collection and pay greater attention to the equitable distribution of water.

He said: “The poor and marginalized are the most affected when the water supply decreases. Many cities face the challenge of providing access to safe water for the poor, especially during the dry season when the supply decreases. ”

“There is a growing water crisis in the mountains that have not yet reached our radar screens. From a study of 13 cities in four countries in the Hindu Kush Himalayas , it is clear that the increase in urban populations, climate change and water resources management represent a real challenge for urban dwellers, as urban poor and migrants often face harmful impacts, said the director general of ICIMOD and one of the editors of this report.

He said: We need specific solutions for mountains that, in addition to modern infrastructure, take into account traditional knowledge, the resurgence of spring sources, local institutions and the emerging needs of poor women and migrants.