How Disappearing Glaciers Threaten Life In The Himalayas - The Years Project

How Disappearing Glaciers Threaten Life In The Himalayas

By Kate Meyer

Many climbers around the globe dream of conquering Mount Everest. The tallest mountain in the world and its primarily western climbers attract ample media attention, but the broader effects of climate change on local Himalayan people remain largely uncovered. 

The Himalayan region stretches from Afghanistan to Myanmar and provides water to billions of people in the lowlands downstream to large rivers such as the Indus and the Ganges. The Khumbu region in Nepal contains Mount Everest and is home to the Sherpa people, a Nepalese ethnic group of around 150,00 that are renowned for their climbing skills and strength at high altitudes. Sherpa people depend primarily on agriculture and tourism for income, which makes their local economy highly sensitive to climate variability. 

It is estimated that the glaciers in the region have lost a foot and a half of ice every year since the year 2000, a faster rate than the previous 25 years. Climate change also creates unpredictable rain patterns during the summer monsoon season, resulting in decreased crop yields and directly threatening the Sherpa people’s agricultural livelihoods. 

Another short-term effect of climate change in the Himalayan region is the the rapid growth of glacial lakes, which can burst and harm local villages. In the Khumbu region, Imja Lake is one such threat to local populations. Imja Lake, created by glacial melting, has the potential to burst its banks as it grows and melting increases. Even worse, an earthquake has the possibility of triggering the release of water, which could affect 90,000 to half a million people who live downstream. This flooding has the potential to ruin homes, farmland and endanger the lives of those living in local communities.

Too much water may be a shorter term concern resulting from glacier melt, but the long-term effect is water insecurity. Melting ice may seem favorable for growing freshwater supplies, but over time these water supplies will grow scarce because the ice is melting at a faster rate than predicted. For the Sherpa people, water scarcity would affect both efficient crop growth as well as tourism, the two main industries in the region.

The Himalayan region is essential not only for the Sherpa people, but for all those living downstream.  Though rivers from the Himalayan region might be flowing well now, water supplies will dwindle and become scarce in the future. 

The Sherpa people, as well as the landscape that they depend on, are threatened by climate change. Mount Everest isn’t the only thing in the region that needs attention.