Glacial melt to upend crop production

The ever faster rate of melting of the Himalayan permafrost is set to significantly impact the crop production and livelihood of nearly 130 million farmers who depend on regular meltwater from these glaciers, a new research report has found.

The research, published in Nature Sustainability earlier this month, analysed how meltwater mixes with rainfall and groundwater when propagating downstream, and examines how it is subsequently distributed through irrigation systems.

With over 900 million inhabitants, the South Asian river basins of the Indus, Ganges and Brahnapautra are some of the world’s most densely populated areas, with meltwater being used for crop production to feed that population.

The new study shows that 129 million farmers irrigate their land using water originating from snow and glaciers in the mountains, with meltwater alone providing enough water to grow food crops to sustain around 38 million people.

“Millions of people are in danger of losing their livelihoods and their sources of food due to the fast melting of the Himalayan glaciers,” said Christian Siderius, co-author of the paper and research fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.”

“With an issue of this scale there is a clear need for political cooperation to ensure that these people are not pushed into poverty by global warming. Rainwater harvesting, improving man-made reservoirs or increasing groundwater use where possible might offset some of the loss or shift in meltwater, but these strategies are not sufficient.”

Previous research showed that a third of the total ice volume in the Himalaya might have disappeared by the end of the 21st century, with another study just last month showing that in the past 20 years, glaciers in the Himalaya were melting at a higher rate than in years before.

The full research study can be found here

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