“Revealed: The Himalayan Meltdown”

Jun 15, 2011

Shrinking glaciers to disrupt billions in Asia, new documentary shows

New York - More than 50,000 glaciers are rapidly shrinking in the Himalayan mountain region threatening billions of lives and livelihoods throughout Asia, according to a new documentary that premiered in New York on Tuesday.

“I often lose sleep, scared for my community because a glacial flood would devastate the entire river valley,” said Sonam Ishi Sherpa, a hotel owner in Nepal who has lived all his life at the foot of the Himalayas.

Revealed: Himalayan Meltdown, now airing on Discovery Channel Asia, examines how communities in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal seek to adapt to their shrinking mountain habitat which contains 40 percent of the earth’s fresh water and is a critical source for irrigation, drinking water and energy to some 1.3 billion people. 

The documentary shows lakes like Imja, in eastern Nepal, which did not exist before 1960 but are now filled with glacial meltwater. Imja is one of thousands of recently formed high-altitude glacial lakes in the Himalayas that risk flooding triggered by avalanches and earthquakes.

In Nepal, climate change is not only melting the Himalayan, it is also leading to drought, as shown in the documentary. Many communities have seen seasonal monsoon rains disappear. One of the solutions helping villagers adapt is the use of low-cost moisture-trapping nets that convert fog into drinking water.

“Developing countries are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but are less able to afford to adapt to it,” said Helen Clark, head of the United Nations Development Programme, at the screening of the film at the Asia Society. “For them, the future is now - they must already today adapt to the changing climate and prepare for an uncertain tomorrow.”

In the Kingdom of Bhutan, while harnessing Himalayan meltwater through hydroelectric dams, providing much needed energy to millions, the Government has also partnered with UN agencies—including UNDP—to avert the risk of glacial flooding from lake Thorthormi, in the country’s north-central region.

The partnership--also including the Global Environment Facility, World Wildlife Fund and the Government of Austria--is hiring and training 350 workers to clear rubble from a channel that drains Thorthormi.  Another 220 villagers are transporting 60 tons of material between areas lacking easy accessibility.

In addition, Bhutan is also installing early warning systems along rivers to ensure its people and infrastructures are prepared for glacial flood.

“Our project not only helps villagers buy food and education for their families; it also buys time,” said Karma Toeb, Glaciologist at the Bhutan Department of Geology and Mines. 

“We hope that this film will help stimulate a stronger international response to the challenges of climate change,” Clark said. “Quality research, technology transfer, and increased climate finance can all help developing countries in Asia and elsewhere to adapt and adjust to the change which is happening now.”

The 45-minute documentary was co-produced by the UNDP and Arrowhead Films.

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