The Himalayan ice is not far away

©Guo Chai Lim

The glaciers on the world’s roof are shrinking and menacing the balance of the rivers that feed nearly a third of the world’s population. The first to be affected are the people who live by the ice. In the long run, we can all be.


Toah’s ark. Anirudh Goutham (India). Animation. Finalist of the 2013/14 We Art Water Film Festival

The most recent study on the ice of the world’s highest mountain range gives Toha reason to build his ark. Experts on climate and hydrology concluded in 2015 that the Himalayan glaciers have increasingly retreated to the summits. The protagonist of the film symbolizes those who are already suffering directly from the melting of the ice water body. These are communities that have lived by the glaciers since their ancestors settled there centuries ago, and have now run out of their main source of water in the hottest summer months: the ice.

The study was carried out by the Nepali International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), together with the University of Utrecht and experts in glaciers from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, (CNRS) in France. It alerts that between 70% and 99% of the Himalayan ice will have disappeared by 2100. The increase in rainfall and snowfall in the mountain range, predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will not compensate for the thawing caused by the rise in atmospheric temperature. The iconic photograph of the immense white mountain ranges crowned by Everest may radically change to the grey of bare rocks in less than a century.

The human problem spreads downstream, as the Indus River in Pakistan, the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India and the Bramaputra River in India and Bangladesh, whose waterways are among the most polluted in the world, suffer the consequences of melting ice as the seasonality of floods and the water quality change. On the other hand, satellite data (see article) showed in 2009 that the aquifers of the upper Ganges basin were falling at a rate of 33 cm in their water table each year. In addition to the overexploitation of groundwater, vital for agriculture, the cause of this loss is the decline in glacial ice.

We Are Water image

© Mariusz Kluzniak

The bad news about the ice on the world’s roof also comes from the northern slope of the mountain range. Another study, driven by the Chinese government, concludes that 247 km2 of the more than 46,000 glaciers in Tibet, almost 15% of the world’s remaining glaciers, melt each year. These glaciers are the source of the largest rivers in China: the Yangtze, the Hongshui and the Yellow River. FAO warns that if the rivers on the Eastern slope are added to this list, such as the Irawadi, which runs through Burma, and the Mekong, which irrigates China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and which are also affected by the alteration of the ice upstream, the subsistence of more than 2 billion people, almost 30% of the world’s population, is threatened.

The health of the Earth’s glaciers is not a distant issue: it is vital for the health and balance of the planet. Mitigating global warming is an obligation for all the governments around the world, which cannot fall into the irresponsible selfishness of short-term political and economic strategies; but it is also an obligation for each one of us: thinking about the ice that melts every time we open we tap or hit the light switch can change the fate of the Earth.