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Melting glaciers redistribute Asia's water

David Dollar's picture

"The glacier at Karo-la pass covered the whole rock face when our Tibetan guide began leading tours in 1996."
I spent the October holiday in China traveling across the Tibetan plateau to Qomolangma (Mount Everest) base camp. One striking impression was how much water there is there. Most of the great rivers of Asia originate on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau: Ganges, Indus, Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, Salween, Irrawady, and Yarhung Tsangpo (which becomes the Brahmaputra in India and Bangladesh). Half the world’s population gets its water from these rivers running off the plateau. The rivers are fed by the gradual melting of the huge glaciers that cover the Himalayan peaks, as well as the melting of the annual snowpack and seasonal rain. (The name of the Himalayan peak, Annapurna, in Nepal means “full of food,” reflecting the fact that the gradual melting of snowpack and glaciers each spring and summer waters the rice crop.)

The melting of the glaciers has accelerated dramatically in recent years. This is one of the most profound effects of global warming. The glaciers have shrunk 20% over the past 50 years, with much of that in the past decade. Our Tibetan guide took us to a number of different glaciers and showed us how they had receded since he starting taking tours around in 1996. At Karo-la pass we stood on hard, dry ground that had been covered by the glacier just 12 years ago. Climate scientists project that the glaciers will be 80% gone by 2035.

October 8 is International Day for Disaster Reduction

Zoe Elena Trohanis's picture

Growing up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, every year in elementary, junior high and high school, we would participate in hurricane drills. An alarm would sound, and all the kids would file into the interior hallways, sit cross-legged on the floor, and cover our heads with our hands. Some of us, if there wasn't a hallway handy, would crawl under our desks until we were told it was safe to resurface. Thinking back on those drills, I knew they were important but never quite made the link as to why we had to do these exercises, since strong hurricanes never seemed to make their way that far inland while I was growing up. Of course then in 2004, Hurricane Ivan blew through my hometown and caused massive damage, and knocked out my parents' power and water supply for more than a week. I'm sure the local schools put their hurricane drills to good use during that storm.

Rice is expensive: a blessing or a curse for Cambodia?

Stéphane Guimbert's picture

A rice seller in one of Cambodia's markets. The price of rice, a staple food for Cambodians, has doubled between July 2007 and July 2008.
Last week, I attended a very interesting seminar by the Cambodia Development Research Institute (CDRI). They presented the result of their recent study on the impact of high food prices (which the World Bank and several others financed). I found the results, presented by CDRI’s Chan Sophal, very interesting, showing the complexity of the question.

The simple reaction is that higher price of food is bad for the poor. CDRI is able to confirm some of this by tracking prices (the price of rice doubled between July 2007 and July 2008) and reminding us that food accounts for two thirds of consumption for a poor family. And there will be little substitution effect to other goods (even within food, most of the caloric intake comes from rice, also very difficult to replace–although CDRI shows that Cambodians in part shifted to lower quality rice to make up for the higher price).