Thursday, August 18, 2011

Impacts of Climate Change in Ladakh and Lahaul & Spiti of the Western Himalayan region

A summary of the impacts perceived by villagers and experts from the development field
is given below:
1. Temperature:
Most people interviewed in villages said that winter temperatures have been increasing
(2008 being an exception) and that the duration of the cold period (winter) has been
decreasing. Likewise, the warm period i.e. summer is getting longer; hot temperatures are
perceived even in April. This was validated by the climatic data analysis for Leh and the
baseline survey questions on changes in temperature conducted with people above 35
years of age.
2. Precipitation:
As per data obtained from meteorological department, Air force station, there is definitely
less snowfall in winter than previously, but there is no significant change in summer
precipitation (rainfall). This was validated by local people who said that rainfall in
summer has become unpredictable sometimes (no rain at all and then very heavy rainfall)
and untimely which is further harmful for agriculture and fruit trees.
3. Glacier extension:
Even though there is no long-time study on glaciers in Ladakh and Lahaul Spiti, people
gave many examples of retreating glaciers like Gyung-Kangri, Stok-Kangri, KangYangtze, glacier above Dhomkar, Hemis Shukpachan (in Leh), Kanamo glacier, Lhari
Ghaman glacier (Spiti). Interviewees said that because of less snowfall, the glaciers were
not being fed as much as before and warmer winter temperatures were further
accelerating the speed of its melt.
4. Water availability:
Water availability is apparently one of the gravest /serious impacts of climate change in
this Trans Himalayan region which is mainly dependent on glacier melt water for
irrigation and domestic purposes. Most interviewees especially in Spiti and Lahaul
reported less water availability either in the river/streams or the natural springs that are
fed by glaciers. Some examples are:
1. The main Spiti stream which separates the old Spiti town from the new town is
completely dry. Earlier people could not cross it at all as there was water flowing
throughout the year but now people use it as a shortcut/footpath to reach the other
side. 2. Likewise Langsa, Kibber, Dimul which are the upper lying villages in Spiti faced
critical problems with water supply in 2004-2005.All the natural springs had dried
up and there was not even sufficient water for drinking. As a result 4-5 Khangbu
(younger brother’s) households in Langsa had disbanded everything and migrated
to Spiti.
3. In Zanskar, the entire village of Shum Shadey has migrated to Chumik-Gyatsa
(which means literally mean “land of hundred natural springs”) as the glacier that
fed the village completely melted.
However, in some villages in Leh and Kargil it is unclear as within the same village,
some say that there is more water; others say that there is less water. Many other factors
could influence this, such as cultivated area as compared to past years, increased water
consumption due to higher living standards, introduction of water intensive crops, etc.
5. Agriculture/Horticulture:
Again many factors other than Climate Change can influence this and some people
interviewed were also aware of this: gain of knowledge, other varieties of seeds, use of
fertilizers, changes in water availability, changes in varieties due to rise of market
possibilities (military, tourism).
An interesting point could be changes in flowering and maturing of apricot trees, since
they are less influenced by the above mentioned other factors. All respondents in the four
regions mentioned that apple cultivation has shifted in the higher altitude region. Earlier
apple was found only in the lower regions (Kullu in case of H.P and Sham in Ladakh) at
an altitude of 9000 feet but now it is found at a height of 12,000 feet. Another point is the
appearance of pests and insects on plants, something that has not happened before.
Changes in the time when they start seeding barley/wheat are difficult to establish, since
most farmers rely on the traditional calendar to decide when to start.
6. Wildlife:
Some changes in migration patterns of birds have been noticed in villages and also at
Tsomoriri (as reported by WWF and wildlife warden). The number of black necked
cranes around Tsomoriri lake have increased; this could be because of warmer conditions
plus other factors such as increased participation of the community in its preservation.
However, some other migratory birds like the geese, Brahmini duck have stopped
migrating outside; they are found in this region throughout the year.
7. Others:
Chadar trek is getting shorter (Jan-Feb. instead of Dec. to March) and Tsokar Lake starts
melting beginning of March instead of middle of April which makes it difficult for the
nomads to cross it with their cattle. Likewise, the Tsomoriri and Pangong Lake are rising
due to increased melting of glaciers and this is evident from the fact that the roads close
to it are completely submerged under water.

No comments: