Environmental News from the Asia Pacific:
When China invaded Tibet in 1949, a largescale exodus of people occurred. Many, however, remained in their homeland – hoping that the Chinese occupation would one day come to an end. Such hopes linger on to this day, with the slight exception of China altering the way Tibet has existed for millennia, perhaps permanently so. Tibet, along with the Himalayas, is known as the “Third Pole” of the world. Glaciers are natural formations found in the North and South Poles alone, which is to say that these structures cannot be found outside the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The only exception, though, is the Tibetan plateau and the Hindukush Himalayan range. Here, glaciers are found in abundance and feed the water needs of close to two billion people.
The glaciers here are now melting away, and that is a cause of grave concern for billions in the Indian subcontinent and in Southeast Asia who depend on the Tibetan plateau to sustain their day-to-day lives. According to the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), at least a third of the glacial region in this part of the world will melt due to the climate crisis if carbon emissions are not cut drastically. Tibet and its adjoining areas are sources of 10 major rivers that deliver water to a quarter of the world’s population.
Tibet is also witnessing a worrying trend of recording average hikes in temperature that are twice the global average. The temperature of Tibet rose by 0.44 degrees Celsius per decade from 1979 to 2020. Calling Tibet the ‘Water Tower’ of South Asia alone would be an understatement. As a matter of fact, the region also feeds water to areas of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Within Tibet, a dichotomous scenario has come to exist. The northern region is receiving excessive rainfall due to the heightened activity of the westerlies, while the southern region is grappling with droughts and high temperatures.
Meanwhile, the melting of glaciers not only threatens to initially flood low-lying regions and subsequently lead to the rise of aridity, but also cause major health problems among billions of people. A team of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has found close to 1,000 species of bacteria in snow and ice samples collected from Tibetan glaciers. Their paper, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology claims that the melting of glaciers would unleash these species of bacteria into nature, potentially leading to hazardous health crises. 98 per cent of the bacteria discovered from the melting glaciers have never been seen before.
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