Munni Rawat, a 50-year-old homemaker in Uttarakhand state in the Himalayas, does not know about the climate summit in Copenhagen next month. But she does know that climate change has dried up the stream in her hillside village in northern India.
“There has hardly been any rain or snow in winter since 2006, and there was very little rain this year even during monsoon. Besides, almost all the rainfall this monsoon took place over two weeks instead of four months, so all the water flowed down the hill instead of going underground. How do you expect the stream to run?” Rawat asked.
The woman, who is a small farmer from Pratap Nagar in Tehri district, was here to take part in a seminar Tuesday on the effects of climate change in the Himalayas.
Dehradun-based NGO Navdanya, which organised the seminar, has just finished a survey of these effects in 165 villages spread across Uttarakhand as well as Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir.
The survey found that in the last few years rainfall has not only been scanty but also erratic.
“As a result, we found that during the past one decade, 34.6 per cent perennial springs (280 springs out of 809) have been converted either into seasonal springs or dried up completely,” said Vinod Kumar Bhatt, one of the scientists who carried out the survey.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- a global group of over 2,500 climate scientists --had predicted in 2007 that one of the effects of climate change would be erratic rainfall, resulting in water scarcity.
As 190-odd countries prepare for next month’s UN Framework Convention on the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, there is all-round despondency because rich countries have not announced significant cuts in the emissions of greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, nor have they committed money to help poorer countries cope with climate change effects.
These effects are now all too obvious on the ground, said Bhatt, who described 2009 as “the year of forest fires in Garhwal...Prolonged drought has meant rapid drying of moisture in the oak and other broad-leaved forests (in the Himalayas) and has paved the way for fires.”
The survey found that in the past 10 years, livestock population has been reduced by 74 per cent in the Bhagirathi valley, 72 per cent in Mandakini, 64 per cent in Yamuna, 57 per cent in Alaknanda and 34 per cent in the Tons valley, all in Uttarakhand.
“One of the main reasons was a continuous depletion of fodder and water resources,” said Bhatt.
“I used to leave my two cows out to graze,” said Rawat. “But in the last few years, there has been no grass for them to graze on. I don’t have the time to go to the forest and cut fodder for them; so I had to sell the cows. I hardly got any money for them, and now my grandchildren don’t get any milk.”
Many other women from the surveyed regions echoed her concern.
The survey found that in 2007 and 2008, 50-60 per cent of the winter crops failed in the middle and lower mountain regions (600-1,500 metres) because of drought. In 2009, the failure rate increased to 90 per cent in rain-fed sub-tropical areas.
Rawat said: “We do not even have any wheat, pulses or mustard seeds left for next year’s sowing.”
The survey report said: “In tropical and sub-tropical mountain areas, about 35 per cent irrigated land is being left barren for want of water.”
“I have no doubt that the climate is changing,” said Rawat. “It’s becoming impossible to live in our villages any more. If this goes on, we’ll all have to shift to Delhi.”