'Receding glaciers caused floods'

KOZHIKODE, JULY 24. The bursting of the lakes formed by the receding glaciers in the eastern Himalayas caused the recent floods that devastated the north east and Bihar, according to Syed Hasnain, noted glaciologist and Vice-Chancellor of Calicut University.

Talking to The Hindu here, Dr. Hasnain said the recent global warming had forced the precipitation of the south-west monsoon in the form of rain instead of ice and snow on the glaciers in the eastern Himalayas right up to Nepal.

Recent studies point out that much of the snow that previously fell in the Himalayas, allowing glaciers to maintain themselves and even grow, is now turning to rain due to the rise in temperature.

Global warming

The increase in temperature across the world due to global warming was 0.6 degree Celsius during the 1980s. But temperature in the Himalayas has risen by one degree Celsius due to global warming.

Dr. Hasnain said this rainfall on the eastern Himalayan glaciers leads to large discharge of water into the lakes formed already by the melting of glaciers. The inundation of these lakes results in large amounts of water being discharged into the rivers which flow down into the North East and Bihar, flooding these areas.

The Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra are fed up to 80 per cent by the glacial-ice in the eastern Himalayas.

However, glaciers in the eastern Himalayas are receding faster than those on the western part. Dr. Hasnain says that the rainfall in the north east and Bihar was not of the magnitude that could trigger such large-scale flooding.

It was only recently that western Uttar Pradesh, which lies close to the Himalayas, was declared a drought-hit area. Hence, the Government and the planners should find out the source of such large amounts of water that swamped the affected States at a time when rainfall was low in these areas.

If a scientific analysis is done, it is not difficult for the Government to find out that receding glaciers cause the floods, he observes.

Inventory of glaciers

Dr. Hasnain says that the way to control these floods lies in having an inventory of all the glaciers in the eastern Himalayas.

"The Government should act appropriately with this data base provided by satellite imagery as what Nepal did. Otherwise such kinds of floods are not going to stop and may recur.

The best way is to make some arrangements to release the flow of these excess water from the lakes during non-monsoon period or at least control the flow."

He said there were hundreds of such lakes (formed by the melting of glaciers) in Sikkim itself. The Government would have to go in for regional cooperation with neighbouring countries such as Bhutan.

The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, had come closer to finding the cause when he said that the floods were a result of release of excess water from China and Bhutan and that the issue would be discussed with them.

But the real solution would be to share the database on glaciers and have a regional cooperation to control the inundation of lakes due to melting of glaciers and excess rainfall.

But any scientific project to control floods should have a database first, Dr. Hasnain added.

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