Himalayan plunder: 3 million Indians live in areas that can be swept by glacial lake floods, says study

Source: The post is based on the article “Himalayan plunder: 3 million Indians live in areas that can be swept by glacial lake floods, says study” published in Down To Earth on 11th February 2023.

What is the News?

According to a study, three million Indians live in areas where a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) can happen at any time.

What is a Glacial lake outburst flood(GLOF)?

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What are the key findings of the study?

Rapid deglaciation over the last 20 years has led to the growth of many large glacial lakes.

The majority of the globally exposed population living near glacial lakes are located in the region of High-Mountain Asia(HMA).

Just four highly populous countries accounted for more than 50% of the globally exposed population: India, Pakistan, Peru and China.

The population exposed to GLOFs increases with distance from a glacial lake.

Note: It is not the size or number of glacial lakes that determined the risk to people. Instead, it is the number of exposed people that greatly elevated the potential impact of GLOFs globally, especially across HMA and the Andes.

– For instance, the island of Greenland has the highest number and area of glacial lakes. However, nobody resides in such areas, giving it a danger score of zero.

What is the situation in India?

Centre for Science and Environment State of India’s Environment report 2022: found that there has been a 40% increase in water spread area in India, China and Nepal, posing a huge threat to seven Indian states and Union Territories.

Of these, six are Himalayan states / UTs:  Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

What should be the way forward?

The rapid onset and high discharge of GLOFs means there is often insufficient time to effectively warn downstream populations and for effective action to be taken, particularly for populations located within 10-15 km of the source lake.

Hence, improvements are urgently needed in designing early warning systems alongside evacuation drills and other forms of community outreach to enable more rapid warnings and emergency action in these highly exposed areas.

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