Melting Glaciers on Himalayas and India’s Food Scarcity

Over the last few decades, the world has seen heated debates promoted by those who believe that the world is facing serious environmental hazards that have the potential to be apocalyptic. The proponents of this notion blame the danger squarely on the industrialization and the release of what is known as greenhouse gases into the environment at an unregulated rate. The opponents, on the other hand, argue that there is no potentially apocalyptic change taking place in the world. They hold that the concept of environmental change is merely a ploy by anarchists and propagandists seeking to satisfy their own agendas by spreading panic to the entire world. However, in this debate, the side arguing that there is a change occurring in the environment has been more vocal than their opponents. More significantly, they have scientific evidence to prove the occurrence of climate change.

This was the crux of the research conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), one of the first studies to prove that, indeed, there are adverse changes taking place in the environment. Most of the other studies conducted before had a common flaw: they were based on simulated models of the climatic change results. However, this particular study analyzed the collection of current environmental information. It arrived at the conclusion that the entire globe’s climate is, indeed, changing with marked increase in heat levels all over the world. This steady increase in temperatures all over the world is known as global warming. In turn, this temperature increase is triggering more unprecedented changes. One such change, and problem, is that the steadily rising temperatures are leading to glaciers melting from mountain tops all over the world, including the Himalayas, which is the tallest mountain range on Earth. The people that live at the foot of the mountain use this melting ice in many activities, and its continued rapid melting threatens to terminate their water supply. Brown points out that the rapid climatic change poses a challenge to the food security of the world. This essay aims to discuss the significance of this challenge and, more importantly, propose relevant solutions, with a focus on India.

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It is important to note that the glacier on the Himalaya Mountains has always melted at one point in the year due to sunshine, which is an expected and natural phenomenon occurring at equilibrium. However, before global warming peaked and reached its current state, the melting was happening at a low and natural rate, which is how the mountain has maintained the glacier to this day. However, as the global temperatures have risen steadily, the rate at which the glaciers melt has spiraled. This interferes with the natural cycle, as the rate at which the ice melts exceeds the rate at which nature can replenish it at the top of the mountain. Should the glaciers continue to melt at the same rate, some scientists suggest that by the year 2050, the mountain will have none of them left. The melting glacier has always been the source of water in most of the rivers around the mountain in both India and China. Therefore, the depletion of the glacier will in turn terminate the supply of water to said rivers throughout the year. This means that the rivers will lose their permanent status and only flow when it rains up in the mountains, and the water flows downhill. This will have wide-reaching consequences in the entire region that surrounds the mountains, since most of the human activity therein depends on the fresh water that comes from the rivers sustained by the melting glacier. In turn, the people will react by trying to drill more wells in the ground for fresh water, but the aquifer is also at risk of depletion due to overpumping. If people pump water at a rate higher than the reservoirs are able to replenish, the wells will run dry. 

The rising global temperatures that are associated with global warming is the main problem in the context of the melting glacier on the Himalaya Mountains and everywhere else in the world. Without the changes in climate, the state of events would have continued to be the same for a long time. This means, however, that something must have changed to trigger the global warming as well. A look into the past shows that the phenomenon only came after the industrial revolution changed the manner in which manufacturing and other forms of production were done to incorporate more mechanization. The common factor in all of machines used was the internal combustion engine. The proliferation of this technology led to the widespread release of greenhouse gases that have built up in the atmosphere and trapped the excess heat that is manifesting as global warming. This heat is a serious challenge, since beside the melting glaciers, it also poses other challenges to the human race.

For instance, the climatic cycles in most of the areas in the world are affected. Consequently, all the activities that are dependent on climate, such as farming, face serious challenges. In addition, the increased temperatures have facilitated the steady expansion of desert areas in the world. In India, for instance, the Ganges basin is rapidly depleting the underground water reservoirs by pumping excess volumes of it in wells. This activity, combined with the melting glacier and minimal rainfall, means that most of the land along the banks is at an increased risk of desertification. This will compound the problem of lack of food, and it may result in severe cases of malnutrition. The country is one of the most populated ones in the world, and, therefore, any response in terms of aid to the afflicted is a serious challenge due to their vast numbers. In addition, the melting glaciers mean that, at least in the short term, the amount of water going into the ocean will be very high. Consequently, there are likely to be floods along the river and possible submerging of islands and areas along the coastline as the levels of ocean water rise. This diverse and critical nature of the challenges emphasizes the significance of environmental pollution and the resultant global warming.

As a result, the challenges that are associated with global warming are many and diverse, and, therefore, it is not possible to cover all of them in one instance. Many rivers depend on the glacier atop the Himalayas both in India and in China, including the Yangtze, Yellow, and Ganges rivers. All of the people that depend on these rivers will face similar problems that arise from severe water shortage. However, the Ganges river in India is the single largest source of irrigation water in the entire country. Furthermore, the Ganges basin is the vastest water basin in the country, having attracted and sustaining the livelihoods of 407 million people. In comparison, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers sustain 368 million and 147 million people respectively. Presumably, the effects of the shortage of water flowing to the rivers will be felt proportionately to the number of people that depend on each of them. By these criteria, the Ganges river will have the biggest impact, and hence, this essay concentrates on it specifically.

It is also notable that India is among the world’s largest grain producers, coming only second to China in the production of rice and wheat, for instance. The two countries account for more than half of rice produced in the entire world. Most of India’s contribution to this volume is farmed by irrigation in the Ganges basin, since the area does not receive sufficient rainfall. Therefore, as the Gangotri Glacier, from which the Ganges River receives its water, melts away, there is a very high risk of severe food shortage. This food shortage would be amplified by the fact that not only does India feed its population with said rice, but it also exports significant amounts to the rest of the world. The markets adhere to the rules of demand and supply, meaning that the shortage will automatically lead to an increase in the prices of grains in the entire world. 

Evidently, there is a clear challenge facing the Asian nation of India with respect to its food security in the future. In response, it is imperative that all stakeholders take part in seeking solutions to the already manifesting problems and prevent the graver outlook of the situation from becoming a reality. It is as ironic as it is worrisome that despite the severity of the challenges facing India, plans are in place within the country to build newer and bigger coal-fired power plants. As noted herein, the problem of melting glaciers is only existent because of global warming, which, in turn, is attributable to the pollution of the environment with excessive discharge of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide. In this respect, all efforts within the nation should go towards ensuring that the use of fossil fuels, that increase the discharge of greenhouse gases, is kept at the bare minimum or eradicated completely. While it may not revert the damage already inflicted on the climate, such abstinence should prevent any further damage from occurring. Coal is one of the primary markers of the industrial revolution, particularly known for the high levels of greenhouse gases it emits on combustion. In addition, burning coal for energy is extremely wasteful and inefficient. Most of the developed nations that used coal at the beginning of the industrial revolution have stopped its use due to these drawbacks. Therefore, it is ill-advised for India to adopt the use of the same material in this age when the world is in crisis. Therefore, I recommend that the Indian government institutes measures to regulate the type of energy used in the country. More specifically, it should stop all the use of the energy sources such as coal in the interest of environmental protection. Moreover, it is evident that the challenges faced by India have repercussions that pervade the entire world. For instance, should any grain scarcity occur to one of the largest individual exporters in the world, the supply will go down in the entire markets to serious consequences. Therefore, it is advisable that all the nations in the world take steps to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released from industrial and other activities. This is possible through regulatory requirements, so that all companies made efforts to ensure that they act responsibly with respect to environmental protection. Additionally, they could use incentives to encourage responsible behavior. For instance, they could allow tax breaks to companies that use environment-friendly materials. This cooperation is essential, since there is no single nation that could stop global warming single-handedly. 

It is not guaranteed that these measures will have success in preventing, for instance, the desertification of large tracts of land that have been used for grain planting in India. Therefore, it is essential to apply responsive measures that will help nations endure the hostile conditions that result from global warming. For instance, there is a likelihood that the previous state of environment that was conducive to growing of grains such as rice may not be attainable in the near future. In response, nations should employ technological, technical, and human resources to develop new strains of crops that can withstand adverse weather conditions, such as minimal water availability and extreme heat.

In addition, technical experts should devise methods of gaining the most benefit from the available resources. Such methods may include growing food-crops in hydroponics or kitchen gardens or using piped drips that require minimal water for plants to thrive and minimize wastage. Alternatively, they could domesticate indigenous strains of crops that are already adapted to thrive in harsh environments. These are especially useful as they require minimal investment of either resources or time. Moreover, modern high-capacity storage facilities should be developed wherever possible so that whenever water is available in the rainy season, it is collected and stored for use in the dry season. All stakeholders must also enforce proper storage and minimal wastage of food that is available. Collectively, these measures will contribute to ensuring that despite the melting of the glaciers on the Himalaya Mountains, unavailability of water in the Ganges river, and limited capacity of the river’s basin to grow plants as previously possible, India and the world will still have food security.

In conclusion, as Lester R. Brown notes in his book World on the Edge, the world is at a critical point in terms of the survival of humanity. For a long time, environmentalists have warned of the need to be more cautious in people’s treatment of the environment, but the warnings have not attracted sufficient responses. However, the time has come when it is no longer possible for people to go on with business as usual, since the fate they had been long warned about is finally manifesting. The longstanding abuse of environment, particularly by industrialists, has facilitated the buildup of greenhouse gases that have resulted in global warming. One of the consequences of the global warming is the melting of the glaciers on the world’s tallest mountain range, the Himalayas. India relies on the glaciers’ provision of water for the vital Ganges river.

Once the glaciers have melted, the Ganges river will turn into a seasonal river, hence threatening the food security of the nation and the world, seeing as India is the second biggest rice and wheat producer globally. Therefore, preventive and reactive measures must be instituted for the food shortage scenario. Preventive measures include the use of environment-friendly energy sources to minimize further pollution. In addition, reactive measures, such as the development of new strains of crops or domestication of indigenous ones that can withstand hostile environment, should also be developed in case the preventive measures fail to work.

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Mar 24, 2020 in Informative
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