The Himalayas or the Abode of Snow, are one of the highest, majestic and snow-covered mountains of the world. The Uttarakhand Himalayas lie closely snuggled and rested in the arms of the Great Himalayas, the northern section of the Himalayan range. The stunning ice-laden peaks and beautiful glaciers are a major tourist attraction throughout the world, inviting mountaineers, trekkers and enthusiasts alike. A heavenly abode to the rarest species of flora and fauna, which are classified under the rare and endangered categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list, is now considered to be in a fragile state of health.
The recent decade has seen some horrible changes in the ecosystem of the Himalayas. Climate change and global warming have brought some devastating results in this region.
Glaciers are vulnerable to rising temperatures and changes in precipitation. Mass accumulation of plastic waste is resulting in a rising debris-cover on glaciers and resulting in the formation of more glacial lakes. Extreme rainfall events in the future may cause floods due to the bursting of glacial lakes, posing a threat to downstream mountain communities. No one can forget the havoc caused by the torrential rains and the flash floods of 2013.
In June 2013, heavy rainfall triggered the collapse of the Chorabari glacier lake. This unleashed a torrent of water, along with debris that dammed the lake, which hurtled downstream over the town of Kedarnath, causing deadly floods that killed thousands of people
Climate change is a major threat to birds and mammals. The impact is visible in the shifting distribution of sensitive species such as the Asiatic Black Bear or the Snow leopard. They are facing the ever-increasing human-wildlife conflict in the region. The flora and fauna are highly vulnerable to land use change, illegal mining activities, wildlife trade, forest fires and various other anthropogenic activities.
In the last few years, there has been a boom in adventure tourism in India, especially trekking in the Indian Himalayas, more of a fashion statement nowadays. Mountains have their own microclimate. Its unique fauna and flora have a short reproductive time frame and are sensitive to disturbance. Too many trekkers and tourists are upsetting the natural balance and the delicate ecosystem. Large-scale deforestation to build facilities for trekkers and tourists in the eco-sensitive areas could also impact weather patterns.
The Himalaya is a young mountain. Climate change is increasing the frequency of such disasters. In such a context, all of our interventions need to take this reality into account and strive to reduce the risks. It is a wake-up call, we all need to get up and work together to save our Himalayan ecosystem.
Author: Nivedita Sheel
(The writer is an Editor with Macmillan Publishers in Dehradun)