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A recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has pointed out the increasing effects of climate change and global warming on the Third Pole. The Third Pole comprises the areas of the Pamir-Hindu Kush, the Himalayan-mountain range, the Tienshan and the Qilian-mountain range. This vast region is known as “The Third Pole” due to the amount of ice that it contains. The Third Pole stretching all the way from Afghanistan to China is the main source of drinking water for people all over India and South Asia. Global warming at the Third Pole is occurring twice as fast as the global mean.
The rate of global warming at the Third Pole is a serious issue, considering the number of people and animals dependent on it for their survival. The Third Pole ranges around five million square kilometres and has about 100,000 square kilometres of glacier-capped mountains that feed over ten river systems and 12,000 lakes not only limited to India but in other parts of South Asia as well. According to various reports and studies, lake levels have already been rising up to 0.4m per year.
Almost all the population in South Asia relies on agriculture for their subsistence, and as we all know, water is essential to agriculture. Global warming at the Third Pole will increase the events of water scarcity, drought, and flooding all over Asia. Environmentalists believe that the entire human population must cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 50 percent by 2030 to keep the earth’s temperature below 1.5°C. Rain-fed seasonal rivers may not be able to sustain the population of South Asia.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that India has witnessed the phenomenon of disappearing rivers. The ancient river Sarasvati also disappeared, leaving behind the people of the Indus Valley Civilization with no proper water source. However, while the Sarasvati river disappeared due to a “natural calamity”, the disappearance or the destruction of the glacier-fed Himalayan rivers- like the Ganga, Yamuna, Brahmaputra, and Indus- will entirely be human-made. The glaciers and ice sheets will gradually start to melt away due to human activities that heat up the planet. The Ganges civilization (populations fed by the Ganges River) may face serious consequences if we do not take drastic measures.