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Asia’s Great Rivers: Climate Crisis, Pollution Put Billions of Lives at Risk

Some of the world’s largest rivers, such as Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Mekong and Indus, begin in Asia, and their health is inextricably linked to that of the continent.

Hong Kong: The year is 2100. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region — the world’s “Third Pole” — are vanishing as the planet warms, the ice that once fed the great rivers of Asia is all but lost, and with it much of the water needed to nurture and grow a continent.

Further stressed by extreme heatwaves, erratic monsoons, and pollution, the waterways are in crisis and the lives of hundreds of millions hang in the balance. Access to clean water, now more precious than oil, is a preserve of the rich and has become a resource so valuable that people — and nations — are willing to fight for it.

This apocalyptic vision is the continent’s future if nothing is done to limit global warming, scientists and environmentalists warn.

“If urgent climate action is not taken rapidly, starting today, and current emission trends continue unabated, it is starting to look conceivable that this will entail grave threats to all of humanity as we know it,” says David Molden, director general of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

The 2015 Paris agreement saw nations commit to limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as a way of curbing the worst impacts of global warming.

A lower cap of 1.5C was set, only as a goal for nations to work towards. But this year’s Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) Assessment Report says unless it is met — two-thirds of the region’s glaciers will be lost by the end of the century.

Running from Afghanistan to Myanmar, the HKH region takes in the Tibetan Plateau, and the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, and Karakoram mountain ranges.

Functioning as a vast water tower, some of the world’s largest and most important rivers, including the Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Mekong and Indus, begin here.

Its health is inextricably linked to that of the continent: Some 1.65 billion people directly rely on these waters — for their lives and livelihoods.

But tens of millions more rely on the agriculture, hydropower, and industries the rivers fuel.

“This is the climate crisis you haven’t heard of,” ICIMOD’s Philippus Wester explains, adding that alongside glacier melt, there will be increased risk of floods, droughts, landslides and avalanches.

But many in Asia are already living this dystopian future.

In the southern Indian city of Chennai, 2019 brought a drought so severe reservoirs ran dry. Residents were forced to queue for water from government tanks or pay black-market prices. In some cases, desperation led to violence.

Northern India was lashed by flooding as the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers burst their banks, with more than 100 reported dead and many more displaced. In Pakistan, thousands of glacial lakes have formed, with its mountain people facing the threat of at least 30 bursting.

In parts of China, villagers must choose between paying a premium for bottles or risking their health with the potentially contaminated stream or river water.

More than half the world’s population lives in Asia, but there is less fresh water available per person there than on any continent, according to the UN, often leaving the most vulnerable at risk.

“Climate change is rapidly diminishing our access to clean water, which will have a devastating impact on human health, access to food, and sanitation, radically reshaping communities and cities,” Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, tells AFP.

“As always, the poorest people are and will be the most affected.”

Asia’s rivers feed the continent’s breadbaskets and rice bowls — the Indus, Yangtze, and Yellow basins rely heavily on meltwater to irrigate agriculture that helps sustain not only those that live there, but national economies too.

Any change — either the initial surge of meltwater — or the later drastic decline in river flow could cause catastrophic food shortages, with Molden warning the worst-case scenario, if nothing is done to combat global warming, would be “starvation and conflict”.

Despite proclamations that we are in “the Asian Century”, there are fears lack of proper planning for the coming water crisis may stifle the economic dreams of a rapidly growing region.

Debra Tan, director of the NGO China Water Risk, adds: “Asia faces a triple threat in terms of water because 1) some parts — including China and India — have very limited water resources to develop, 2)climate change exacerbates scarcity, and 3) our cities and populations are clustered along vulnerable rivers.” Every key industry on the continent — from electronics and automobiles to clothing and agriculture — requires water but few use the resource judiciously.

Irrigation methods are often inefficient and crops grown can be water-intensive, while many industries still discharge untreated water in the rivers with few facilities for recycling.

Tan insists: “If the risks are not managed well, they will not only have detrimental consequences to billions of livelihoods but also to trillions of dollars of economic growth.”

Mass migration away from most affected areas will put intense pressure on other towns and cities.

This may exacerbate tensions in a conflict-prone area — both within and between countries, Wester says.

In a 2008 report, Goldman Sachs hailed water as the “the petroleum for the next century”, underlining fears its scarcity will lead to unrest.


Bhutan: Development threatens takin habitats

Bhutan takin is found between 1,200 meters and 5,374 meters in northern Bhutan. Human-induced changes are threatening the habitats of Bhutan takin (Budorcas taxicolor whitei).

By Choki Wangmo / Kuensel via Asia News Network: 

Linear infrastructure such as expansion of road and transmission lines and improper land-use planning were found to hinder wildlife movement and disturb prime habitats of the species, according to the first national report on takin by the forest department.

The infrastructure developments, if unchecked, could cause unforeseeable risks due to penetration into the takin habitats.

The Bhutan takin is one of four subspecies of takin and is endemic to Bhutan. It is a large bovid ungulate found along the warm broadleaved forest through the alpine region between the altitudinal range of 1,200 meters in warm broadleaved forest to 5,374 meters in northern Bhutan.

The animals mostly inhabit Jigme Dorji National Park and Wangchuck Centennial National Park although they are found also in Paro, Thimphu, and Wangdue forest divisions.

The report stated that winter habitats of takin were highly vulnerable to anthropogenic pressure due to its closer proximity to human settlements. “Building roads closer to or within the takin habitats will not only alter the animal behaviour but will also fragment the habitats.”

To deter negative impact within the habitats, the study recommended the government focus on maintaining the existing farm roads rather than building new roads. “If new construction is required, it should be cost-effective and environmentally less damaging.”

The current method of “cut-fill” construction involves high cost and is not environmentally friendly. Experts documented the indirect impact of such developments on wildlife — physical barriers for movement and dispersal, displacement and change in habits, among others.

Takin prefer continuous gentle terrain and an undisturbed habitat for foraging, finding mates and long-term sustenance. For that, low-altitude forested habitat outside protected areas should be incorporated into takin management plans and should be protected as takin habitats, according to the report.

Further to that, takin inhabit remote areas away from high-density human settlements, which increases the poaching risk. It was observed that Bhutan takin were susceptible to snaring, illegal trapping and disturbance from feral dogs.

Bhutan takin migrate from alpine valleys to lower forests in autumn and return to the summer habitats in early spring. The species has been reported from Xizang in China and Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh in India. Its population is estimated between 500-700 individuals.

The Takin is found in steep forests extending to the timberline and mountain valleys in the Eastern Himalayas and adjoining mountain ranges of Bhutan, India, Myanmar and China.

The Bhutan takin was declared the national animal of Bhutan in 1985 and is strictly protected under the Schedule I of the Forests and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 1995. The takin is categorised as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List


‘It’s an Atomic Bomb’: Australia Deploys Military as Fires Spread

HASTINGS, Australia — The evacuees walked down the gangway of the giant naval vessel to the dock, each carrying just a few items of luggage. Some held infants and others their dogs, whose legs were still shaky from the 20-hour voyage down the coast of Australia. They were weary, and their clothes smelled of smoke, but the terrible infernos were finally behind them.

Four days after a bush fire ravaged the remote coastal town of Mallacoota, forcing people to shelter on the beach under blood-red skies, more than 1,000 stranded residents and vacationers arrived on Saturday in Hastings, a town near Melbourne.

The authorities said it was most likely the largest peacetime maritime rescue operation in Australia’s history. It was also a symbol of a country in perpetual flight from danger during a catastrophic fire season — and the challenge the government faces in getting the blazes under control.

Searing heat and afternoon winds propelled fires over large swaths of Australia on Saturday, adding to the devastation of a deadly fire season that has now claimed 23 lives. Thousands of people have been evacuated, while many towns and cities under threat were still smoldering from ferocious blazes that ripped through the countryside earlier in the week.

More than 12 million acres have burned so far, an area larger than Switzerland, and the damage is expected to only get worse in the extremely arid conditions that are allowing the fires to spread. The fires are also so hot and so large that they are creating their own weather patterns, which can worsen the conditions.

Jill Rose cooled off her alpacas in Tomerong, in the Australian state of New South Wales, as fire approached on Saturday.
Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

With more than a month still to go in the fire season, the government announced on Saturday a large-scale use of military assets, a deployment not seen since World War II, experts say. About 3,000 army reservists, along with aircraft and naval ships, are being made available to help with the evacuation and firefighting efforts.

“The government has not taken this decision lightly,” said Defense Minister Linda Reynolds. “It is the first time that reserves have been called out in this way in living memory.”

In anticipation of the bad conditions on Saturday, thousands of people were evacuated, largely from communities along the southeastern coast, where the towns swell with tourists during the summer. Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that a third Australian Navy ship, the Adelaide, would be used to evacuate people.

Mr. Morrison, who has been widely criticized for his response to the fires, had resisted a major intervention by the national government, saying firefighting has traditionally been the domain of the individual states. He has also minimized the link between global warming and the extreme conditions that have fueled the fires.

The states and their overwhelmingly volunteer force of fire fighters in rural areas have been stretched and depleted by a season that started earlier and has been especially ferocious. While Australia has long dealt with bushfires, a yearslong drought and record-breaking temperatures have made for a more volatile and unpredictable season.

The Bureau of Meteorology reported that the western Sydney suburb of Penrith, which reached a high of 48.9 degrees Celsius, or 120 degrees Fahrenheit, was the hottest place in the country on Saturday. Last month Australia recorded its warmest day across the continent.

Credit…Australian Maritime Safety Authority, via Reuters

As climate change worsens, scientists are predicting that the fires will become more frequent and more intense.

John Blaxland, a professor at the Strategic and Defense Studies Centre at the Australian National University, said the country had not seen a seen a catastrophe on this scale, affecting so many people in so many different locations since Australia became independent in 1901.

With other obligations in the Pacific and South East Asia, the military was not necessarily staffed to handle a looming climate crisis, he said. “If this is the new normal, then that model is broken,” he said.

Officials on Saturday said one major fire had crossed from the state of Victoria north into New South Wales and was spreading quickly. Fire-generated thunderstorms have appeared over blazes in two different places. Emergency workers were using cranes and air tankers to fight the fires, as winds moving up the coast were causing some of the blazes to merge.

The fires are blazing ferociously along Australia’s eastern coast, as well as South Australia, Tasmania and parts of Western Australia.

In southern Australia, fire tore through a popular nature reserve known for its koala bears, sea lions and other wildlife, killing a man and his grown son.

In towns along the southwest coast between Melbourne and Sydney shops closed, power was cut and the authorities went door to door ordering evacuations.

Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

In Nowra, a coastal town two hours south of Sydney, the sky went dark, the air filled with choking smoke.

At a lawn-bowling club transformed into an evacuation center, people strapped on gas masks, while dogs barked frantically. A chaplain ministered to the anxious.

“There’s nowhere safe,” said Liddy Lant, a hospital cleaner still in her uniform who had fled from her home on Saturday. “I could seriously just sit down and cry.”

The Fire Commissioner of the Rural Fire Service in New South Wales, Shane Fitzsimmons, told reporters on Saturday that more than 148 active fires were burning in his state alone, with 12 at an emergency level. Further south, in Victoria, the authorities counted more than 50 active fires.

“This is not a bushfire,” Andrew Constance, the transport minister in New South Wales, told ABC radio. “It’s an atomic bomb.”

For Australia’s wildlife, the toll has been incalculable. About 87 percent of Australia’s wildlife is endemic to the country, which means it can only be found on this island continent.

Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

And a great many of those species, like the koala, the southern brown bandicoot and the long-footed potoroo, have populations living in the regions now being obliterated by the fires. Because the fires this season have been so intense and consumed wetlands as well as dry eucalyptus forests, there are few places many of these animals can seek refuge.

“We’ve never seen fires like this, not to this extent, not all at once, and the reservoir of animals that could come and repopulate the areas, they may not be there,” said Jim Radford, a research fellow at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

At the evacuation center in Nowra, about a hundred people sought cover throughout the day. Children chased each other around as paramedics strapped oxygen masks onto elderly residents.

Ms. Lant, 71, said she received an emergency alert on Saturday afternoon telling her to evacuate immediately from North Nowra. She ran home to fetch her dog Kaiser and her bird. Her cat had fled. Firefighters were knocking on doors telling her neighbors to leave. Her brother is in Mallacoota, the town where residents are being evacuated by the navy.

“I’ve just had it,” she said.

At the next table, the Barwick family and their two dogs were waiting as they had for days. Although their home in Worrigee was not in the direct line of fire, they had arrived here on Tuesday night, having lived through a bushfire in 2017.

Their two children had been traumatized by that experience. Back then, they had to flee the approaching flames, spending hours on the beach.

“I don’t need them seeing the plumes again,” said Daniel Barwick. “I’m just trying to protect them as much as possible.”

People evacuated from the coastal town of Mallacoota by the Australian Navy arrived in the port of Hastings on Saturday morning.
Credit…Pool photo by Ian Currie

As people disembarked the naval ships in Hastings on Saturday, emergency service workers offered emotional support and premade sandwiches. Buses then took them either to Melbourne or a relief center in the nearby town of Somerville, where many would be picked up by friends and relatives.


Australia fires: Military to be deployed to help rescue effort

Australian military aircraft and vessels will be deployed to help emergency services in the fire-ravaged states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria.

Thousands of people fled to beaches in the south-eastern states on Tuesday as emergency-level fires spread.

In Mallacoota, Victoria, about 4,000 people sought shelter on the coast.

Two more people have been confirmed dead in NSW, bringing the fire-linked death toll to 12.

Authorities say four people are missing in Victoria and another in NSW.

“We’ve got literally hundreds, thousands of people up and down the coast, taking refuge on the beaches,” said Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Mr Fitzsimmons said it was “the worst fire season we have experienced here in NSW”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds have agreed to send military aircraft and vessels at the request of the Victorian government.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison, pictured here on 23 December, flying over bushfires in an Australian Defence Force helicopter in NSWImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionPM Scott Morrison flies over bushfires in NSW on 23 December

The Australian Defence Force will send Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and navy vessels to Victoria and NSW, the two worst-affected regions.

The military is expected to provide humanitarian assistance and carry out evacuations if needed in the coming days.

The US and Canada have also been asked to provide “specialist aviation resources” to help the emergency effort.

In his New Year message, Mr Morrison hailed the “amazing spirit of Australians” but warned that the weeks and months ahead would “continue to be difficult”.

The bodies of the latest victims – a 63-year-old man and his 29-year-old son – were found near the town of Corbargo in NSW.

Police said the men, named as Robert Salway and his son Patrick by Australian media, had stayed behind to protect their family home, where their bodies were found on Tuesday.

In Mallacoota, the local fire service said a change in wind direction had taken the worst of the fires away from the town.

“I understand there was a public cheer down at the jetty when that was announced,” said chief officer Steve Warrington.

People in Mallacoota evacuated to the beaches under a deep-red skyImage copyrightPETER HOSKIN
Image captionLocals were left sheltering on the beach at Mallacoota on Tuesday morning

About a dozen “emergency-level” blazes stretch across NSW and Victoria.

Several holiday spots along the coast have been cut off and the main road in the region – the Princes Highway – has been closed.

At midnight on Tuesday, Sydney’s A$6m (£3.1m; $4.2m) fireworks display, renowned worldwide, went ahead despite calls for it to be cancelled given the scale of the bushfire crisis.

Temperatures exceeded 40C (104F) in every state and territory at the start of the week, with strong winds and lightning strikes bolstering the flames.

Meteorologists say a climate system in the Indian Ocean, known as the dipole, is the main driver behind the extreme heat in Australia.

What has happened in Mallacoota?

Residents fled to the beach or took up shelter in fortified homes when they heard the warning siren go off at 08:00 local time on Tuesday.

A primary-school aged Australian boy wears a mask and life vest in a in a boat on Mallacoota lake after his family fled into the water to escape the bushfire threatening the town on 31 December 2019Image copyrightABC NEWS
 One woman shared this picture of her young son wearing a mask and life jacket as the family fled on to a boat to escape the blaze at Mallacoota

“It should have been daylight but it was black like midnight and we could hear the fire roaring,” said David Jeffrey, a local business owner. “We were all terrified for our lives.”

The fire was kept back from the shore, where firefighters had gathered for a last line of defence, by the change in wind.

Victoria’s state emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp told reporters there were “4,000 people on the beach”.

Many of those trapped on the beach could be forced to spend the night there.

Fire chief Warrington said there had been “significant property losses” across the entire East Gippsland region in the past days.

Authorities said bushfire had destroyed 43 properties in Gippsland, where more than 400,000 hectares have been burned.

Hundreds of massive blazes have destroyed millions of hectares in the eastern states of Australia since September.

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Residents in the NSW holiday towns of Bermagui and Batemans Bay also fled on Tuesday morning to the waterfront or makeshift evacuation sites near the shore.

Locals evacuated to the beach at Bateman's Bay in New South WalesImage copyrightALASTAIR PRIOR
Image captionResidents of Batemans Bay in NSW also headed to the water for safety

Locals told the BBC they had “bunkered in” as the front approached, raining ash on the beaches.

“It was bloody scary. The sky went red, and ash was flying everywhere,” said Zoe Simmons in Batemans Bay.

Media captionResidents have taken shelter on beaches to escape the flames

A “freakish weather event” killed a volunteer firefighter on Sunday, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS). He was the third volunteer firefighter to have died.

Samuel McPaul, 28, was a newlywed who was expecting his first child. Powerful winds near the NSW-Victoria border – generated by the fires – lifted his 10-tonne truck off the ground and flipped it over, the service said.


Orange sky over Merimbula, NSW, Australia

For many Australians, the final days of 2019 have been a tense and worrying time. The smoke hanging in the sky day after day is a constant reminder of communities on fire.

Some are staying inside to avoid the thick, acrid smoke, while others are cancelling holidays or taking long detours to avoid roadblocks.

Here in Merimbula, on the New South Wales coast, the sun has been blotted out, casting a deep orange haze in the sky. People on the street are describing it as apocalyptic.

The smoke is now so thick it’s almost impossible to drive. The ground is blanketed in ash and supermarkets are packed with people stocking up with supplies.

Holidaymakers should be swimming and hiking today, but they’re checking into evacuation centres or planning escape routes.

Media captionFirefighter in New South Wales sheltered in their truck as it was overrun by flames

Biodiversity Task Force of South East Europe’s role

Biodiversity Task Force of South East Europe’s role amid changing context of nature conservation
Alongside many activities within the regional projects in the field of environment, biodiversity and climate change Germany’s development cooperation fosters the collaboration  in a new format in the Western Balkan. Under the auspices of the Regional Cooperation Council’s (RCC) Working Group on Environment, the Biodiversity Task Force of South East Europe (BDTF SEE) was established end of 2017 for technical and advisory support in the territory at the gates of the European Union.

The BDTF SEE works on integration of biodiversity concerns into developmental goals. The interdependence of actors from different levels will be inevitable for achieving the 2050 vision of living in harmony with nature. The anniversary and the reflection on the changes so far come ahead of significant milestones in the timeline for the environment sector, particularly for combating biodiversity loss and its conservation.

The year 2020 marks a milestone in terms of biodiversity and development globally, thus also in South East Europe. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) with its 20 Aichi targets covers the period until 2020, the six targets of the European Union’s Biodiversity Strategy are set until 2020 and the RCC also adopted the South East Europe Strategy with its Dimension J on Environment until 2020.

Cooperation among stakeholders remains the central point for steering biodiversity conservation and nature protection.

What led to the creation of the Biodiversity Task Force?

In response to the global loss of biodiversity and the agreement of the international community to increase efforts in achieving targets of the strategic plan for biodiversity until 2020, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) commissioned the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) to support SEE in its effort to fulfil international obligations for the preservation of biodiversity. The GIZ/Open Regional Fund for South-East Europe, ORF in short, begun a three-year regional project on biodiversity – ORF BD in 2015. In 2018, it was followed by the new ORF – Implementation of Biodiversity Agreements (ORF BDU) to last until 2021.

Chair of BDTF Shpresa Harasani

BDTF biodiversity GIZ ORF BDUWe all live on Earth and share it. By looking in detail at all of its constituent elements, we will better understand its great values. Due to the wide range and unique integration between plant communities and habitat types, the Western Balkans have an extraordinary wealth of diversity.

Biodiversity is the foundation of ecosystem services closely related to human well-being. Regional cooperation priorities and biodiversity protection initiatives can only be addressed through a comprehensive approach that extends far beyond the borders of the region. It is the primary target for the BDTF SEE. Respect for the boundaries of nature should be the basic principle for economic progress.

The Regional Cooperation Council organized the 9th Meeting of the Regional Working Group on Environment in Tirana on July 2. Chairing the BDTF SEE, Albania took part in the meeting with a presentation on the activities and regional priorities for 2020. The main purpose was the contribution of the regional dimension coordinators.

The agenda faces numerous challenges toward 2030. BDTF will have an ambitious task to address the alarming rate of biodiversity loss, the increasing impact of climate change and the overconsumption of natural resources.

The previous ORF BD, as well as the current ORF BDU, seek to establish strategic partnerships with regional stakeholders and create alliances with structures and initiatives working in the field in order to build on existing national, regional and international commitments of parties and expedite progress with joint efforts. The Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN ECARO) and the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Adria complement the projects in the region along with other sectoral biodiversity-benefiting and biodiversity-impacting projects of GIZ portfolio in South East Europe. They provided a solid foundation and allowed fast-forward movement on the establishment of the BDTF SEE. In particular, the IUCN ECARO project Towards Strengthened Conservation Planning in South-Eastern Europe, funded by MAVA Foundation, aims to lift standards by supporting institutional development and creating a policy-oriented regional platform.

Members nominate BD TF’s focal points and deputy focal points with expertise in biodiversity and related intervention fields

The RCC Secretariat proposed the establishment of a biodiversity task force in December 2016. Another meeting was held next June in Belgrade and the BDTF terms of reference were endorsed two months after that. The constitutional event was organised on November 14, 2017, also in Serbia’s capital city.

The BDTF SEE was acknowledged three days later by the Ministerial Declaration on the occasion of the Second High-Level Panel on the Environment and Climate Action during the Bonn Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The BDTF SEE is composed of focal points and deputy focal points with expertise in biodiversity and related intervention fields, nominated by governments of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia. IUCN ECARO acts as the BDTF SEE Secretariat.

Regional initiatives 2017-2019 supported by BDTF

Although the SEE governments have developed policy and legal frameworks for the conservation of biodiversity, the operational implementation is lagging behind. The BDTF SEE is centered on themes of integrating ecosystem services assessment and valuation (ESAV) into development planning, enhancement of biodiversity information management and reporting (BIMR) systems, dialogue with parliamentary groups and committees in the region on biodiversity-relevant topics and, last but not least, strengthening of the regional network of 14 biodiversity-related civil society organizations – BioNET.

Capacity-building modules, case studies, formulated regional policy documents and recommendations demonstrate how biodiversity contributes to the political economy and inclusive governance in the region. Major focus of the ESAV was to strengthen capacities of institutions, organizations and individuals in the region for emerging the concept of ESAV, to enable them to apply the region-relevant tools and methodologies in their daily work. A stepwise approach, including training of trainers, is implemented to guide participants from various institutions, using best practices worldwide.

Followup actions cover the development of further guidelines on the application of ESAV into decision making and region-tailored ESAV curricula.

The list of endemic taxa and the regional recommendation paper were endorsed by the BDTF SEE to further enhance BIMR

Two innovative pilot case studies have been conducted – Streams of Income and Jobs: The Economic Significance of the Neretva and Trebišnjica River Basins, and Integrating Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Assessment and Valuation in Bosut Forests area. The cross-cutting approach enabled the BDTF SEE to summarize the current state of knowledge on ESAV in SEE and bring in new case studies and regional recommendations for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) regional assessment and presentation at 7th IPBES Plenary.

Limits in technical capacities including data standards and systems resulted in vertical and horizontal information loss and high inefficiency. The work was carried by the complementary BIMR regional scientific platform. BIMR brings the evidence-based approach forward and finds common ground for improved data management and reporting. The detailed participatory baseline assessments were undertaken to analyse the current stakeholders’ situation, policy, legal and institutional framework as well as information system set-up in the region. They were followed by the development and adoption of BIMR regional guidelines, aiming to improve existing systems in managing data and reporting on species diversity, ecosystems and genetic diversity. They were piloted via information systems for nature conservation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia.

The list of endemic taxa and the regional recommendation paper were endorsed by the BD TF to further enhance BIMR. A focused partnership with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and later with the Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo) provide mutual benefits and certainly add value to the emerging BD TF and BIMR science-policy interface.

A position paper with a primary focus on the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020 was produced by BioNET to assist in biodiversity conservation as part of the EU accession process. In coordination with the BDTF SEE, the gender-based review of key national biodiversity-related strategies and reports was carried out by the group.

The BDTF SEE is initiating the discussion with other relevant regional platforms globally on a strategy to integrate the regional perspective and cooperation mechanisms in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

Initiating transformative changes and reforms

The regional findings, case studies, recommendations along with region-specific know-how were summarized by the BDTF SEE and contributed to the Post-2020 process, started within the regional position paper to the High-Level Segment and side-event at the CBD Fourteen Conference of Parties (CoP 14), and followed by regional contribution to First Open-ended Working Group meeting, side-event at Twenty Third Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA 23) and set of relevant processes on finances for biodiversity.

Furthermore, the BDTF SEE is initiating the discussion with other relevant regional platforms globally on a strategy to integrate the regional perspective and cooperation mechanisms in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

From regional cooperation to regional policies

The overarching strategy to catalyse cooperation for biodiversity is following a multi-actor approach involving political decision makers, scientific experts and social opinion leaders. Ultimately, coherence is created among the peers enabling debate among the different stakeholders.

Cooperation is based on different principles, like sharing experiences or achieving a common goal, meeting accession criteria for joining the EU.

Director of IUCN’s Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia Boris Erg


With all the benefits and opportunities triggered by regional cooperation, it comes as no surprise the traction the SEE Biodiversity Task Force has gained in the first few years of its existence. There is a strong sense of ownership with participating economies about this regional process and readiness to operationalize it to its full capacity, including positioning it at the centre of regional discussions on the post-2020 framework and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Therefore, at the policy level, the BDTF SEE agreed a set of common regional priorities and to enhance capacities for mainstreaming biodiversity concerns into the development planning. This includes moving from the uni-sectoral to the multi-sectoral cooperation, cost-effective budgeting and finances of biodiversity, as well as communication and outreach.

The call for new associated members is open-ended. Agencies, organizations, bodies and individuals are encouraged to apply.

The assistance in meeting the criteria of chapter 27 – environment of the EU acquis is contributing to the common effort in fulfilling relevant criteria for joining

Inherent is the idea of creating an overarching responsibility by expanding regional cooperation. Especially in the context of biodiversity, joint efforts are needed to curb environmental changes which negatively impact our and future generations’ opportunities for economic, social and cultural development.

Changing context of nature conservation

Consequently, the ORF BDU serves the six economies’ needs regarding the fulfilment of the international and EU-relevant obligations towards preservation of biodiversity. Thereby, the promotion of peer-to-peer learning and the creation of exchange platforms support knowledge sharing. The assistance in meeting the criteria of chapter 27 – environment of the EU acquis is contributing to the common effort in fulfilling relevant criteria for joining EU.

Therefore, an approach allowing learning from experiences from within the region, promoting a strong partner dialog, as well as strengthening individual and institutional capacities is needed. It facilitates not only the regional cooperation for its own sake, but it supports the whole Western Balkan region in fulfilling obligations for the EU accession as well.

Regional cooperation might be a transformative change, but it is essential for curbing  biodiversity collapse and halt loss. And in any case, an understanding and practice of cooperative collaboration are beneficial for being part of a community of states on a European level.

Ex-chair of BDTF Vlatko Trpeski

biodiversity ORF BDUNature doesn’t recognise borders. Rivers flow from country to country and migratory birds are here today but hundreds of kilometers away tomorrow. Only through coordinated efforts and pooling of resources we can help to protect our natural heritage. This is precisely the aim of the BDTF SEE.

While I chaired BDTF, one of the biggest achievements was at a side event on the frame of COP 14 of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity held in Egypt in November 2018, with the title Capitalizing on Regional Cooperation for Post-2020 Dialogue. Catalysing ideas on the role of regional cooperation in the implementation of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and in shaping the agenda helped mobilize resources towards the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework.

BDTF will continue to work on implementation of actions from the EU Green Deal, which aims to transform it into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use. It aims to protect, conserve and enhance the natural capital and protect citizens from environment-related risks and impacts.


Photo: BDTF
( * This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244/99 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.)

Ocean oxygen levels drop endangering marine life: Report

The loss of oxygen from the ocean due to climate change and nutrient pollution risks “dire effects” on sea life, fisheries and coastal communities, a global conservation body has warned

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said on Saturday that about 700 sites had been identified globally with low oxygen levels – up from only 45 in the 1960s.

In the same period, the group warned in the largest peer-reviewed study to date that the volume of anoxic waters – areas totally devoid of oxygen – have quadrupled.

“What we are seeing is a decline of 2 percent in the global oxygen level [in the oceans]. It doesn’t sound like a lot but this small change will have enormous ramifications,” Minna Epps, the IUCN’s global marine and polar programme director, told Al Jazeera.

“Deoxygenation will have an impact on biodiversity, on biomass of commercially important species and on vulnerable rare species. It will also have an impact on habitats. We are seeing species migrating because of this,” she added.

The report found that the loss of oxygen is increasingly threatening fish species such as tuna, marlin and sharks, all particularly sensitive to low levels of the life-giving gas due to their large size and energy demands.

“To curb ocean oxygen loss alongside the other disastrous impacts of climate change, world leaders must commit to immediate and substantial emission cuts.”

Dr Grethel Aguilar, IUCN Acting Director General

Read our new report on ocean deoxygenation 

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The ocean absorbs about a quarter of all fossil fuel emissions, but as global energy demand continues to grow there are fears that the world’s seas will eventually reach saturation point.

On current trends, oceans are expected to lose 3-4 percent of their oxygen globally by 2100.

However, most of that loss is predicted to be in the upper 1,000 metres (3,281 feet) – the richest part of the ocean for biodiversity.

“With this report, the scale of damage climate change is wreaking upon the ocean comes into stark focus,” Grethel Aguilar, the IUCN’s acting director, said.

“As the warming ocean loses oxygen, the delicate balance of marine life is thrown into disarray.”

The report on ocean oxygen loss concluded that deoxygenation is already altering the balance of marine life to the detriment of species across the food chain. The biomes that support about a fifth of the world’s current fish catch are formed by ocean currents that bring oxygen-poor water to coastlines.

These areas are especially vulnerable to even tiny variations in oxygen levels.

“Impacts here will ultimately ripple out and affect hundreds of millions of people,” the IUCN said.

The group this year issued a landmark assessment of the world’s natural habitats, concluding that human activity was threatening up to one million species with extinction.

Ocean life is already battling warmer temperatures, rampant overfishing and plastic pollution.

The World Meteorological Organization this week said that due to man-made emissions growth, the ocean is now 26 percent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution.

“Ocean oxygen depletion is menacing marine ecosystems already under stress from ocean warming and acidification,” said Dan Laffoley, a senior marine science adviser at the IUCN.

“To stop the worrying expansion of oxygen-poor areas, we need to decisively curb greenhouse gas emissions as well as nutrient pollution from agriculture and other sources.”

The IUCN report also found that pollution around coastlines was having a significant effect on oxygen levels, with fertiliser and agricultural runoff promoting more algae growth, which in turn depletes oxygen as it decomposes.

World leaders will gather in Marseille in June for the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress.

Policymakers are currently in negotiations at the COP25 climate summit in Madrid charged with ratifying a comprehensive rulebook for the 2015 Paris accord.

“Decisions taken at the ongoing climate conference will determine whether our ocean continues to sustain a rich variety of life, or whether habitable, oxygen-rich marine areas are increasingly and irrevocably lost,”  Epps said from the Spanish capital.

Environment, Pollution

Strategic solutions to deal with global deluge of plastic pollution

By the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.  Expressing this grave concern Asia Pacific Regional Bureau of UNESCO says the point was driven home again in recent days after a dead sperm whale washed ashore in Indonesia. Just a few months after a pilot whale died off Thailand after injesting 80 plastic bags, the 9.5-metre sperm whale had nearly six kilograms of plastic in its stomach.

Plastic pollution has reached an all-time high. According to the UNESCO with a global plastic production amounting to about 300 million tons a year – and an estimated 9.1 billion tons produced to date – 8 million tons is dumped into the oceans every year. “Due to the nature of our throw-away society, almost half of the plastic we use is disposed of after being used only once. A plastic bag, for example, has an average working life of 15 minutes but can remain in the ocean for up to 20 years. Other plastics need hundreds of years to fully decompose” the agency says.

The grisly finds involving dead cetaceans is only a warning sign of far larger problem. Many marine organisms are consuming plastics, mistaking it for food, leading to plastic entering the human food chain through the consumption of fish and other seafood. In the Asia-Pacific, the problem is particularly acute with the majority of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean coming from the region.

Recognizing the urgency of this problem, and marking World Science Day for Peace and Development, UNESCO in partnership with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand’s National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) hosted two events at UNESCO Bangkok’s office and the AIT campus on 12 and 13 November to confront and find solutions to the global issue of plastic pollution, with a particular emphasis on engaging a new generation of students.

Accorrding to An Nguyen Hue, from Viet Nam’s Department of Science, Technology and International Cooperation Vietnam is very concerned with the gravity of the problem including marine plastic waste. And Viet Nam is truly working on dealing with it.

There are clear models worldwide for reducing waste, as presentations from speakers from China, Germany, India and Rwanda illustrated at the two events. Representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Singapore also reiterated the regional challenges. As the deaths of the two whales in Indonesia and Thailand have occupied global headlines, there is a growing understanding in the general public about the threat posed by plastic pollution not only to the environment but to human health as well.

Henning Schwarze, a German entrepreneur and tourism professional who spoke at the event says that raising awareness is a key combating the global plastic problem. Nonetheless regulations needs to be implemented, to reduce plastic consumption in additional sectors and economies, eg, in the construction industry.

Consumer and retail patterns are also under the microscope, with recent news in Thailand focusing on the prevalence of single-use plastics in the name of ‘convenience’. An individual snack portion, for example, is already packaged in plastic and then typically placed in another plastic bag, along with a disposable spoon, again in its own plastic wrapping. The sheer volume of plastic detritus distributed over the counter every day is staggering – and unnecessary.

The European Parliament recently approved a union-wide ban on single-use plastics, including items such as cutlery, cotton buds and straws, since there are already alternatives available. The ban is meant to be achieved by 2021, with a further goal that 90% of plastic bottles will be collected for recycling by 2025. Rwanda has already banned plastic bags completely since 2008, and the capital, Kigali, has since been recognized as the cleanest city in Africa and quite possible in the world. Among the displays at the World Science Day events was the NSTDA’s biodegradable packaging as an alternative to plastic, as countries in this region consider similar measures.

As the soft launch of UNESCO’s Plastic Initiative to gather ideas for plastic waste management, particularly by engaging youth, and testing projects in the 152 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, the recent events marked a new commitment to a comprehensive, strategic approach to a worldwide problem. Young people from across the Asia-Pacific region are encouraged to participate and bring innovative ideas to the table, with project viability evaluated by a young people and professionals, and crowdfunding conducted over the course of coming years.

“Do not wait until 2050, when our oceans will have become veritable rubbish bins. A commitment to combating plastic pollution requires strategic solutions and the participation of every one of us” Unesco said.

by JCK Duarah


‘In the last two days, we all have been alerted about the emergency of addressing plastic waste, including marine plastic waste. No doubt, my country is partly responsible for it. And Viet Nam is truly working on dealing with it. We are ready to tackle this issue together with other Asian countries and to engage with all stakeholders.’

An Nguyen Hue, from Viet Nam’s Department of Science,
Technology and International Cooperation




Nearly 17,000 Migratory Birds died in Rajasthan needs high level inuiry

On November 10, thousands of birds, including Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Shelduck, Plovers, Avocets, were found dead in the 5-7 km area around Sambhar Lake.


Nearly 17,000 Migratory Birds Dead In Rajasthan's Sambhar Lake

Nearly 8,500 birds have died so far in Jaipur itself, Jagroop Singh Yadav said.

SAMBHAR: Thousands of migratory birds of about ten species were found dead around Sambhar Lake, the country’s largest inland saltwater lake near Jaipur, sending shock waves among locals and authorities.

Officials said they suspect water contamination as one of the reasons for the deaths but were awaiting viscera test reports. Though the official toll was 1,500, locals claimed the number of dead birds could be as high as 5,000.

“We have never seen anything like that. Over 5,000 birds died mysteriously all over the place,” 25-year-old Abhinav Vaishnav, a local bird-watcher, told PTI.

When Vaishanav went on a stroll along the edge of the lake on Sunday, he took the hundreds of dark lumps strewn across the marshy land for cow dung. But it didn’t take him and his fellow bird watchers Kishan Meena and Pavan Modi to realise the lumps were bodies of hundreds of lifeless migratory birds.

Carcasses of hundreds of dead birds including plovers, common coot, black winged stilt, northern shovelers, ruddy shelduck, and pied avocet were scattered on the edge of 12-13 km of the catchment area of the lake, leading to a possible number of over 5,000, they said.

Forest ranger Rajendra Jakhar said a possible reason could be the hailstorm that hit the area a few days back.

“We estimate about 1,500 birds of about 10 species have died. We are also looking at other possibilities like toxicity of the water, bacterial or viral infection,” he said.

A medical team from Jaipur has collected a few carcasses and water samples are being sent to Bhopal for further examination.

Ashok Rao, a veterinary doctor and part of the team, said that while the exact reason for the deaths was uncertain, he ruled out the possibility of bird flu.

“At initial examination we did not find any sort of secretion from the birds, which is a giveaway in the cases of bird flu,” he said.

R G Ujjwal, nodal officer, animal husbandry department, joined Rao and listed possible reasons behind the mysterious calamity.

“Their could be some sort of contamination in the water. The increased salinity of the water could also be another reason, as it increases salt concentration in the blood, which can further lead to slow blood flow and the internal organs like the brain may stop working,” Ujjwal said.

The lake is also a favourite of flamingos, stilts, stints, garganey, gulls and a number of other species of birds.

Jakhar informed that the lake every year hosts approximately 2-3 lakh birds, which include about 50,000 flamingos and 1,00,000 waders.

The strange episode has left villagers and people of the forest department baffled for the lack of a sensible explanation.

“I have never seen such a thing in 40 years of my service in the forest department. First I thought it could be because of the hail, but that occurs every year. There is no chemical waste in this water either,” said Ramesh Chandra Daroga, a local working with the forest department.

Ashok Sharma, joint director, State Disease Diagnostic Centre, said that once the reason was ascertained further steps will be taken.

“We don’t think it is a case of infection, but if it turns out to be the case we will take further steps to make sure it doesn’t spread,” he assured.

Meanwhile, the carcasses were collected in a tractor-trolley and buried in a ditch. A total of 669 dead birds were buried while hundreds lay strewn around as the forest staff hesitated to venture into the slippery muddy areas.

This is the second such incident in the state within a week. Last Thursday, 37 demoiselle cranes were found dead in Jodhpur‘s Khinchan area. Their viscera too have been sent for investigation and reports are awaited.

sambhar birds

Birds found dead at Sambhar lake (PTI)


What happens when the roof of the world melts?

Top 10 Gorgeous Lakes in the Himalayas

The ice that has long defined South Asia’s mountain ranges is dissolving into massive new lakes, raising the specter of catastrophic flooding.

Gokyo village, nestled beside a lake fed in part by Nepal’s Ngozumba Glacier, doesn’t face immediate danger from flooding, but other Himalayan communities are threatened by rising glacial lakes.

It’s a landscape like no other on the planet—the colossal glaciers of the Himalaya, which for millennia have been replenished by monsoons that smother the mountains in new snow each summer.

But take that same jet trip 80 years from now, and those gleaming ice giants could be gone.

Earlier this year, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development published the most comprehensive analysis to date of how climate change will affect the glaciers of the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Pamir mountains, which together form an arc across Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar. The study warned that, depending on the rate of global warming, one-third to two-thirds of the region’s approximately 56,000 glaciers will disappear by 2100.


Scientists say the accelerated melting of Asia’s estimated 56,000 glaciers is creating hundreds of new lakes across the Himalaya and other high mountain ranges. If the natural dam holding a glacial lake in place fails, the resulting flood could wipe out communities situated in the valleys below. Engineers in Nepal are looking at ways to lower the most dangerous lakes to reduce the threat.

This is a dire prediction for some 1.9 billion South Asians, who rely on the glaciers for water—used not only for drinking and sanitation but also for agriculture, hydroelectric power, and tourism. But the survey also looked at a more immediate question: As the glaciers rapidly melt, where will all the water—more than a quadrillion gallons of it, roughly the amount contained in Lake Huron—go?

The answer is that the Himalaya, long defined by its glaciers, is rapidly becoming a mountain range defined by lakes. In fact, another study found that from 1990 to 2010, more than 900 new glacier-fed lakes were formed across Asia’s high mountain ranges. Because of the remote locations, scientists must rely on satellites to count them, and new lakes appear to be growing so quickly that it’s difficult for scientific teams to agree on the precise number.

“It’s all happening much faster than we expected it to even five or 10 years ago,” says Alton Byers, a National Geographic explorer and mountain geographer at the University of Colorado Boulder.

To understand how these lakes form, think of a glacier as an ice bulldozer slowly plowing down the side of a mountain, scraping through the earth, and leaving a ridge of debris on either side as it pushes forward. These ridges are called moraines, and as glaciers melt and retreat, water fills the gouge that remains, and the moraines serve as natural dams.

“They start as a series of meltwater ponds,” Byers explains, and “they coalesce to form a single pond, then a larger lake. And year by year they get larger and larger, until you have a lake with millions of cubic meters of water.”

And as the lake fills up, it can overspill the moraines holding it in place or, in the worst-case scenario, the moraines can give way. Scientists call such an event a glacial lake outburst flood, or GLOF, but there’s also a Sherpa word for it: chhu-gyumha, a catastrophic flood.

One of the most spectacular Himalayan GLOFs occurred in the Khumbu region of Nepal on August 4, 1985, when an ice avalanche rumbled down the Langmoche Glacier and crashed into the mile-long, pear-shaped Dig Lake.

The lake was likely less than 25 years old—a photo taken in 1961 by Swiss cartographer Edwin Schneider shows only ice and debris at the foot of Langmoche. When the avalanche hit the lake, it created a wave 13 to 20 feet high that breached the moraine and released more than 1.3 billion gallons—about the equivalent of 2,000 Olympic-size swimming pools—of water downstream.

The Sherpa who saw it described a black mass of water slowly moving down the valley, accompanied by a loud noise like many helicopters and the smell of freshly tilled earth. The flood destroyed 14 bridges, about 30 houses, and a new hydroelectric plant. According to some reports, several people were killed. By a benevolent twist of fate, the flood happened during a festival celebrating the coming harvest, so there were few local residents near the river that day, which undoubtedly saved lives.

“There have always been GLOF events,” Byers says. “But we’ve never experienced so many dangerous lakes in such a short amount of time. We know so little about them.” The Dig Lake flood focused attention on the risks posed by other lakes across the Himalaya. Chief among them were Rolpa Lake, in the Rolwaling Valley of Nepal, and Imja Lake, near the foot of Everest, directly upstream from several villages along the popular trekking route to Everest Base Camp.

In the late 1980s teams of scientists began to study those two lakes. Satellite imagery revealed that Imja Lake had formed after Dig Lake, sometime in the 1960s, and was expanding at an alarming rate. One study estimated that from 2000 to 2007, its surface area grew by nearly 24 acres.TODAY’SPOPULAR STORIES

“The challenge with glacial lakes is that the risks are constantly changing,” says Paul Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine and leader of the 2019 National Geographic Society and Rolex expedition to study Nepal’s glaciers. For example, many moraines holding back glacial lakes are naturally reinforced with chunks of ice, which help stabilize the overall structure. If the ice melts, a once solid moraine may fail.

Other threats lurk beneath the ice. As melting occurs, large caves can be hollowed out inside a retreating glacier and can fill with water. These hidden reservoirs sometimes link via conduits in the ice to surface ponds. When an escape path for this reservoir suddenly melts out, dozens of linked ponds may drain at once, converging to create a major deluge. Though smaller and less destructive than GLOFs, this type of event—known to scientists as an englacial conduit flood—happens more frequently. Little is known about these floods. “Figuring out how water flows through glaciers is not so trivial,” Mayewski says.

But for the moment, GLOFs remain the primary worry. Byers points to the moraine at the foot of the Khumbu Glacier, where a cluster of small ponds currently sit. “That’s the next big lake,” he says, noting that the moraine towers above the trekking village of Tugla. “It’s only a matter of time before it turns into a potential risk.”

It’s difficult for scientists to assess the danger without conducting fieldwork, which often requires days of hiking to reach the remote lakes, but a 2011 study identified 42 lakes in Nepal as being at either very high risk or high risk of flooding. Across the entire Greater Himalaya region, the number could be more than a hundred.

Another nation with a long history of dealing with rising glacial lakes is Peru, a mountainous country that has lost up to 50 percent of its glacial ice in the past 30 to 40 years and has seen thousands of people killed in GLOF events. After a devastating flood from Lake Palcacocha wiped out a third of the city of Huaraz, killing some 5,000 people, Peruvians began to pioneer innovative ways to partially drain dangerous glacial lakes. Today dozens of lakes in Peru have been dammed and lowered—creating hydroelectric plants and irrigation channels in the process.

But there are major obstacles to implementing some of those solutions in Nepal. Namtso2

The big difference between Peru and the Himalaya is the logistics, explains John Reynolds, a British geo-hazards specialist who helped direct an effort that lowered Rolpa, considered by many to be the most dangerous lake in Nepal. “In Peru you could virtually drive to within a day’s walk of the lake,” he says. In Nepal, “it could take five, six days to walk to the site from the nearest roadhead.”

Rolpa Lake is so remote that heavy machinery had to be helicoptered to the lake in pieces and then reassembled. After constructing a small dam with sluice gates, engineers slowly began releasing water and drawing down the lake. “If you draw the water down too quickly, it can actually destabilize the valley flanks, particularly the lateral moraines that impounded it,” Reynolds says. Ultimately, the water level of Rolpa Lake was lowered by more than 11 feet—the first mitigation project in the Himalaya.

In 2016 the Nepalese Army participated in an emergency project that drained Imja Lake by a similar amount. Neither measure has completely relieved the respective flood risks, but both represent, along with the installation of warning systems, a positive step.

Not all glacial lakes pose an equal threat, and as scientists continue to develop new ways to study the lakes, they are learning how to assess the true level of risk each lake poses. In some instances, they’ve found that the perceived risk was overstated, including in the case of Imja Lake. “There is no actual relationship between causality of a GLOF and lake size,” Reynolds says. “What’s critical is how the lake body interacts with the dam itself.”

And it’s not just the large lakes that pose threats, says Nepali scientist Dhananjay Regmi. “We are concerned more about big lakes, but most of the disasters in recent years have been done by relatively small lakes, which we never suspected.”

Whether the lakes are small or large, there’s little doubt that conditions for setting off floods are increasing. Reynolds points out that as the permafrost begins to thaw, massive rockfalls and landslides will become more common, and if they hit vulnerable lakes, they could trigger floods similar to the 1985 Khumbu Valley flood.

“We need to be conducting integrated geo-hazard studies of these valleys,” Reynolds says. “GLOFs are just a piece of it.”

Regmi considers the growth of lakes an opportunity for development. “Every lake has its own characteristics, and each needs to be treated differently,” he explains, noting that some might be good sources of mineral water and some might be good for generating hydropower or tourism, while others might be reserved for religious purposes.

Alton Byers is optimistic about the progress already made. “It’s not just the big infrastructure projects, like lowering Imja. People who live in remote high-mountain regions are quietly going about developing their own technology to adapt.”

This story appears in the December 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.  

Tsomgo-Photo by fashionplate