The melting of glaciers across Asia is creating an uncertain future for many communities - as the water source to seven of the region's greatest rivers disappears. This is the warning behind a new documentary called: Revealed: Himalayan Meltdown.
Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Martin Krause, UNDPs Regional Leader for Climate, Environment & Energy
FILM EXERPT: They contain 40 per cent of water, the tallest mountains on earth, home to 55,000 glaciers, sourced to seven of Asia's greatest rivers. But our most precious resource is disappearing one drop at a time.
What's happening in the Himalayan glaciers is incredibly complex. Most glaciers appear to be melting.
I think we have never a phenomenon in what's happening in the glaciers and in the downstream area is so closely linked.
The Himalayas are the water towers of Asia. When the water tower dries out and two billion people don't have water to drink anymore, to irrigate their farm, to run industry, then there's going to be serious problems.
There's a question about whether we're going through a period of global warming and I don't think it's important. What is important is that the environment is changing, that climate is changing.
This is a wakeup call. We still have time to something about it. We just need to hear this alarm.
The people of Asia are answering the call, harnessing determination, spirituality and science to adapt and survive in the face of a Himalayan meltdown.
COCHRANE: That's part of the trailer for a new documentary called "Revealed - Himalayan Meltdown".
Well, the United Nations Development Program provided funding and guidance to the film makers and to find out more I'm joined now by the UNDP's regional leader for Climate, Environment and Energy, Martin Krause, who joins us on the line from Bangkok, where I believe he was giving a preview showing at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand last night.
Martin Krause, welcome to Radio Australia.
KRAUSE: Yes good morning Liam and good morning to the listeners of ABC Radio.
COCHRANE: Martin Krause, tell us why did this film need to be made?
KRAUSE: This is a movie about the melting of the glacier in the Himalayas and it shows the impact that it has on the life and the livelihoods of people in five countries, namely in Bangladesh, in Bhutan, in China, in India, and Nepal. We felt at the United Nations Development Program that the glacial ice melt in Himalaya is already affecting the life and will potentially affect billions of people. We thought there is not enough attention being paid to this important issue, so this is why we made the movie.
COCHRANE: You mentioned some of the countries involved there. Can you tell us some of the stories that you discovered in the making of the film about the effects on people?
KRAUSE: Yes, what happens is the Himalayan glacier can affect over a billion people and the movie shows how it is already affecting selected communities. There is, for example, a community in Nepal, that is actually catching fog from mash nets. The problem there is there's not enough water for irrigation, because of the rapid melting of the glacier. The fog contained much water and the water rolls down the nets and provides the water for the villages below for irrigation for their crops. Then there is another story in India, in Ladakh, in the northern part of India and there is a similar problem. There is not enough water for irrigation and this case shows a man who's actually making glaciers. He is showing communities a very simple technology that consists of harnessing the flowing water from the glacier run off and freezing it for later use or we have footage from Bangladesh, downstream in the River Delta. Communities are planting mangrove trees there to prevent river bank erosion and to prevent the sediments from being washed away into the sea, to preserve their agricultural land. So there are a number of case studies that we are featuring in the film.
COCHRANE: It really sounds like people at a local level are engaging and coming up with quite creative ways to try to mitigate the effects or get around the affects of the glaciers melting. What about the governments? Is there a recognition of the scale of the problem with the governments in the South Asia region?
KRAUSE: Yes, we are working, for example, in Bhutan, with the government to prevent the outburst of glacier lakes and the flooding that could come with it. The government has recognised this problem and is working with us and with other partners on a project high up in the mountains in Bhutan to prevent the glacier lake outburst flooding as we call it. Similarly, in other countries in the region, the governments are very aware and they are gauging with the international community, with the UN system and with other partners to find ways to manage the risks of global climate change, because ultimately these changes that we see in the environment can be traced back and is triggered by global climate change.
COCHRANE: Now there has been some controversy over how much the glaciers are actually melting with the IPPC conceding it may have overstated its claims somewhat. What do you think about the scale of glacier melt?
KRAUSE: Look, nobody can really predict the exact rate of the melting, nobody can say by the year 2035 all the glaciers in the Himalayas have been melted and there are no glaciers left. Nobody can do that simply because the research and the science is not as exact as we want it to be. But there is no doubt and we're showing actually some evidence in the movie that the glaciers in the Himalayas are melting. Now the exact rate of that melting be predicted, but that's not the point. The point is we need to help the communities who live downstream and are facing the risks and the impacts of these changes to adapt to the new circumstances.
COCHRANE: And on those risks to people living downstream. Are we seeing similar kinds of efforts getting underway to try and prepare for the changes?
KRAUSE: Correct, we need to establish early warning systems, such as we are doing in some of the river basins. We need to work with the communities to make them aware of what are the potential risks and find locally adapted and tailored solutions to the specific risks they are facing.
The Himalaya ice melt is only one effect of the global warming. I mean Asia is confronted by many more. When the glaciers melt, this will most directly affect the countries which are dependent on the glacier melt water obviously, for the crops, for energy production, for household use and so on. But the rest of Asia is also grappling with different types of affects. For example, the low lying areas in the Mekong Delta are concerned about the rising sea levels and there are many other affects that come with the global warming and global climate change, so we need to work and we are working with the communities, with the government partners, to find out what are the exact risks and how can they adapt given the local circumstances.
COCHRANE: When the film crew were going around to the various countries in the Himalayas, meeting with people, talking about them in their communities about the problem, what were their reactions, were they fairly aware of the problem or were they a bit shocked at some of things you were perhaps telling them?
KRAUSE: Well actually, they were aware to a certain extent, because we have been working with the film crew before. It's Arrowheads films of Austin, Texas. We have been working with them in Bhutan to make a film about the UNDP glacier lake outburst flooding project and they have experienced the filming in Nepal, in Bhutan and other Himalayan countries. So I think it came out as a surprise to them. In fact we have chosen them, because they had some experience in that field.