Experts agree to collaborate on Indus Basin Programme

05 Jul 2010



Scientists agreed to improve collaboration on scientific and technical research on the impacts of climate change on the cryosphere of the Indus basin covering the four Hindu Kush-Himalayan countries of Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan at a recent workshop on ‘Climate and environmental change impacts on the cryosphere of the Indus basin and its implications for future water scenarios’. It is expected that this approach will facilitate sharing of experiences to create an environment of ownership of scientific work among regional government institutions engaged in sustainable water resource management in the Indus basin.  The workshop was organised by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu, Nepal from 2-4 July 2010.

At the workshop, delegates identified key gaps in knowledge about the Indus basin. Conflicting behaviour of glaciers, such as retreating, advancing, and even surging, within small distances poses difficult questions for scientists.  Lack of observation at high altitude, where most of the mass accumulation takes place, creates a hurdle to our understanding of the impact of climate change on glaciers and meltwater generation. Some revealing results were presented at the workshop, such as the extent of the impact of black carbon on accelerating the melting of snow and ice, which could locally surpass the effect of greenhouse gases (GHG). Priority activities were proposed for a long-term Indus Basin Progamme to be implemented by local and international agencies with ICIMOD in a strong facilitating role.  It was proposed that an International Steering Committee be established to develop programme details. The donor community expressed a strong commitment to support ICIMOD in developing and implementing the Indus Basin programme.

The ‘Indus River Basin Programme' will  facilitate  research,  collection and analysis  of scientific and socioeconomic trends, as well as strengthening current research   and  proposing new research and development interventions and approaches. The programme will provide a platform for sharing the knowledge gained as well as state-of-the-art approaches and interventions planned for future work on climate and environmental change and water resource management in the Indus River Basin.

The Director General of ICIMOD, Dr Andreas Schild, in welcoming participants to the workshop, said that the Indus Basin was important because of its extreme sensitivity to climate and environmental changes and because of the huge size of the population dependent on the water generated from the highlands. Dr Schild stated that, although national institutions should take primary responsibility for strengthening research, international expertise was important also. Transboundary scientific coordination is essential in order to obtain a holistic perspective of the existing and anticipated changes in the natural system of transboundary river basins like the Indus through common methodologies and protocols.

The keynote address was given by Professor Matthias Winiger, Vice Chancellor, University of Bonn, Germany. Professor Winiger illustrated the key facets of water balance in the Indus Basin and the importance of understanding and managing its water resources. Professor Winiger also emphasised the need for clarity about changes taking place and the importance of improved and representative data based on long-term monitoring to mimic the system, glacial mass balance measurements, and climate-change scenarios. He called for an Indus Basin Decade and proposed 10-point suggestions of future undertakings in the basin. Professor Winiger stated that ICIMOD could play a lead role in this.

Country statements were given by representatives from Afghanistan, China, India, and Pakistan who highlighted their countries’ perspectives on the Indus Basin and the challenges they faced; and in this respect they welcomed  the establishment of the collaborative transboundary programme. Regional representatives at policy- and decision-making levels also recognise the need to improve the monitoring of snow, ice and water resources in the HKH in order to provide valid and useful information as a basis for their work.

The Indus River Basin is important economically. The basin has 6 main rivers originating from glaciers in the Western Himalayas, the Karakoram, and the Hindu Kush which are sources of irrigation for over 16 million hectares (ha) of agricultural land and provide hydropower to Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. Glacial fluctuations and changes in precipitation patterns are expected to alter the hydrology of the river basin, hence jeopardising hydropower generation and agricultural production and consequently altering people’s livelihoods.

More than fifty senior government officials from the Indus basin countries and well-known scientists from North America, Europe, Afghanistan, China, India, and Pakistan as well as  representatives from multilateral and bilateral agencies  such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ)  expressed their interest in coordinating and collaborating in the programme  with different institutions and organisations to promote enabling policies and integrated water resource management programmes in the overall interest of the Indus Basin and its inhabitants.

For further information contact:

Dr Arun B. Shrestha

Climate Change Specialist
Tel +977-1-5003222
Fax +977-1-5003277

Ms Nira Gurung
Communications Officer