Filling Knowledge Gaps in the Hindu Kush Himalayas

Initial HICAP study results

"The climate has already changed a lot. Last year we suffered from floods, now we are suffering from drought. There is no rain, but we must cultivate our land. Otherwise we will have nothing to eat". –  60-year old farmer, Lower Laopani, Tinsukia, India

The lack of sufficient information and data from the Hindu Kush Himalayan region was a major gap identified in the fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It has also been a major concern for scientists in determining and validating projected changes in the region’s climate based on modelling exercises.

ICIMOD, with support from the governments of Norway and Sweden, initiated comprehensive research for assessing projected changes in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. After three years of initial research conducted in partnership with the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research (BCCR), FutureWater, and several regional institutions, ICIMOD has been produced path-breaking research findings, which have not only been published in Nature Climate Change, but are also being used by scientists the world over for further analysis.

As a part of the research, hydrological modelling was carried out in the upstream areas of five river basins – Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra,

Salween, and Mekong – using Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) scenarios RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5. The results show that glaciers in the five river basins are likely to reduce by 20% to 55% by 2050.

However, the study finds that as a result of the melting of the glaciers and increased precipitation, overall river flows are likely to increase or remain unchanged from 2041 to 2050 compared to 1998 to 2007 for all five river basins. The results also strongly indicate that governments have to be prepared to deal with unexpected floods and dry periods, despite greater water flows on an aggregate basis.

Lutz, AF; Immerzeel, WW; Shrestha, AB; Bierkens, MFP (2014) ‘Consistent increase in High Asia’s runoff due to increasing glacier melt and precipitation’. Nature Climate Change, advance online publication. doi: 10.1038/nclimate2237


By 2050, total runoff is likely to change by

  • –5% to +12% in the upper Indus basin
  • +1% to +27% in the upper Ganges 
  • 0% to +13% in the upper Brahmaputra
  • 3% to +19% in the upper Salween 
  • +2 to +20% in the upper Mekong

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