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Wastewaters of the Third Pole: Challenges and Opportunities in Hindu Kush Himalaya

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“Why waste water?”

This is the provocative question-slash-theme posed by the United Nations this year in honor of World Water Day. And this question comes at a key moment when rising concerns about global water access has inspired the recent Human Right to Water Declaration signed in Rome by Pope Francis and water experts from around the world. I was pleased to represent ICIMOD as a signatory to that statement as well.

Read the news on Roma Statement 2017

In the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), where ICIMOD works, ten major rivers descend from the mountains to the plains of South Asia, a hydrological network of immense complexity and immense importance to more than 2 billion people. Developing this resource sustainably is fundamental to building healthy and more resilient lives.

For this reason, the question “Why waste water?” prompts us to think about conservation and improving our methods for use and re-use of this precious resource. While we can all appreciate how water impacts our lives through hygiene and production, we need to focus more effort on the re-use of water, and understanding how the water we put back into the environment after use can affect others.

Water starts in the HKH on mountain tops in the form of snow and glaciers that release billions of litres of water each year that flow downhill, providing material for livelihoods and ecosystem services to downstream communities throughout all of South Asia.

If we imagine a single drop of water that starts in the Himalaya and travels downstream through rivers and springs, we discover a story that’s complex and meaningful, and brings every one of us together in a relationship that asks us to think more carefully about how we use and conserve our water.

In the hills of the HKH, families rely heavily on springs to furnish water. They carry water from spring-fed taps, sometimes kilometers away, to their homes for cooking, bathing, and cleaning. Some families worship at the riverside: the water plays a important role in their cultural practices. Streams at this level are diverted in places for irrigation, the water flowing through hand-hewn channels to produce much-needed crops for the household and local markets. In some areas, hydropower dams hold water back to generate electricity, impeding the flow of rivers to produce vital energy that helps make lives less onerous and more productive. Wastewater from one perspective is a source of water from another perspective. A single drop of water during its journey from the mountains to oceans may be drinking water, serve religious purposes, provide a home for fish, and generate energy.

These are among the many benefits people living upstream draw from Himalayan rivers and water. These same communities also bear an important responsibility to care for this water and to keep the water clean and safe for the people living downstream in the hills, plains and beyond. In the downstream plains, cities are larger and the need for clean water more intense. Poor water management upstream can diminish the quality of life of those downstream.

But this responsibility for water is not one way. Downstream communities also have a responsibility to the upstream communities to share benefits and resources with hill and mountain families to help strengthen their lives.

So, how do we manage this challenge in our mountain region? Well, it won’t be easy, but solutions are available. First we have to understand that water is used, and reused, and we need to provide opportunities to get the best out of each drop of water. We need to avoid at all costs the pollution of waterways. If our activities alter water quality, say, by city use, we need to treat polluted water at the source and manage our water in such a way that the pollution does not re-enter the environment. We need to continue educating stakeholders about the complex network and dynamics of our hydro-scape and relations between upstream and downstream users. And we need to continue innovating technologies that can improve mountain people’s access to water in a way that optimizes the use and quality of that water.

So on this World Water Day, ICIMOD renews its pledge and commitment to finding positive solutions for mountain people, in the HKH and beyond.

 

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13 Oct 2023 China
在兴都库什-喜马拉雅,全民早期预警尚需更及时的实现

由气候驱动的风暴、洪水、热浪和干旱的经济代价首次被计算出来,即在过去20年中,人类付出的代价已达到1600万美元/小时。其中,三分之二的费用是由于生命损失,剩下的则是因为财产和其他资产损失。 而这不仅是兴都库什-喜马拉雅的统计数据。今年,在我们整个地区,气候灾害给许多家庭来了难以承受的损失:数百人丧生,更多的房屋、农作物和财产在毁灭性的洪水和山体滑坡中被毁。最近,上周锡金蒂斯塔河(Teesta river)爆发冰川湖溃决洪水,这清楚地提醒了人类,大自然的愤怒是无止境的。 今年的国际减灾日与我们区域内的家庭、科学家和政策制定者共同评估了季风和全球升温给人类和经济带来的沉重代价,恰逢其时。 展望未来,气候驱动的灾难将激增。联合国减少灾害风险办公室(UNDRR)预计,到2030年,我们每年将看到560起灾难,使3760万人陷入极端贫困。 科学表明,我们处在风险热点地区。不仅与极端降雨和冰冻圈变化相关,还有热浪、干旱和空气污染。因此,在计算这次季风事件的成本时,我们所有为该地区及其居民服务的人都有责任以更高的速度和更强的雄心,将科学、政策和行动联系起来,实现让所有人都能得到早期预警的目标。 我们急需捐助者深入了解该地区居民所面临的风险,无论是从危险量级和程度来看,还是从受影响的人口规模来看。我们迫切需要适应基金、绿色气候基金和儿童投资融资基金更快地分配到该地区,以及加强补偿机制的运作。 在ICIMOD,我们将在全球范围内倡导双方,还将在整个地区努力建立一种围绕防灾和数据共享文化;对政策制定者进行差异和关键行动领域的教育;为社区配备创新及可行的技术,并扩大以社区为基础的洪水预警系统。 我们所在地区的情况表明,全球范围内面临的灾害存在着巨大的不平等。我们的研究发现,当危机来临时,妇女和弱势群体受到的影响尤为严重。 为了消除这种不平等,我们郑重承诺通过整合工具、知识和资金,确保该地区居民能够有效抵御未来的冲击,并将妇女和弱势群体纳入我们战略的核心。对于兴都库什-喜马拉雅的国家而言,全民早期预警尚需更及时的实现。   白马·嘉措 总干事