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Glacier Melting in Himalayas Alarms Researchers

Potential floods from rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayan region are alarming Chinese researchers who believe the surge could be capable of causing extensive human havoc.

Concerned Chinese researchers are considering sharing satellite monitoring resources and air-borne remote-control surveys with neighboring nations like Nepal and India.

Ren Jiawen, a top Chinese glacial researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said: "We have been watching and monitoring the movements of the glaciers for years and we think efforts for regional co-operation are on the cards."

Ren said in an interview Sunday that a regional approach will upgrade the monitoring and combat systems of such a trans-national issue.

Such an approach has also been proposed by researchers from Nepal and the United Nations' Environment Programme (UNEP), China Daily has learned.

Glacial floods are not a new phenomenon, but there is evidence that the frequency of such events has risen over the past three decades.

The lakes are rapidly filling with icy water as rising temperatures in the region speed up the melting rate of the glaciers, researchers said.

Tens of thousands of residents are at risk from the floods along with people's properties and businesses, having the potential to cause havoc on the region's economy.

According to the latest UNEP report which was released in April, at least 44 glacial lakes in Bhutan and Nepal could burst the banks in as little as five years' time.

Surendra Shrestha, regional co-ordinator in Asia for UNEP's Division of Early Warning and Assessment, has also warned that other areas in the Himalayas and across the world are in a similar critical state.

About 12 glacier incidents have been recorded in China's Tibet since 1935. The latest one took place in 1981 and destroyed three concrete bridges and crippled a long section of the Nepal-China Highway.

P.K. Mool, a leading researcher from the Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) urged joint efforts in inventory, monitoring, mitigation work and early warning systems.

UNEP said it is ready to assist by mobilizing necessary resources for regional partnerships in the Himalayan area.

Shrestha said UNEP has discussed such moves with the Chinese Government.

Ren confirmed Sunday that delegates from UNEP have talked with top officials from the China Meteorological Administration on joint monitoring projects.

He further stated that Chinese experts have applied to the Ministry of Science and Technology for financial aid to conduct further research.

Researchers, however are also battling against a lack of funding for appropriate technology.

On average, air temperatures in the Himalayan region are 1 C higher than during the 1970s, a rise of 0.06 C per year, according to the UNEP report.

"Climate change is the biggest threat facing mankind. Extreme weather, droughts and a rise in disease are forecast for many countries all over the world in the coming decades," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of UNEP.

"We now have another compelling reason to act to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases," said Toepfer.

(China Daily June 3, 2002)


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