Updated: Sep 20, 2020
Kunda Dixit is a founding member of Geopolitics & Ecology of Himalayan Water. He is the author of Dateline Earth, the Founder and Chief Editor of the Nepali Times, and an adjunct professor of climate communications at NYU Abu Dhabi.
Listen to the full podcast here.
Geopolitics & Ecology of Himalayan Water came about from thinking about the interface between Himalayan geopolitics and the climate crisis.
GEOPOLITICS. Political tensions are rooted in history. When the British left in 1947, they demarcated what's called the McMahon line, which is the border between China and India, with Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal in between. It's never been properly demarcated and continues to be disputed.
CLIMATE. The Himalayas are called the water tower of Asia, or the roof of the world, or the third pole, because there's so much water stored as ice. But the mountains are warming faster than the global average, and that ice is melting faster and faster. That process has started naturally after the last ice age, but it's been exacerbated accelerated by carbon emissions into the atmosphere and the worrying part of it is that whatever was discussed in Paris, for example in 2015, forecasts about Himalayan glaciers, everything has had to be recalibrated, even in the last three or four years, because it's happening at a much more serious rate than before.
INTERSECTION. The fact is, ice stored in the Himalayan mountains is the water source for one fifth of humanity. So, on top of this geopolitical crisis, you also have the melting Himalaya, which makes everything worse. Possibly the next war in this region, God forbid, is going to be over water. As the permanent ice melts, dry season river flow, especially for the Indus in Pakistan, is going to decrease. This will mean that the source of water for irrigation, food production and domestic use, is going to be a very scarce commodity. You may have climate refugees, people who are migrating because of lack of water, or springs going dry. Our generation has to prevent this from happening so that future generations can live in peace.
REGIONAL COOPERATION. The scale of this crisis is so vast that we need immediate, regional solutions. For instance, we need cross boundary early warning systems. If a glacial lake bursts in China, India needs to know to protect people living downstream. There has to be a much more streamlined mechanism for exchanging information.
INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH. You cannot solve the climate crisis just looking at the climate. It is a political, economic problem. For instance, climate change is now exacerbated by economic stagnation from the Covid pandemic. Economic issues, and political issues have to be discussed with the science.
GEOPOLITICS & ECOLOGY OF HIMALAYAN WATER. We felt there was a need for a resource base that would bring everything together on one site. The significance of this initiative is that it's interdisciplinary, spanning everything from politics to climate science. We will be at the cutting edge of this cross pollination of various genres. At the same time, this site is going to be a storehouse of the latest information that researchers, academics, media, and students can use as a resource and communicate with each other. Maybe then we can get the whole process of working together going again.