The Threat of Climate Change to the Indus

...already lost over 90% of its original forest cover

The Indus River is extremely sensitive to climate change due to the high portion of its flow derived from glaciers. Temperature controls the rate of glacier melt, which in turn, provides more water in dry, warm years and less water in cool years.

River catchments with a large portion of glacial melt water experience less variability in water flows. With climate warming, many glaciers will no longer exist to moderate the flow of these rivers. Thus communities which depend on glacier water will face more severe water shortages, variability and potentially greater flooding too.

The Himalayan glaciers provide the Indus with 70-80% of its water, the highest proportion of any river in Asia. This is double the proportion of water that they provide the Ganges (30%-40%). Himalayan glaciers provide 44.8% of the water in the Upper Indus in China alone.

Over-extraction for agriculture
The Indus basin is already suffering from severe water scarcity due to over-extraction for agriculture, causing salt water intrusion in the delta. In 1995, the Indus River already supplied much less water per person than the minimum recommended by the United Nations (UN) and by 2025 is predicted to suffer even more severe water scarcity.

Well-managed riparian forests are especially important in minimizing the impacts of climate change on river biota. They provide shade and temperature regulation, can moderate the effect of frequent, short duration storm events and can support natural water fl ow regimes.

However, the Indus basin has already lost over 90% of its original forest cover. Climate change will exacerbate the impact of deforestation on water regulation.

Although the Indus system is currently robust enough to cope with shortages of 10-13% in river flows, when the rivers flow drops to 15-20% below the average, irrigation shortages occur. Climate change will surely exacerbate the problems of irregular and low flow.

 / ©: WWF
Threat to the River: Climate Change

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