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Known as the 'Water Towers of Asia', the Himalayas are the source of many of the world's largest river systems, and have the most glaciers outside the polar region. More than a billion people rely on the vast stores of fresh water in the Eastern Himalayas for domestic and industrial use, agricultural use, power generation, and drinking water. In essence, their survival.
Climate change is predicted to lead to major changes in freshwater flows; impacting on every aspect of freshwater use. Including people's lives, livelihoods and biodiversity.

© WWF Living Himalayas

A shared vision

By promoting a shared sustainable development vision, WWF believes that real progress can be made in tackling climate change issues in the Eastern Himalayas. Only a concerted effort and a shared vision can secure the freshwater, livelihoods, biodiversity, and energy security of the region.

The first step

In order to be able to minimise the likely dramatic impacts of climate change, it is important, as a first step, to identify what exactly these impacts might be. Once knowledge at the local level about likely impacts is enhanced, strategies to improve communities and wildlife resilience to climate change can be implemented. These include a range of physical protections and improvements to habitat quality, through a combination of protection, management and restoration activities.

Local adaptation
Local communities in the Eastern Himalayas need to be equipped to cope with the rising threat of extreme wet and dry periods, and to respond to changing and unpredictable weather patterns. Adapting to climate change calls for a better understanding of its impacts on river systems in order to build resilience. WWF is working on the ground in the Eastern Himalayas to help communities take protective measures against the adverse effects of climate change.

Adaptation strategies at the community level are designed to be locally appropriate, and are developed in close collaboration with the communities themselves. These include actions such as providing advice and education to farmers on crop diversification, and choice of agricultural practices under changing climatic conditions. As well as technical and financial support in the development of irrigation and drinking water reservoirs.

Policy Adaptation

WWF is working with governments to ensure adaptation is integrated into local development planning and river management, including ensuring that any new hydropower plants are sustainable and meet environmental regulations.

Thorthormi Lake: A success story

In Bhutan a major effort is underway by the government, local communities, WWF and others to prevent the Thorthormi Tsho glacial lake from bursting. This is being done by a team of hundreds of workers from throughout the country, including farmers, yak herders and women, who are draining the lake by channeling the water elsewhere. This is one of many local success stories of climate change adaptation in action.

Water resource management
Climate change has a direct impact on water resources in terms of availability and timing. To tackle the issue WWF is working on interventions that build the resilience of communities and the environment, to water scarcity. One approach has been the development of "Water Smart Communities".

Under WWF's guidance and support water smart communities have been constructing conservation ponds, irrigation ponds, and drinking water reservoirs that collect rainwater in the wet season to be used in the dry season.

Combined with informal education on using scarce water wisely, and sustainable alternatives, farmers have been able to adapt their choice of crop to the changing climate, and generate more income from higher-value alternatives. Pressure is also reduced on the natural water resources and biodiversity that rely on it. The idea of Water Smart Communities has already directly benefited 100's of households across Nepal.
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Climate Summit for Living Himalayas
© Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas, Bhutan 2011 ©

WWF Goals

  • Climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation will be mainstreamed into the management of river systems.
  • A mosaic of over 7 million hectares of high conservation value forest, grassland and wetland will be secured, connecting 1,500 km of conservation area.
  • Viable populations of iconic and threatened species will be secured and will live in harmony with human communities.