Need for knowledge-sharing, research to address climate impacts on Indus River Basin emphasised

By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio

Kathmandu/Islamabad: Scientists, government policymakers and development experts at an international moot (Feb 16-19) have agreed to boost collaborate and cooperate to cope with climate change impacts on the Indus River basin.

Greater collaboration is needed between various actors and initiatives working to understand and mitigate the impacts of climate change in the basin. While there are data and research gaps, the situation is exacerbated by the lack of adequate sharing among researchers, between researchers and government and among the latter, an area that participants emphasized should be a priority, the moot heard. 

“The Indus River basin, which is lifeline for about 215 million people in Pakistan, India, China and Afghanistan, is highly vulnerable to aggravating impacts of global warming-induced climate change”, Eklabya Sharma emphasised, who is director of programme operations at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

The Unprecedented significance of the research on impacts on different aspects of the Indus river basin cannot be under-estimated for sustainability of flow of the Indus river was very much critical for sustainability and climate-resilient economies in these four countries, Mr. Sharma argued.

“It is inevitable to plug the knowledge gap regarding nature of the impacts that climate change bears upon the basin and it is particularly central communities, which depend upon it benefit from the knowledge generated as a result of the research,” he added.

Dr Sharma also stressed the need for trans-boundary cooperation among the four countries to prop up the sustainable development and durable management of Indus waters.

Christina Leb, Senior Water Resources Specialist at the World Bank, told the moot that the Indus Basin is the most glacier and snowmelt dependent basin in the Greater Himalaya region.

“Given the reason, climate change and unfolding changes as a consequent of it in seasonal runoff patterns pose daunting risks to livelihoods and socioeconomic development in the basin countries”, she said.

Christina Leb emphasised that adaptation strategies and policies in this regard needed to be informed by science.

In his keynote address, Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, Hafiz Hafeez ur Rehman, observed that the seasonal shift in snowfall to late spring and the subsequent heat waves lasting two to three days in the country have caused rapid melting of snow, flash floods, early avalanches, and loss of life and property.

Mr Rehman appreciated efforts by conference organisers and echoed the call for enhanced cooperation among the four countries cobbled up together by the climate-vulnerable Indus river basin.

The conference tilted Climate and Environmental Change Impact on the Indus Basin’ was organised by ICIMOD in collaboration with World Bank, and International Water Management Institute (IWMI) to take stock of the impacts of climate change on the river basin, research gaps, possible measures to mitigate the impacts and assess available avenues to enhance cooperation on the development of knowledge to help shape policies in the basin.

The event brought together more than 80 researchers, policy makers, journalists, and practitioners from the four countries sharing the Indus basin, as well as international experts and representatives of development partners.

Alan Nicol from the International Water Management Institute stated that the “level of challenges facing the Indus Basin call for collective action across the basin”.

He pointed out that the growing challenges of population growth in the basin countries, call for “greater attention to the future employment needs in the four countries”.

During the conference, scientists shared results from past and ongoing research, while practitioners presented the progress of ongoing initiatives in the basin.

The topics of discussion were diverse and included climate change and variability, cryosphere dynamics, data collection and sharing, water availability and demand, climate induced hazards and risks, and local and basin-level adaptation strategies.

A pre-conference workshop addressed the development of tools to support stronger analysis and support to decision makers in complex upstream geographies.

“Greater coordination among researchers and the use of common methods and standards for data collection could enhance our understanding of the changing cryosphere and hydrological regimes in the Indus basin”, said Arun Bhakta Shrestha from ICIMOD.

A post-conference workshop was also held on 19 February to discuss ways to bridge these gaps and create positive outcomes for increased cooperation among the basin countries.

Earlier, during  the group discussions and plenary sessions, participants worked together to find out workable solutions for challenging areas such as coordinating research and mutual stakeholder interaction across the four countries of the Indus basin and integrating research on the upper Indus basin with those on the lower part of the basin, and with policy and decision making.

In their joint nod, the participants agreed that coordination and cooperation would be facilitated through two coordinating bodies already working in the basin: the Upper Indus Basin Network, which will focus on reducing knowledge gaps, and the Indus Forum, which will facilitate the coordination among various stakeholders, including policy makers.

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