India's Indus water tower is the most important in the world — but it's also the most vulnerable

India's Indus water tower is the most important in the world — but it's also the most vulnerable
The Himalayan mountain rangePixabay
  • The world’s water towers are in trouble and the Indus river has been ranked as the most important in the world, according to a new study published in Nature.
  • The Indus and Ganges-Brahmaputra river basins serve over 700 million people who will be at risk within a decade — or less — as the world’s highest glaciers melt away.
  • India’s depleting water towers won’t only impact people living within the country but also in neighbouring nations — setting the stage for a battle over water rights, according to the paper’s lead author, Walter Immerzeel.
The world’s freshwater supply is in trouble — and that’s especially true for India. The Indus and Ganges-Brahmaputra water towers are among the most important in the world. But, they won’t be long before they disappear entirely, according to a new study published in Nature.

"We conclude that the most important water towers are also among the most vulnerable, and that climatic and socio-economic changes will affect them profoundly," says the study.

The world’s most vulnerable water towers

Researchers found that the Indus water tower — that covers much of the Himalayan mountains — is the most important one in the world. Its Not only will its depletion impact people not only in India, but also in neighbouring regions like including Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan. Over 200 million people will be left vulnerable without it.

The Ganges-Brahmaputra basin may outlast Indus but will put many people at risk — nearly 487 million covering India, Nepal, China, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The last remaining glaciers powering these water towers are set to disappear within the next decade, or even sooner, according to the study.

What are water towers?

Water towers are nature’s storage tanks. Snow and ice build-up to fill the tank. Slowly, over time, they melt to provide fresh water — like a tap that’s dripping. If someone were to open that tap all the way, it would result in catastrophic flash floods and landslides.

Without water towers to regulate the inflow and outflow of water, people, as well as the corresponding ecosystems, will be at risk.

What do climate and politics have to do with it?

Climate change means that global temperatures are rising. The higher the mountain, the faster it will melt under the pressure. And, the Himalayas are home to some of the highest peaks in the world — including Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain.

It’s possible that, with warmer temperatures, the amount of precipitation will increase. But it won’t nearly be enough to offset the loss of water from the glaciers’ melting.

Simultaneously, as populations continue to grow, the demand for water is going to increase taxing the already limited supply of water that exists. Since the impact won’t be limited to a single country but multiple stakeholders, a battle over water rights is likely to emerge Walter Immerzeel, the lead author of the paper, told National Geographic.

According to him, the limited government effective and political tension will leave water towers vulnerable.

The study was authored by 32 scientists around the world, collecting data from every corner of the globe to determine the importance of 78 water towers around the world — and the Indus water tower topped the list. It’s the first time that the impact of melting glaciers has been quantified.

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