Mussoorie, Devprayag and Darjeeling will be among the first Indian towns to bear the brunt of the Himalayan water flow drying up

  • The water scarcity in towns dependent on the Hindu Kush Himalayas could double by 2050.
  • Indian tourist hot-spots like Mussoorie, Devprayag, Singtam, Kalimpong and Darjeeling are among the most vulnerable.
  • Rapid urbanisation along with worsening climate change will stress the regions water resources further.
The Hindu Kush Himalayas is one of the most important reserves of fresh water in the world catering to the needs of millions of people. Spanning across four countries — India, Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan — freshwater is already in short supply with things expected to get even worse in the near future.

A new study published in Water Policy predicts that the demand-supply gap may double by 2050. The papers, "indicate that the demand for water is outstripping supply in almost all the towns and the future looks bleak if the ‘business as usual’ scenario persists."

The study focuses on 12 towns, including five — Mussoorie, Devprayag, Singtam, Kalimpong and Darjeeling — in India. They are the most vulnerable to the Himalayas running dry due to rapid urbanisation, climate risks, failing governance and the lack of water rights.

Case study sites in the Hindu Kush Himalaya regionAnjal Prakash, David Molden/Water Policy

"We have found that the poor and marginalised are the most affected when water supply dwindles," says the study.

Another study, published in December 2019, predicted that the Indus water tower — that covers much of the Himalayan mountains — could be in trouble within a decade or even sooner.


More humans need more water
One of the main reasons that the Hindu Kush Himalayas are set for a tough ride ahead is because of rapid rural to urban migration.

Urbanisation has pulled people from rural areas in the region into nearby urban centres. Although only 3% of the total Hindu Kush Himalayan population lives in larger cities and 8% in smaller towns, projections show that more than 50% of the population will be living in cities by 2050.

Mussoorie after snowfallIANS

According to the study, unplanned and rapid urbanisation changes the way land is used, the amount of land cover and takes away from recharge areas of springs.

This means that in addition to heightened demand for water, urbanisation also leads to the deterioration of larger water network — which is already being bogged down upon by climate change.

The pressing concerns of climate change
While the future movement of people will add to the stress on water, reserves already depleting faster than usual as the effects of climate change take hold — temperatures are increasing, glaciers are losing water faster than can be recuperated by rainfall, and excess rain is causing landslides which disrupt the water network. Even with the excess water supply, there still isn’t enough to go around.

Snowfall in DarjeelingIANS

Without proper governance and management techniques in place, the residents of the region have to bear through periods of water scarcity. This is because most of the towns, being hill stations, are also popular tourist destinations which don’t have the capacity to cater for the boom in population during peak season.

Spike in tourists during the summer season in Mussoorie led to water scarcity in the town in 2019IANS

Mussoorie, for example, needs around 14.5 million litres of water per day but only has around 7.67 million litres available. Last year, the situation got even worse when water tanker operators went on strike to protest the timing restrictions on when they would transport water into the city.

The study predicts that Mussorie, and other towns dependent on the Hindu Kush Himalayas, will face "water insecurity if timely action is not taken." It suggests adaptive water management that takes sustainable water sourcing into account and gives more attention to the equitable distribution of water.

(With inputs from IANS)

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