Linking Pakistan's Floods to Global Warming

Syed Iqbal Hasnain, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center, speaks at Asia Society New York Center on July 14, 2010.

WASHINGTON, DC, October 19, 2010 - The melting of the Himalayan glaciers—a result of the combined impacts of regional and global warming, variability in monsoon rainfall, and rising emissions of black carbon—is, according to Syed Iqbal Hasnain, leading to significant losses of ice mass over large portions of mountainous regions.

Hasnain, a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center, spoke on the topic of Asia's Growing Crisis: Floods, Droughts, and the Melting Himalayan Glaciers, at an Asia Society program in Washington, along with David Breashears, Executive Director of GlacierWorks, and Orville Schell, Director of the Asia Society Center on US-China Relations.

Hasnain argued that the transport sectors and cement factories are the main contributors to the emission of green house gases (GHGs), a major cause of the melting of the Himalayan glaciers. This in turn leads to glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs).

"The melting trend causes major changes in freshwater flow regimes. As one of the results, the number and size of glacial lakes are increasing," explained Hasnain. “This gives rise to an increase in the threat of GLOFs occurring."

According to his research, 16 out of 156 glacial lakes are in a precarious condition in India, while 52 out of 2,420 are so in Pakistan. The recent Pakistan floods, he believes, were a result of GLOFs. He warned that the continuous melting of the glaciers will result in more flooding and other natural disasters in the surrounding countries of Pakistan, India, and China in the nearer future.

He also claimed that along with the melting rate of the Himalayan glaciers increasing at an unprecedented rate in recent years, policy makers are facing another dilemma: GHGs have already exceeded the 2 Degrees Celsius Global Warming Limit by 20 percent.

Hasnain suggested, as a way of dealing with the melting of the glaciers, that a two-way information flow take place among local communities, scientists, and decision-makers from China, India and Pakistan, and their regional and global counterparts in order to examine the impacts of the change. Yet the scientist conceded that political constraints among these three countries in the Himalayan area mean that the required collaboration is still a long way off.

Reported by QingRui Huang