6 February 2007
A meeting of climate and water resources experts called for the establishment of a regional centre for glacier research in Central Asia.
The meeting, held in late 2006, brought together about 60 experts, academicians, government representatives and international organizations from Asia, Europe and North America, to discuss glacier retreat and its impact on water resources in Asia.
Central Asia is one of the world's water-stressed areas. "The over 400 glaciers in the region are melting rapidly. Between 1955 and 2000, the glaciers lost 06-0.8 per cent in terms of area and 0.8-1 per cent of their volume per year", Professor I.V. Severskiy of the Institute of Geography, Kazakhstan stated during the meeting.
Mountain ranges of the Asian region include the Altai, Karakoram, Himalyan, Pamir, Tian Shan, and Tibetan Plateaus. These ranges stock the largest volume of ice outside the polar regions. The ranges serve as water towers by providing a continuous supply of fresh water to the lowlands for irrigation, domestic and other purposes.
According to Professor Gordon Young, an expert involved with the UN global water assessment programme and a key contributor to the workshop, "the lives of up to 1.5 billion people or one-fourth of the world’s population may be adversely affected by the rapid melting of snow glaciers in the Asian region”.
Various experts also echoed the concern that water shortages could potentially create not only socio-economic problems but also political instability in the region, as many of the rivers and glaciers cross national boundaries.
The expert meeting approved the 'Almaty Declaration', which calls for a review of on-going and completed research in Central Asia on the hydrological impact of glaciers, snow and permafrost. "The experts also recommend developing a regional network of benchmark basins to investigate the impact of glaciers and snow cover on the hydrological cycle and on the associated socio-economic system", Dr Anil Mishra of UNESCO Almaty Office reports.
The workshop was organized by UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) and International Hydrological Programme (IHP), together with the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia (CAREC), with support from the European Commission and the Institute of Geography of the Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan.
International experts from 14 countries travelled to Almaty for the meeting, including specialists from Canada, China, Germany, India, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the USA..
For further information: Dr Anil Mishra, UNESCO (a.mishra(at)unesco.org)