Why melting glaciers are causing both drought and floods in the Himalayas


Goshal is a picturesque village in the foothills of the Himalayas, which has long enjoyed an abundant supply of water from streams fed by glaciers. In recent years, however, the village, and many others in the district of Lahaul and Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, have faced acute water shortages, as snowfall has declined, and glaciers have shrunk.

This has left residents of the district struggling for drinking water, as well as water for farming and animal rearing.

But, in a seeming paradox, at the same time, they have also been worried about grave threats to their homes and lives from torrential floods that the region has seen.

Both the shortages and the floods are caused by the same phenomenon: glacial melting. As one expert put it, “Water and ice don’t go well together.”

To understand how these two problems are linked, Vaishnavi Rathore travelled to Lahaul and spoke to residents of several villages, as well as experts and members of the state’s irrigation and public health department.

“I found myself admiring people's resilience,” Rathore said. “At how they were finding ways to deal with the water scarcity by shifting to different crops, or selling saplings of water-intensive and high income generating crops to those villages that had enough water.”

She added, “While speaking with flash flood victims about their experience of the flood and what followed, one of the interviewees paused while responding to me. After a while he said that even thinking about it brings in a lot of mental trauma. It was a very stark reminder to me as a journalist to treat such accounts with more sensitivity than usual.”

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Ajay Krishnan
Senior Editor

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