|September 03, 2014|
Plastic waste may trigger water bombs in Himalayas
|Unfortunately, this is the ugly truth of the Himalayas. The heap, which includes biodegradable plastic, can be found just four kilometres from Shimla in the reserved forest of Lalpani. And this is not an isolated pocket either. The amount of plastic and other bio-degradable waste in the Himalayas is growing at an alarming rate and wreaking havoc with this fragile ecosystem. Trekkers and tourists have become litterbugs, who don't think before tossing a juice can or wafer wrapper by the mountainside.|
To save the fragile ecology of Himalayas, the Himachal Pradesh government on October 2, 2009, banned the use, storage, sale and distribution of all types of polythene bags. On October 2, 2011, the government imposed blanket ban on the use and storage of nonbiodegradable disposable plastic cups, plates and glasses and warned that violators would be fined up to Rs 5,000. Himachal Pradesh was the first to ban plastic and polythene bags. This photograph is, however, proof that the law is totally ineffective.
The disrespect for the Himalayas is capable of causing a time bomb of water. Biodegradable waste absorbs heat, which along with global warming, raises the overall temperature in the mountains, melting glaciers and creating glacial lakes thus posing the threat of glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) in the future. Continuous storage of huge quantities of water has turned these lakes on high mountains into "water bombs" for the population living downstream in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Nepal. The Himalayan range extends for approximately 2,400km within the 3,500km length of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan ranges, and has about 33,000sqkm of the estimated 110,000sqkm of glaciated area.
Plastic and other bio-degradable waste in the Himalayas is posing a big threat to the fragile ecosystem. The Nepal Himalayas occupy 800km of the central section of the Himalayan range while Indian part has more than 5,000 glaciers of different sizes and shapes.
If you thought that the plastic bag you left on a mountain slope after a trekking expedition would have no impact on the mighty glaciers, think again. J C Kuniyal, senior scientist at G B Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Mohal in Kullu says, "In 2005, non-biodegradable waste was 16.9% of total waste in Manali and 34.8% in Kullu in Himachal Pradesh. In and around the Valley of Flowers and the Pindari valley in Uttarakhand, such waste comprised 84.5 and 66.4% of the total generated waste. Thus, these results show that non-biodegradable is much higher in trekking and expedition locations than the down-slope hill spots." The numbers have only grown since.
"Non-biodegradable waste absorbs heat which results in rise in temperature and melting of glaciers. Formation of new lakes has posed a threat of glacial lake outburst flood. No one knows when the lakes would burst in next 20, 30 or 50 years," says Professor R K Ganjoo, a specialist in quaternary geomorphology, climate change and glaciology, from Jammu University. There are 249 glacial lakes in Himachal Pradesh and 11 have been identified as having potential risk of breaching. Experts said that these lakes need regular monitoring.
In the Uttarakhand Himalayas there are 127 glacial lakes of varying sizes, the total area of which is around 75sqkm. A report by the expert committee on glaciers of the Uttarakhand government, headed by B R Arora, director, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG), said, "There are 12 hydropower projects in Uttarakhand with an installed generation capacity of 1280MW.
Seven hydel projects with an installed capacity of about 4134MW are in various stages of completion, while 11 others with an installed capacity of about 1961MW are in various stages of investigation. Regular monitoring of glacial lakes and glacial retreat is therefore utmost necessary to safeguard the power projects in the state."