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How Climate change is affecting Leh?

Climate change Leh; Mountains around the world are considered indicators of climate change. The Himalayas are made up of five ranges

By Wahid Bhat
New Update
How Climate change is affecting in Leh?

Mountains around the world are considered indicators of climate change. The Himalayas are made up of five ranges namely Pir Panjal, Great Himalayas, Zanskar, Ladhak and Karakorum.

Unique cold-arid climate

The Ladakh region is located in the northernmost state of India, Jammu and Kashmir, in the Ladhak mountain range. It has a unique cold-arid climate and is located immediately south of the Karakorum mountain range. With scarce water resources, these regions show high sensitivity and vulnerability to climate change and need urgent attention.

The study shows that the climate over Leh shows a warming trend with reduced rainfall in the current decade. The reduced average seasonal precipitation could also be associated with some indications of a reduction in the number of days with higher amounts of precipitation in the region.

Climate change in Leh

The effects of climate change are already clearly visible through the increase in air temperature, the melting of glaciers and the shrinking of the polar ice caps, the rise in sea level, the increase in desertification, as well as extreme weather events more frequent, such as heat waves, droughts, floods and storms.

Climate change already affected Leh region

Climate change is not globally uniform and affects some regions more than others. In the diagrams below, you can see how climate change has already affected the Leh region over the last 40 years. The data source used is ERA5, the fifth-generation ECMWF Global Climate Atmospheric Reanalysis, covering the time range 1979 to 2021, with a spatial resolution of 30 km.


The top graph shows an estimate of the mean annual temperature for the larger Leh region. The blue dashed line is the linear trend of climate change. If the trend line goes up from left to right, the temperature trend is positive and it is getting warmer in Leh due to climate change. If it's horizontal, you don't see a clear trend, and if it's down, conditions in Leh are getting cooler over time.

Climate makes conditions harsh for agriculture

Ladakh is a cold desert and its arid climate makes conditions harsh for agriculture. Nearly 90% of farmers in Ladakh depend on meltwater for irrigation. Scientists say that the water problem in this area is mainly due to climate change. There has already been an increase of 3 degrees Celsius in the average temperature of Ladakh in the last four decades. This has caused less snowfall and faster melting in higher regions.

Kargil Villages facing drought, Photo credit: Flickr

In the Western Himalayas, glacier cover has been reduced by almost 20% and some of the glaciers face an existential threat. Experts say that global warming has adversely affected the pattern of rainfall in these higher regions.

The result: crop productivity for farmers like Nurboo and Namgyal has been severely affected. The production of some crops decreased between 30% and 50% in recent years. Crops such as potato, barley, turnip, radish and peas have been affected by the lack of water availability.

Global climate change destroys Ladakh

A news report on The Weather Channel website last week summarized the evidence showing that global climate change is starting to destroy Ladakh's cultural heritage. Although not all Ladakhis agree on the causes of the destruction, the historic structures are weakening and being destroyed due to changing climatic conditions.

To cope with the increasingly frequent downpours, people have been changing the architecture of their buildings. They are replacing traditional wood, stone and clay roofs, built to withstand heavy snowfall, in favour of more expensive tin and concrete roofs to withstand heavy rains that are becoming more common. Heavy rains are also damaging carvings and paintings in Buddhist monasteries.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The American Institute for Preservation of Historic and Artistic Works investigated conservation issues related to Ladakhi cultural heritage. He indicated that old buildings are being damaged both externally and internally by water seepage. The study reported that "the region is now experiencing brief but intense downpours that traditional mud structures are not equipped to withstand." The study also noted that melting glaciers on higher mountains pose a threat to older buildings.

As per the study, 98 % of households thought that drinking water quality is safe in Leh, 53 % of households thought drinking water quality today is worse than 10 years ago. 34 % of households reported problems with their drinking water in terms of it having a strange smell, taste or colour.

Water pollution serious concern in the region

Lack of adequate wastewater management and treatment, i.e. septic tanks or soak pits, was thought by 26 % of households to be the main source of groundwater pollution. The local population also perceived the increased use of chemical fertilizers over the past decades in agriculture as a water quality threat. 34 % of households thought diarrhoea is related to drinking water pollution. As per this study drinking, water pollution is a serious concern of the local population.

Some local people attribute climate change to a government initiative in the 1990s to plant many trees in the region. Government agencies spent large sums of money planting thousands of willow and fruit trees in Ladakh in an effort to increase vegetation in the arid desert. Some Ladakians think that the afforestation program could be responsible for the unusual rainfall conditions, although the reporter points out that there are no scientific studies to support this popular belief.

Excessive melting of glaciers is causing life-threatening floods for 80 per cent of the region's farmers, as glaciers are the main source of water, Norphel added. This has affected agriculture in Leh and affected farming patterns. In fact, that was the main reason Norphel came up with the idea of artificial glaciers to overcome the irrigation water crisis.

Effects of climate change evident on Siachen Glacier

The effects of climate change are also very evident on the Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battlefield. Siachen Snout, the starting point of the glacier, at Base Camp has receded about a kilometer since 2005. A plaque indicating this on the snout bears witness to the accelerating rate of human-induced climate change. Climate change has also altered weather patterns causing unseasonable rains and increasing the risk of avalanches.

many believe that the efforts of individuals alone will not avert the crisis. This is where the role of the state and central government is important to put in place the appropriate policy measures and provide resources to expand the farmers' efforts. Investing in technology can be a wise step, as methods like drip irrigation and precision irrigation can save a lot of water.

However, there is another aspect of global warming, which is termed as a positive effect of climate change. It is now possible to grow various crops and vegetables in Ladakh, which was previously impossible. Farmers today grow bell peppers, cucumbers, cauliflower, tomatoes, okra, and even watermelons. “The rise in temperature has made this possible here. You couldn't think of growing them here before,” says Namgyal of Hunder village, with a laugh.


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