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Siachin and Commitment to Environment
 
By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, Islamabad December 14, 2007

Unusual melting of snow in the northern mountains is already triggering climate changes -- floods, irregular snow and rains etc. Policy makers in India and Pakistan need to move swiftly and jointly to protect their precious ecological heritage. They owe it to posterity. And it demands that both countries rise above national egos and work for an ecologically better and safer future.

Federal Minister for Environment Syed Wajid Hussain Bukhari told a group of environmental activists on December 9 that Pakistan is facing negative consequences of climate change and global warming is set to reverse decades of social and economic progress across the country. “The threat of global warming is urgent, its time for people to rise above politics, if they want Islamic Republic of Pakistan to progress,” Bukhari said.

Bukhari, also underscored the lack of water management as one of the biggest challenges and mentioned the steady decrease in per capita water availability, financial inefficiency of agriculture, increasing need for clean drinking water as some of the pressing issues resulting from lack of water management policies.

These “pearls of wisdom” came across as yet another sermon to the nation, whose politicians and bureaucrats excel in talk but lack the will and vision for proactive policies.

The minister also cautioned that Pakistan would be one of the biggest victims and that is why the Environment Ministry would soon launch a mega forestry project worth 12 billion rupees, besides 48 ongoing projects on climate change, sanitation and air pollution to achieve a target of six per cent forestation area by 2015.

It all sounds nice and ambitious on the part of a caretaker minister because the bitter reality of Pakistan today, is that even full time ministers failed in injecting real life into environmental protection drive.

Millions of saplings are planted twice a year but if we look around, the CDA continues to denude Islamabad of its precious greenery -- all in the name of development.

Bukhari repeated warnings about the global warning also on December 10 -- International Mountain Day while speaking at a seminar titled “Climate Change in Mountain Areas.”

A significant omission from the minister’s speech was the impact of the global warning on Siachin Glacier. Probably because its taboo for civilians, to dilate on a strategic issue as Siachin, which reportedly has been shrinking and suffering due to Indian and Pakistani military activity.

According to the Indian Express India's Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad, and Glaciology Research Centre, Jammu are now setting up a hi-tech weather station at Siachen with satellite unlinking facilities to monitor the glacier all through the year.

The 74-km long is glacier the world's highest and coldest battlefield, India and Pakistan have been ensuring military presence at an altitude of over 22,000 feet in minus 40-60 degrees Celsius since mid 1980s. Hundreds of soldiers from both sides have fallen victim to frostbite in the biting temperatures so far.

The weather station is to be set up under a two-year research project being undertaken jointly by India's Space Application Centre (SAC), Ahmedabad, and Glaciology Research Centre, Jammu University.

Noted glaciologists Dr R K Ganjoo, Director, Regional Centre for Field Operations and Research on Himalayan Glaciology and Prof M N Koul, an eminent glaciologist and former head, Geography department at JU, will lead the study.

It follows on the heels of a controversy that the Indian government’s decision to open the Siachen region to trekkers kicked off. Pakistan also had taken exception to the move and urged India to review its decision in view of the strategic and ecological impact of such a move.

Dr Ganjoo told media that the project aims at studying the claims of the melting of Siachen and other Nubra valley glaciers. It will also prepare comprehensive digitised maps by clubbing the field observation with satellite imagery.

He also cited studies of noted glaciologist V K Raina who believes that most glaciers are going through natural changes and nothing extraordinary is happening in most of the Himalayan glaciers, including Siachen, which has been under observation for the past 158 years.

“The data will be continuously fed to us via V-Sat technology so that we can have a fairly good idea as to what is happening at Siachen. This data will help us in knowing about the melting pattern of the glacier,” said Dr Ganjoo.

The Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE), Chandigarh, will procure necessary high-tech instruments for the weather station to monitor snowfall, rainfall, wind speed, atmospheric temperature, soil temperature, solar radiation, humidity and sunshine.

Dr Ganjoo along with Prof M N Koul and a few other experts had visited the Siachin base camp in August 2007 for field observations. He hopes that the project titled ‘Snow Assessment in Glacial Studies in Siachen and Nubra valley’ would demystify many claims being put forth from different quarters about the alarming retreating rate (melting) of Siachen glacier.

Regardless of the politics that surrounds this glacier, the Indian move to observe it scientifically and determine the impact of global warming or of the military activity deserves credit and warrants appreciation. It amounts to walking the talk, rather than just surmising and sermonise on the effect. Perhaps scientist can eventually persuade their governments to climb down from Siachin’s heights and leave alone the snow mass that is so critical to the ecology of the region. Unusual melting of snow in the northern mountains is already triggering climate changes -- floods, irregular snow and rains etc. Policy makers in India and Pakistan need to move swiftly and jointly to protect their precious ecological heritage. They owe it to posterity. And it demands that both countries rise above national egos and work for an ecologically better and safer future