Adapting to melting glaciers : how Western Himalayan societies frame climate change and adaptation

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Urban and Rural Development

Abstract: The glaciers of the Hindu-Kush Himalayas region flow into 10 major river basins and sustain nearly 2 billion people, with 250 million being directly dependent on them for freshwater sources while a further 1.65 billion rely on their outflows. These glaciers are now melting at a rate that has left more than a quarter of the world’s population facing an existential crisis the likes of which they have never encountered before, with record heatwaves and fatal floods at the start of 2022 serving merely as macabre warnings of the devastation that is yet to come. Even radical changes in global activity that somehow limit warming to 1.5c will lead to more than a third of these glaciers to melt away by the end of this century, disrupting the lives of millions who stand in the frontlines to face the brunt of climate change through no fault of their own. While nuclear powers Pakistan, India and China vie for control of this region due to its resources and geopolitical significance, there is negligible effort by any of these countries to save these glaciers or those living within these mountains — a third of whom already do not have enough resources to even afford necessary nutrition. To make matter worse, there are major gaps in our knowledge of these ranges that monopolise the world’s largest mountains. This thesis is therefore an attempt to kickstart necessary adaptation research in the area, without which even the most well-intentioned adaptation measures can quickly turn into maladaptation. This research conducts a frame analysis to shed light on the socio-political processes in the Western Himalayas that constitute climate change vulnerability and adaptation. In order to do this, 10 interviews were conducted in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region while a month was spent in the field observing participants and their understanding of identity, power, and knowledge in relation to climate change adaptation. The complex nature of identity, knowledge and power frames in the region highlight the complicated nature of the task at hand as well as the need for more research across the borders of India, Pakistan, China and Nepal, with cross-border adaptation collaborations being the need of the hour but an unlikely outcome among these national rivals.

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