A journey to Imja Lake - China Dialogue
Climate

A journey to Imja Lake

People across the Himalayas live in fear that growing glacial lakes will rupture, devastating downstream areas.  The threat of these mountain tsunamis is rising in Nepal, Bhutan, India and Tibet, as new lakes are forming because of melting glaciers.

This month, the Mountain Institute is leading an expedition to Imja Lake, a newly-formed, but notoriously dangerous glacial lake near Mount Everest in Nepal.  The team is made up of international scientists and other experts from the US, Latin America, Europe and Asia. By bringing together Peruvian glaciologists, Nepali Sherpa, and American environmentalists, the team hopes to share experiences and stimulate new ideas about how to monitor and control glacial lakes.

Director of Andean Programs for The Mountain Institute Jorge Recharte has come from Peru to share 50 years experience of controlling the large number of glacial lakes in the Andes “Cordillera Blanca” mountains, a region also experiencing rapid glacial melt. He is excited by the prospect of  exchange between the experts working in the Himalayas and central Asian mountain ranges. The Guardian correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg is also part of the expedition and has been publishing posts on her own blog about changing state of the Himalayas.

There is a long history of scientists visiting Imja Lake and providing no information to the local people. But the research team claims that this time things will be different; they are trying to understand what information communities need and together explore how water from the lakes can be used to provide locals with safe drinking water, irrigation and electricity. Follow the full series here: https://www.mountain.org/blog/.

Last year, documentary film maker Anna Colom made her own journey to Imja Lake to find out how indigenous Sherpa communities were coping with the harsh impact of climate change. Erratic snow and rain patterns are affecting food production, new pests and diseases plague villages, and there is the ever present threat of flooding.

Yet glacial melt poses a huge threat not only for these communities but also but also for the millions of people downstream who depend on water from the major Asian rivers that drain the Himalayas. As local entrepreneur Dawa Steven Sherpa points out: “this is an issue that should be taken up not only by local people or the national government of Nepal, but needs to be taken up at a regional, or even a global level.”

Watch the trailer for the film commissioned by Minority Rights Group here:

For more information on glacial lake outburst floods from the Third Pole see:“Mountain tsunamis – a rising threat” and  “Battle of a Himalayan village” by Navin Singh and “Understanding glacier changes” by Kenneth Hewitt.