A Battle to Save Ladakh, And All of Humanity


10:50 AM

1 min read

Why in News?

  • The Himalayan region, nestled between India's neighbours Pakistan and China, is home to Ladakh, comprising 97% indigenous tribes whose lives revolve around farming and animal rearing.
  • However, this picturesque landscape faces numerous challenges, including the detrimental impacts of climate change, border disputes, and a recent surge in mega infrastructure projects.
  • Amid climate protests and fasts led by climate activist Sonam Wangchuk, it is important to understand the larger issue of the fragility of the Himalayan ecosystem.

Vulnerability of the Himalayan Region to Climate Change

  • Melting Glaciers
    • The Himalayas, often called the Third Pole, house around 15,000 glaciers that play a critical role in regional hydrological processes.
    • These glaciers release meltwater into major rivers such as the Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra, providing essential water resources for millions of people downstream.
    • However, global warming is causing accelerated glacier melt, leading to rising river levels, increased flood risks, and potential water shortages in the future.
  • Extreme Weather Events
    • Climate change has led to more frequent and intense weather events in the region, including heavy rainfall, cloudbursts, and flash floods.
    • Such events can trigger landslides and devastate mountain communities by damaging infrastructure, crops, and property, as well as causing loss of life.
  • Shifts in Monsoon Patterns
    • The Himalayan region is heavily reliant on monsoon rains for agriculture and water resources.
    • Climate change is causing shifts in monsoon patterns, affecting the timing, intensity, and distribution of rainfall.
    • These changes can disrupt agricultural cycles, leading to food insecurity and economic instability.
  • Temperature Increases
    • Rising temperatures are affecting both the mountain and downstream ecosystems.
    • Higher temperatures can alter snowmelt patterns, disturb local flora and fauna, and impact the livelihoods of people who depend on traditional farming and animal rearing.
  • Loss of Biodiversity
    • The Himalayan region is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world.
    • Climate change threatens this unique biodiversity through habitat loss, changes in migration patterns, and increased stress on ecosystems.
  • Impact on Livelihoods
    • Indigenous tribes and rural communities in the region depend on farming and animal rearing for their livelihoods.
    • Climate change-induced challenges, such as changing weather patterns and natural disasters, can severely impact their ability to sustain their traditional ways of life.

The Role of NMSHE in Preserving the Himalayan Region

  • In 2008, the Central government launched eight Missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC).
  • One of these was under the Ministry of Science and Technology, i.e., the National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem (NMSHE).
  • As the Department of Science and Technology (DST) website states, the main objective of NMSHE is to develop a capacity to scientifically assess the vulnerability of the Himalayan region to climate change and continuously assess the health status of the Himalayan ecosystem.

Reasons Behind the Failure of NMSHE in Protecting the Himalayan Region

  • Rapid Infrastructure Development
    • Following Ladakh's transition to a Union Territory, numerous mega infrastructure projects have been swiftly launched, including road widening, bridge construction, tunnels, railway lines, and solar energy projects.
    • These projects, aimed at boosting tourism and industrial development, are often spearheaded by organisations like the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and the National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. (NHIDCL).
  • Neglect of Past Disasters
    • Despite a history of disasters in the Himalayan region, including the devastating 2013 Kedarnath floods and more recent incidents like the 2023 Joshimath disaster and the Silkyara tunnel collapse, little heed seems to be paid to past warnings.
    • Expert committees have cautioned against rampant infrastructure development, recommending limits on pilgrim numbers and restrictions on hydroelectric projects in ecologically sensitive zones.
  • Lack of Due Diligence
    • Climate change activists complain about the lack of attention given to their recommendations, with little to no due diligence conducted before greenlighting multi-crore infrastructure projects.
    • Concerns regarding risk assessment, safety measures, and geological analysis seem to fall on deaf ears in the pursuit of rapid development.

Strategies to Preserve the Himalayan Ecosystem

  • Sustainable Development Practices
    • Before implementing any development projects, thorough environmental impact assessments should be conducted to evaluate potential effects on the ecosystem.
    • Projects should be designed to minimise harm to the environment and comply with sustainability guidelines.
    • Infrastructure projects should be designed with a focus on minimising environmental disruption.
    • This includes using sustainable materials, limiting construction in ecologically sensitive areas, and employing low-impact construction techniques.
  • Focused Policies on Biodiversity Conservation
    • Expanding and strengthening protected areas, such as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, can help conserve the region's rich biodiversity and protect endangered species.
    • Establishing and maintaining wildlife corridors can facilitate the safe movement of animals and support genetic diversity, reducing the risk of species extinction.
  • Community Involvement
    • Incorporating traditional knowledge and practices of local communities can enhance conservation efforts and ensure that interventions are culturally appropriate and sustainable.
    • Empowering local communities to take an active role in conservation efforts can lead to more effective and long-lasting preservation of the ecosystem.
  • Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation
    • Implementing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as promoting renewable energy sources and reducing deforestation, can help mitigate climate change impacts in the region.
    • Supporting adaptation strategies for local communities, such as crop diversification and improved water management, can help them cope with changing climate conditions.
  • Research and Monitoring
    • Continuous monitoring of the Himalayan ecosystem, including its flora, fauna, and physical processes, can provide early warning signs of ecological changes and help inform conservation efforts.
    • Encouraging interdisciplinary research on the region's ecology, climate, and geology can lead to a better understanding of the challenges facing the ecosystem and potential solutions.


  • While development is necessary for economic growth, it must not come at the expense of environmental degradation and human lives.

The Himalayan region, with its unique biodiversity and cultural heritage, deserves careful consideration and protection, and it is the collective responsibility of all stakeholders to safeguard its future.

Q) How does glacier retreat in the Himalayas affect local communities?

Glacier retreat in the Himalayas affects local communities by impacting water supply for drinking, irrigation, and hydropower generation. It also increases the risk of glacial lake outburst floods, which can be devastating for nearby villages.

Q) What impact does changing precipitation patterns have on the Himalayas?

Changing precipitation patterns can lead to altered monsoon cycles and shifts in snow and rainfall distribution. This can affect water availability, agriculture, and the frequency and intensity of natural disasters such as floods and landslides.

Source:The Hindu