London - Himalayan glaciers could vanish within 40 years because of global warming, according to new research.
The findings, to be disclosed at an international meeting of the members of the World Meteorological Organisation's commission on snow and ice that opened yesterday at the University of Birmingham, England, will trigger fears of sea levels rising at a faster rate across the globe, swamping small island states like the Maldives and the Marshall Islands.
Some 500 million people in countries like India could be at increased risk of drought and starvation. The meltwaters of the Himalayas and the nearby Tibetan plateau make up two-thirds of the flow of the Ganges and other rivers, such as the Indus and Brahmaputra, which are crucial for drinking water, livestock and irrigation.
The melting glaciers will also increase the risk of dangerous floods, experts fear. Scientists studying the region's vanishing glaciers claim that dozens of meltwater lakes that are already forming could burst and swamp villages.
In 1985 a hydroelectric plant was destroyed when a 15-metre high wall of water swept down from such a lake in the Khumbu region of Nepal.
A glacier lake forming in Nepal's Sagarmatha Park has accumulated some 136 million litres of water since the 1960s and could burst within five years.
One of the researchers involved, Syed Hasnain, of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said that studies indicated that the glaciers in the region could be gone by 2035.
The Gangotri glacier, at the head of the Ganges, is receding at a rate of 30 metres a year. Glaciers in the Alps and other key mountain ranges are all melting as temperatures, partly due to man-made pollution, rise to 0,5 degrees Celcius above those a century ago, but Hasnain's team told New Scientist magazine that those in the central and eastern Himalayas were melting faster than anywhere else. - The Times