Water and Air

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region holds one of the world’s largest renewable supplies of fresh water. Over the past decade, concern for the changes wrought on ecosystems and livelihoods by climate and other changes has prompted greater awareness of the importance of this valuable resource for mountain people and downstream populations. However, hydrological processes in upstream areas are still poorly understood and the region continues to lack cooperation on water resources. Consequently the mountain people and communities of the region are not benefiting fully from the economic potential of water resources, which could contribute to alleviating poverty and improving livelihoods; and they continue to remain vulnerable to the risks associated with water-related natural hazards. 

Over the past five years ICIMOD has fostered regional and transboundary dialogue to promote integrated water and land management and has acted as a resource centre for information on water resources. It has built a solid foundation by working with and through partners on issues such as glacial lakes and floods caused by their outburst, cryosphere monitoring, the effects of climate change on water dynamics, initiation of a regional flood information system, upstream-downstream linkages, local responses to too much and too little water, and the implications of policies for water.

Smoke from traditional biofuel cooking stoves affects the respiratory health of a large segment of Himalayan populations, particularly women and children. This smoke, which starts off as indoor air pollution, also significantly increases outdoor air pollution. With major contributions from rapidly growing urban and industrial sources within and upwind of the region, air quality in mountain areas has significantly worsened in recent years. Particularly worrying is the increase in black carbon aerosols emitted by cooking stoves, diesel engines, brick kilns, and coal-fired power plants. Black carbon has a strong radiative effect and, together with other short lived climate forcers such as ozone and methane, contributes to regional climate change. Short-lived climate forcers disappear from the atmosphere within weeks to months after elimination of their emission sources. Their removal thus represents an opportunity for mitigating climate change while providing co-benefits in terms of human health. Today there are still significant knowledge gaps in understanding of the trends of atmospheric change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, the atmospheric processes that link particular sources to their impacts, and the detailed interactions of aerosols with clouds and precipitation. ICIMOD initiated a programme on short-lived climate forcers in 2012.

Over the next five years, ICIMOD will aim to:

  • analyse the future availability of water coming out of the mountains, floods, and drought, and analyse potential impacts of climate and anthropogenic change as well as possible solutions;
  • analyse hydrological processes for sustaining renewable energy in the form of hydropower;
  • address issues of benefit-sharing between upstream and downstream communities, analyse the water-energy-food nexus, and build community resilience to water-related hazards;
  • develop adaptive water management solutions from community to river basin scales in the framework of integrated water resource management.
  • enhance scientific knowledge on cryosphere dynamics and possible downstream impacts in the region through an integrative research approach including in situ measurements, remote sensing analysis, and modelling;
  • monitor changes in atmospheric composition and meteorology at more locations to fill the gaps in understanding of what changes are happening where; and
  • improve quantitative understanding of emission sources within and up-wind of the region, of atmospheric transport, chemical, and microphysical processes, and of the impacts of atmospheric change on health and the cryosphere.


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