A new study has revealed that if the unplanned and rapid urbanisation is not quickly addressed, millions of people in the Himalayan region may face a grim water future. The study recommended long term mountain specific urban planning to tackle the issue.

The research published in the journal ‘Water Policy’ in February 2019 was done by Sreoshi Singh (Nepal), SM Tanvir Hassan (Bangladesh), Masooma Hassan (Pakistan) and Neha Bharti (India).

“Unfortunately, the unprecedented population growth has led to over exploitation of water sources in the region pushing the inhabitants to a state of despair,” it added.

“Several mountain urban centres are now augmenting their water supplies through water transfers from distant sources, as existing water sources are insufficient to meet rising water demands. However, due to the inherent fragility of mountain environments, such water transfers may not always be feasible due to the high infrastructure and energy costs involved,” the study said.

It added, “In the mountains, smaller settlements like district headquarters or market towns perform a number of functions typical of an urban centre. However, they are not formally classified as urban centres because they do not meet the nationally set criteria. This calls for a mountain-specific definition of urban areas, which takes into cognisance mountain specificities like fragility, limited water sources and remoteness.”

“Some of these mountainous urban centres are of historical importance while some are popular tourist destinations. The present planning process has failed to provide alternative systems incorporating seasonal influx of population in these urban centres leading to acute water scarcity, congestion and pollution,” it said.

“However, unless supplemented with adequate and well-planned recharge programmes, excessive reliance on groundwater will lead to further potentially deleterious consequences in the future, given that aquifers in mountainous regions are inherently fragile,” the study warned.

“Without long-term and sustainable urban planning and accountability of the stakeholders, many of these urban centres in the HKH are poised for a grim water future, which will only be exacerbated by climate change,” it added.

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