Glacial Retreat in Tajikistan

Glacial Retreat in Tajikistan

Scientists in Tajikistan say the rapid shrinking of mountain glaciers is a direct consequence of global warming.

Through July, experts were worrying about the Medvezhy glacier, which they thought might start advancing on villages in southeast Tajikistan as temperatures in this mountain region reach over 30 degrees. There is also concern about the Fedchenko glacier, the world’s longest outside polar regions.

 “Our glaciers are melting at the same rate as those in the Arctic and Antarctic," Abdulhamid Qayumov, a scientist who runs climate change research programmes, told IWPR. "This could have a major negative impact on the region.”

Scientists say the area of Tajikistan covered by glaciers has declined by 70 per cent in as many years. Only the large ones remain – where once there were 14,000 glaciers, now there are just 1,000.

“There are no small glaciers left. For example, the Yakharcha glacier in Varzob no longer exists. All that’s left is white stones,” Mahmad Safarov, director of the state hydrometeorology agency. “They existed in the 20th century, but in the 21st they exist only on maps.”

Statistician Jamila Baydulloeva says the Pamir mountains of eastern Tajikistan are receiving much less rain- and snowfall than before.

“Badakhshan got only 20 to 25 per cent of the normal snowfall in winter 2014,” she said. “This year will see immense damage to Tajikistan’s glaciers. Massive melting is expected to take place. Although there was high precipitation this spring, it only accelerated the melting.”

Central Asia’s two small but mountainous states Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan contain 80 per cent of the entire region’s water reserves, so a reduction in volume plus untimely glacier melt have potentially catastrophic implications.

Not only that, but regional disputes over water resources, centring on Uzbekistan’s objections to new Tajik and Kyrgyz hydroelectric schemes, carry political risk as well.

“There are reasons for the politicisation of the water issue, one of which is that scientific work on the state of the glaciers has deteriorated,” Qayumov said. “Misunderstanding arise out of the lack of accurate, scientifically established data.”

A regional conference was held in Dushanbe recently to discuss these issues, and scientists from as far away as Kazakstan and Turkmenistan agreed that inter-state cooperation rather than competition for resources was essential. 

Khurshed Durakhsh is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan. 

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