KYRGYZSTAN: By 2050, only 2% of glaciers may remain and temperatures could increase by 4-6 degrees centigrade by the end of the century

KYRGYZSTAN: Fewer glaciers = more deserts

BISHKEK, 16 November 2009 (IRIN) – Rapidly melting glaciers in mountainous regions of Kyrgyzstan over the next few decades could lead to increased desertification and land degradation, according to experts.

By the end of the century, we could see temperatures rising 4-6 degrees centigrade, and by 2050 the number of glaciers could fall from 8,200 to 142, Zukhra Abaikhanova, environment programme adviser with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Kyrgyzstan, told IRIN. The figures are also contained in Kyrgyzstan‘s submission to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“In the last few decades, we have witnessed the melting of our glaciers. Many have disappeared… The result could be desertification and soil degradation,” she said.

According to Bakyta Mamytova, a specialist in mountain soil biology at the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, such a temperature rise, assuming precipitation remains at its current level, would lead to increasing desertification.

The result would be soil erosion which “could affect living standards, the economy and the environment. We are experiencing this today already,” Mamytova said.

Deputy Director of the State Agency for the Preservation of the Environment and Forestry Aitkul Burkhanov said some of the land currently used in Central Asia for grazing and growing crops may not be fit for purpose in a few decades.

He said glacier melt would reduce the amount of water available for drinking and irrigation.

Agricultural zoning

Ninety percent of all water in the country is used for irrigation, said UNDP’s Abaikhanova. We need to reconsider “agricultural zoning” to ensure food security; and more efficient use of water at household and state level needs to be implemented, she said.

On “agricultural zoning” (moving crops to other areas or introducing new ones), Abaikhanova said work on that front was just beginning. “There will be a pilot project in the northern province of Chui. The main aim is to assess the prospects of agricultural adaption in the identified area, taking into consideration climate, temperature and humidity changes… We need to identify how the soil will change, what type of adaption measures will be needed in crop production, animal husbandry and preserving pasturelands in Kyrgyzstan.” A June 2009 World Bank report entitled Adapting to Climate Change in Europe and Central Asia warned that climate change’s impact in the Europe and Central Asia Region could be exacerbated by post-Soviet era environmental mismanagement and poor infrastructure.

Marianne Fay, the author of the report, said: “Increases in temperature are affecting hydrology, with a rapid melting of the region’s glaciers and a decrease in winter snows. Many countries are already suffering from winter floods and summer droughts – with both southeastern Europe and Central Asia at risk of severe water shortages. Summer heat waves are expected to claim more lives than will be saved by warmer winters.”

A joint report, entitled Global Glacier Changes: facts and figures, by the UN Environment Programme and the World Glacier Monitoring Service released on 1 September 2008 said mountain ranges in Central Asia function as water towers for millions of people. “Glacier runoff thereby is an important freshwater resource in arid regions as well as during the dry seasons in monsoonal affected regions,” the report said, adding that during the 20th century, the glacier area is estimated to have decreased by 25-35 percent in the Tien Shan area of Kyrgyzstan.