Photo: Pamir mountains. Credit: Alijon Boynazarov - Photo: 2019

Climate Change Finds Its Way to the ‘Rooftop’ in Tajikistan

By Alisher Kukanbekov*

PAMIR, Tajikistan (IDN) – The great mountains of Pamir that have been known as the ‘Roof of the World’ over the centuries is now falling victim to climatic change. One of the largest glaciers here, Garmo glacier, has retreated by a staggering 7 kilometers in the past few decades with the annual mean temperatures recording an upwards trend over the past decade.

Pamir is situated at an altitude of over 2000 meters in the heart of Central Asia. Throughout centuries it has been the hub for many great empires such as the Persian Empire and the Greek Empire led by the boundless Alexander the Great. However, in the recent years, climate change has had its toll on the great mountains here and the whole of Tajikistan.

“The rain and snow patterns have changed in terms of frequency and intensity. The change appears out of sync with livelihood practices, such as agriculture” says Murodbek Laljebev, researcher at the University of Central Asia in Khorog.

The annual average temperature in Pamir glacier zones has been increasing over the past decades from a -4 degrees centigrade in the 1960s to -0.8 degrees centigrade in 2019. According to research, by 2100 the average temperature is to be around 2.2 degrees. Over the past few years the retreating process has increased tremendously, and it is predicted to increase even more in the future. 

A climate change induced rise in temperature of 1.8 – 2.9 degrees will lead to significant reduction in the glaciers.

Tajikistan is considered as the main glacial center of Central Asia, with glaciers occupying about 6 percent of the total country area.  Most of them situated in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast. These glaciers perform an important function by retaining water, controlling water flows and regulating the climate as a whole.

According to data, Tajikistan and its mountainous region of Pamir is the source of 50% of the water that Central Asia needs. This is worrying to many researchers as Laljubaev points out, “the fact that most of the Central Asian water finds its sources from glaciers situated in the Pamirs which have retreated due to climate change, draws a concerning future for Central Asia. It sadly means there will be less water available for a larger population in the future.“

In the last century alone Tajikistan has lost more than 20 billion cubic meters of glacial ice volume. The glaciers have started to melt at a faster rate than ever before. As a result, during summer large landslides take place.

In 2015 a large landslide destroyed the village of Barsem and wiped out the road and the electricity polls. The disasters displaced over 600 people from their homes and left over 200,000 inhabitants without electricity.

“Many families lost their houses in the Barsem landslide. A lot of money and resources were needed to build new houses and at the same time fix the other damages that occurred around the disaster zone,” recalls Idris Jonmamadov.

The accelerated melting of glaciers produces more water than the local rivers could handle, which results in important highways that cater for the transport of goods being destroyed. Low laying farms that are located close to rivers are also in many cases flooded.

Gayur, who makes his money driving passengers from Dushanbe to Khorog, says “bad weather that leads to avalanches and landslides is my worst enemy”. He adds: “I have been driving for 13 years and I can say with confidence that the number of avalanches and landslides have considerably increased over the past years, it was complexly different to when I started.”

These landslides and avalanches have made it very hard to drive. “There was even a time when I was stuck on the road for 5 days during the winter, because there was one avalanche after another avalanche that kept on blocking the road,” he adds.

Photo: Pamir mountains. Credit: Alijon  Boynazarov

“People living in the Pamirs, in the mountainous regions of Tajikistan, are not used to the changing patterns in the climate,” Idris Jonmamadov, Emergency Department manager at the Aga Khan Agency of Habitat told IDN. “For example, historically in places like Khorog (administrative city of GBAO), there is usually minimal snowing compared to other regions in the Pamirs, however in 2018-2019 it had the most snowing. This anomaly caught most of the population of Khorog by surprise.”

People do not have enough time and resources to adapt to the changes that are taking place as a result of global warming.

“Due to unreadiness and unpredictability people are more prone to natural disasters than ever before. You can never really know now when the next rainy season is coming or the next snowy winter. People have lesser time to get ready for landslides and avalanches, even in places they have never occurred before,” adds Jonmamadov.

A different pattern can also be noticed from late spring to August, as it takes a longer time to get warm. This results in slower growth rate of crops and a fewer harvests. Many farmers and local markets are finding it difficult to cope with the weather patterns, say local residents.

Likewise, fewer harvests mean the price of essential vegetables and fruits are very high. For example, this year due to a very cold and rainy May, the cost of 1kg of tomatoes was around 10 Somoni ($1.1) compared to a mere 5 Somoni from the past years.

“The price for vegetables is high this year, which has made me consume vegetables like tomatoes less because I cannot afford to buy them daily, “complains local resident Sherjon.

 “Agencies like ours, AKAH, and other large organizations together with the government are working hard to help those affected with the basic needs they may need, and at the same time our agency is making sure to intercept the next disasters in order to make sure people are not harmed,” says Jonmamadov.

However, the local communities feel that the harsh reality in Tajikistan is not a crisis of their own making. They alone cannot fight the drastic climate change that are taking place. By itself, the country will not sustain the melting of the glaciers and the future water supply of Central Asia.

* The writer is a media studies student at the University of Central Asia, who is doing a summer internship with IDN as a correspondent in Tajikistan. [IDN-InDepthNews – 24 June 2019]

Photo: Pamir mountains. Credit: Alijon  Boynazarov

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