The greater Himalayan region contains large areas covered by glaciers, seasonal and perennial snows, wetlands (including lakes), marshes, and peat. Any changes in the quantity and quality of these resources will affect the environment at local, regional, and global scales. Snow and glacial melt contribute to nearly half of the average flow of the major rivers in the region and high altitude wetlands are important for water storage and to regulate climate, floods, and drought. Water ecosystems fulfill important functions in the overall water and nutrient cycle and support biodiversity; they are also vital to maintaining environmental quality, sustaining livelihoods, and supporting biodiversity.
Mountain areas with ice and snow are particularly sensitive to changes in climate. At critical altitudes, small change in temperature lead to a major changes in the state of water from frozen to liquid. Glaciers in the greater Himalayan region are currently diminishing both in size and number, which has an adverse effect on water resources and livelihoods downstream There is still no good scientific understanding of the present rapid change in climate and the impact that it can have on environments and livelihoods. Large uncertainties still exist about the rates, magnitudes, and even the direction of change and the effects these can have on ecosystems and livelihoods. Much greater efforts are needed to advance current understanding of the changes that are taking place in the HKH and the implications that these can have for nature and society. Therefore, monitoring and assessment of ice and water resources is essential for reducing the scientific uncertainty that exists and develop measures for adaptation and mitigation; solid evidence is also needed to increase the awareness and engagement of the public, governments, and the private sector.
ICIMOD established a Wetlands Unit in order to focus its wetland activities in the Himalayas. The overall aim of the unit is to promote the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands in the Himalayan region of the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH). Its major objectives are to provide leadership in the wise use of the wetlands and their functions, catalyse policy research on high-altitude wetlands, build the capacity of partners, and promote collaboration and networking in the region. Baseline information on the Himalayan wetlands will be provided by the Greater Himalayan Wetlands Information System (GHWIS).