The Stream, May 29, 2024: Faced With Drought and Disappearing Glaciers, Himalayan Village Copes with Relocation

Gathering water in Delhi, India, in this file photo from 2016. Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue


  • The flushing of bizarre objects down toilets is creating blockages — called “fatbergs” — in the sewers of Sydney, Australia, much to officials’ dismay. 
  • Thawing permafrost in northern Alaska is releasing minerals into rivers, staining them a rusted orange hue and hurting water quality. 
  • Relentless, deadly heat waves throughout Mexico are coinciding with a worsening water crisis in the country’s capital.
  • Faced with drought and summer deluges, villagers in Nepal were forced to abandon their traditional homelands — an increasing trend in a region hit hard by water insecurity.

Extreme heat and erratic rainfall are battering Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, as temperatures surpass 125 degrees Fahrenheit and Cyclone Remal makes landfall. 

“I can’t afford air conditioning; I only have a fan. It’s 40 degrees Celsius [104 degrees Fahrenheit] inside my home and I can’t sleep. I’m exhausted.” — a mother in New Delhi, India, tells Le Monde

South Asian countries are currently withstanding a double-whammy of extreme weather, made worse by human-induced climate change, scientists concur. In India’s capital New Delhi, millions of people are enduring temperatures in excess of 113 degrees F while heading to the polls for the nation’s presidential election, DW reports. In neighboring Pakistan, temperatures this week surpassed 125 degrees in the southern province of Sindh, according to Reuters.  

But relief in the form of rainfall has become increasingly difficult to predict. Monsoon season, which brings soggy weather to the region from roughly April through September, has in recent years been more violent and erratic. Early this week, Cyclone Remal made landfall near the Bangladesh-India border, flooding dozens of coastal villages and cutting the power of some 30 million people. “More than 35,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 115,000 were damaged. Nearly 800,000 people were evacuated from vulnerable areas on Sunday,” AP reports

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

In the early 1990s, the village of Samdzong — located in the trans-Himalayan highlands of western Nepal, a region often referred to as “ground-zero” for climate change — was already experiencing erratic shifts between seasonal drought and flooding. 

Streams that were supplied by glacial melt began drying up; meanwhile, powerful summer deluges destroyed dozens of homes, flooded harvests, and washed away livestock, BBC reports. With most community members reliant upon subsistence farming and hunting, years of extreme weather and inconsistent precipitation on the landscape pushed Samdzong to the brink. 

In 2006, villagers decided to leave their ancestral homes for an area with more fertile land, roughly seven miles away. A decade later, 86 residents inhabited their new settlement, named Namashung — “green meadow.” Today, Samdzong has just five residents who stayed behind. And those living in Namashung are still securing land ownership while water supplies, shared with the local town, are stressed. 

This experience isn’t unique to just the people of Samdzong. Multiple villages across Nepal have engaged in climate migrations, mainly caused by water insecurity. “The feasibility of staying in rural areas has become increasingly challenging,” Amina Maharjan, a senior specialist for livelihood and migration at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development in Patan, Nepal, tells the BBC. 

And experts worry that more communities will be forced to entertain these difficult decisions, of whether to leave behind their homes. The snowpack contained in the Hindu Kush Himalayas supplies freshwater for two billion people in Asia, but glaciers there could lose 80 percent of their volume by 2100, according to a study published last year. Their rapid melting today, as was experienced in the 1990s by the people of Samdzong, is creating both shortages and sudden, powerful disasters that endanger the pastoralist life. 

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers


Estimated number of “fatbergs” — “congealed masses of fat, wet wipes and other personal hygiene products that more commonly occur in winter,” the Guardian reports — that have blocked sewers this year in Sydney, Australia. Odd objects, including keys, toys, vapes, golf balls, teeth, and towels, are increasingly being flushed down the toilet, according to Sydney Water, creating expensive-to-remove chokes in the city’s wastewater flow. Men between the ages of 18 and 29, data suggests, are behind more fatbergs than any other demographic. 



Number of people killed throughout Mexico during a 10-day heatwave, from May 12 through May 21 — in which some states experienced temperatures in excess of 113 degrees F — according to preliminary figures released by the Mexican health ministry, France24 reports. These figures bring the total number of heat-related deaths in the country to 48 since March 17. The deaths were mainly caused by heat stroke and dehydration. Researchers cautioned last week that during the final few days of May, Mexicans may experience the hottest temperatures recorded in the country’s history. Meanwhile, the heat wave coincides with preparations in Mexico City’s metropolitan area (population 22 million) for a looming ‘Day Zero’ scenario, which could begin before June ends. 

On the Radar

The thawing of permafrost in northern Alaska is releasing once-frozen minerals — including zinc, copper, and iron — into watersheds, staining creeks, streams, and rivers an orange hue. According to new research published in the journal Nature Communications: Earth and Environment, scientists identified 75 waterways near the state’s Brooks Range mountains that had rusted, a University of California-Davis press release reports. Scientists are concerned the influx of these minerals will degrade water quality and hurt otherwise near-pristine fisheries. Water sampling revealed a pH level of 2.8, compared to the healthy river water pH of 8. The leakage of minerals into Alaska’s waters, the scientists say, is not unlike run-off from mining sites affecting rivers and streams in places like Colorado.

More Water News

Papua New Guinea: A devastating landslide has buried more than 2,000 people and caused irreparable damage to massive amounts of infrastructure and farmland in the country’s Enga region, CNN reports. While the exact cause of the disaster is currently unknown, experts predict that “considerable rainfall” in the area played at least a role.  

British Isles: According to a new World Weather Attribution analysis, the British Isles experienced 20 percent more rainfall from October through March than usual — one of the area’s wettest winters on record — as a result of human-caused climate change, Yale Environment 360 reports.

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