The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region is known for its complex and fragile mountain ecosystems, which are highly vulnerable to multiple hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, floods, and glacial lake outburst floods. Climate change is melting glaciers, snow and permafrost which is making these hazards more severe, threatening the people, environment, and infrastructure in the region and slowing development. There is an increasing recognition of the need to strengthen the assessment of multi-hazard risks to incorporate the impacts of climate change. Furthermore, it has become essential to design infrastructure projects in the HKH region with a focus on resilience and adaptation to these multi-hazard risks. Traditional approaches to infrastructure development often overlook the interconnectedness of hazards. We must act now to construct resilient infrastructure capable of withstanding these complex climate challenges.

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The Roof of the World is Melting: Urgent Action is Needed to Address Climate Risks in the Hindu Kush Himalayas

Stretching from Afghanistan to Myanmar, the Hindu Kush Himalayas contain the largest volume of ice outside the Arctic and Antarctica.

These mountains are the source for several rivers providing water for drinking, irrigation, and energy, among other essentials for 1.6 billion people.

However, glaciers in this region could lose up to 75 percent of their volume by the end of the century which will increase water stress, biodiversity loss, and the frequency of hazards.

100-year floods is occurring more frequently. So as a result, the infrastructure that we are designing for needs to be also addressing this changing frequency.

Mandira S. Shrestha
Sr. Water Resources Specialist
International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development 

To address the growing demands of the region, governments and the private sector need to invest now. Hundreds of billions of dollars will be required to construct new infrastructure including hydropower facilities, irrigation systems, water supply networks, roads and bridges.

Building infrastructure that can withstand complex climate risks needs to be done now. We need to change the way we do development. Understanding of long-term climate risk needs to inform every single decision and be the basis of identifying investment opportunities. 

Noelle O’Brien 
Climate Change and Sustainable Development
Asian Development Bank

The Melamchi Water Supply Project provides a glimpse into the future, of how climate change can undo our achievements.

Decades of rapid urban development in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, have led to acute water shortages.

The Melamchi Water Supply Project was envisioned to alleviate the chronic water scarcity in Kathmandu Valley by diverting fresh water from the Melamchi River to the capital via a 26km long tunnel.

But in June 2021, catastrophic climate-induced floods and debris flows damaged the headworks structures built to divert water to Kathmandu, burying them under 15-20 meters of debris. 
We had water for six months. But it stopped. When asked why, I heard it stopped because of the landslides.

Reshma Malla
Local Resident
Kathmandu, Nepal

The tunnel is now closed during the monsoon season to limit the risk posed by heavy rain, depriving the residents of Kathmandu of much needed water during these four months.

The unforeseen and unprecedented floods of 2021 significantly impacted the headworks and intake site. Therefore, in 2022, we began supplying water before the monsoon as a short-term solution. Additionally, for a long-term resolution, we are constructing resilient structures to ensure continuous water supply for the people of Kathmandu throughout the year.

Zakki Ahmad Ansari
Executive Director
Melamchi Water Supply Development Board

So these are kind of events we have started to see in the Nepal Himalaya all across. And it’s not only one particular district or a watershed. We have experienced quite a devastating impact in the eastern part of Nepa, Koshi. Three of our districts were devastated...31 hydro power plants, large sections of roads, numerous bridges were wiped out. 

Anil Pokharel
Chief Executive
National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Authority,
Government of Nepal

The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan faces similar issues. The Bhawanijohra bridge provides crucial access for transportation of goods between the industrial area of Pasakha and the Indian bordering towns. 

Students use this bridge to walk to school and communities rely on this route for their daily activities.

Supercharged by climate change, unprecedented monsoon rains in the past three years have buried the bridge under 6-7 meters of debris, making it completely unusable.

I was driving when the flooding occurred in 2019. This bridge was the only way to get to Phuentsholing and being cut off caused a lot of problems for everyone.

Jas Bahadur Rai
Local Tradesman
Phuentsholing, Bhutan

Road networks are very important in Bhutan. One of the biggest problems with changing climate is erratic rainfall conditions. Because of that it is very important that we have to have proper drainage conditions and protection, slope counter measures to protect the landslides.  So, that’s why I think it is very important that we have to design and engineer climate resilient infrastructure in the future.

Director General
Department of Surface Transport, Bhutan

At the same time that climate impacts are being felt across the region, concrete steps are being taken to help communities become more resilient.

In the western region of Nepal, rural communities are highly susceptible to shifts in rainfall patterns due to their dependence on mountain springs.

A climate resilient eco project led by communities is transforming water management systems in these remote areas.

Through strategies like water diversion and conservation, more than 50,000 households now have dependable water source, protecting their livelihoods during dry seasons.

We now have drinking water and having water makes everything better.

Laxmi Karki
Local Farmer
Doti, Nepal

The Dhap Dam, in the hills of the Kathmandu, completed in 2023, ensures water security for the nearby community by harnessing monsoon water to enhance the flow of the Bagmati River.

Projects like this small reservoir are increasingly important in the face of climate change. We need massive investments in climate adaptation projects, particularly for sectors or in areas which are highly exposed or vulnerable to climate change impacts. 

The Asian Development Bank, in partnership with the Governments of Nepal and Bhutan, has launched the 'Building Adaptation and Resilience in the Hindu Kush Himalayas' program to support the governments and the private sector in planning and developing climate-resilient projects.

Arnaud Cauchois
Country Director for Nepal
Asian Development Bank

1.6 billion people depend on the waters flowing from the melting ice on the roof of the world. Climate change is causing unprecedented destruction to the infrastructure supporting the region’s development.

We must act now to construct resilient infrastructure capable of withstanding these complex climate challenges. 

And we can also protect our lives, livelihoods as well as infrastructure.