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World Water Congress: Dr. David Molden Looks Forward to Scotland

EDINBURGH, Scotland, United Kingdom

The XVth World Water Congress of the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) will meet in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 25-29, 2015.

OOSKAnews caught up this week with Dr. David Molden, Director General of the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Molden is a development specialist with more than 30 years of experience in designing, planning, executing, and monitoring programs on water management, livelihoods, environment, and ecosystem services. He previously served as Deputy Director General for Research at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). Molden holds a PhD in Civil Engineering, specializing in water resources, from Colorado State University. He has contributed to nearly 200 published works and has won a number of awards, including the Outstanding Scientist Award from CGIAR in 2009.

OOSKAnews: Please give our readers a little bit of background on yourself and ICIMOD, and where that organization fits into the world family of water.

Molden: I’ve been working with international water management for about 15 years, and did a lot of work in the field with farmers, up to river basin management, and how different sectors use water, also touching on topics such as water governance and water productivity … I have been active in the IWRA and a contributor to its journal Water International.

In 2011, I moved to ICIMOD, the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development. Here, our motto is, “For mountains and people.” And our vision is to enable sustainable and resilient mountain development for improved and equitable livelihoods through valid and regional cooperation. We are an intergovernmental organization owned by eight regional member countries.

Our geography is the mountains in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region -- that’s Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. We cover various topics ranging from what’s happening with climate change to how people adapt to changes -- any kind of changes to mountains, including glaciers and snow, as well as river basins, air pollution and energy issues.

The Hindu Kush Himalayas has about 210 million people living in the mountains and the hills, but the water from the mountains goes to 1.3 billion people -- and if we consider the food produced and the energy produced for other ecosystems services, then probably about 3-4 billion people -- almost half of humanity somehow interacts with these mountain resources. Yet the mountains are fragile ecosystems, highly vulnerable to climate change and other stresses, and people living in these very isolated areas have higher degrees of poverty, so these mountains that provide all these wonderful resources are under pressure. Perhaps the most significant sign is the melting of the glaciers in high mountain areas. And what we’re finding is it’s more than just the glaciers, it’s possibly changing the months and patterns. It will also change the hydrology downstream, so there are some real questions about water stress in Asia.

It also has a place in water, food, and energy, because it’s also the place where a lot of hydropower is being generated. [There is a] huge potential for hydropower in the mountains, yet if that’s not managed correctly, it opens the door for conflict, especially [between] upstream and downstream. We feel that benefits tend to flow [downstream] and the mountain voices are perhaps not heard enough in upstream and downstream discussions.

OOSKAnews: In water-sensitive areas, like your geographical region, there is a relatively high level of awareness of the importance of water as a strategic global resource. That’s not necessarily the case in other parts of what is described as the “developed world.” What can the water family be doing better to raise awareness about global water challenges?

Molden: I think that what happens here in India, China, Pakistan, or Afghanistan has repercussions in the developed world, so perhaps it is requesting that the global community really put their best science together to look at some of these issues. This is a very data-scarce area, up in the high mountains. We can really look at that, and then form platforms for discussions. Second is the area of outside pressures -- climate change and globalization. It’s a challenge here with mitigation, but it’s mostly adaptation -- climate change is really an obligation from richer countries to help these nations to deal with floods and droughts caused by climate change. We have very poor people threatened by floods, or flash floods, who have been able to cope for centuries, but suddenly it’s almost too difficult to deal with. People are migrating to gain skills to deal with some of these issues when they come back home.

OOSKAnews: Would you like to expand on the issue of climate change and recent announcements coming from the United Nations, calling the world’s attention to some major problems?

Molden: I think some people call this the Third Pole, this area, because it has more snow and ice outside [of anyplace besides] the South Pole and North Pole. We have glacier melting as a direct signal of climate change, without local people’s intervention. We don’t have that much data, but we’ve been getting much more data over the last four or five years. Most of the glaciers are retreating, but some are actually advancing. [They are] leaving behind these glacial lakes -- there are about over 1,000 glacier lakes in Nepal alone, and over 20 of those are dangerous, growing more every year.

Perhaps the biggest climate change issue is the change in monsoon patterns. Countries in this region have high degrees of air pollution and black carbon.  That black carbons sits on the glacier and causes enhanced glacier melt.  Black carbon is like soot from biomass burning, or unclean diesel fuel burning. The air pollution also changes the radiation that comes to Earth, and also has an effect on rainfall pattern. So there’s a very high degree of air pollution here that gets intertwined with climate change. The air pollution, if we have the right policy in place, can be cleaned up. In a year you can see immediate positive impact on the region, whereas with climate change, bringing the levels of CO2 down is a long-term process. Part of the energy equation that is not sufficiently thought of is the [impact of] black carbon impacting glaciers, impacting monsoons, changing the water pattern, and changing radiation and impacting crop fields as well.

OOSKAnews: What are your big hopes for the XVth IWRA Congress?

Molden: We hope to mainstream mountain issues within the water community. … Challenges are moving faster than our solutions, so we better hurry up. I think this IWRA [event] is quite important because it brings different players from different fields together that are interested in water [and] that have different disciplinary backgrounds, with good research and policy outreach as well. I am also looking forward to that policy outreach. We could do a better job at that, with your help.