Melting glaciers could lead to water struggles in Asia, says Oxfam

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DUSHANBE, Tajikistan, Feb. 17, 2010 -- Retreating glaciers in the Pamir Mountains could lead to greater water shortages and potential disputes in Tajikistan, according to a report released by Oxfam.

The population of Tajikistan will be deeply affected by the effects of climate change unless "immediate action" is taken, the charity said.

The report, Reaching Tipping Point? Climate Change and Poverty in Tajikistan, revealed that the country's glaciers, mainly found in its Pamir Mountains that make up part of the Trans-Himalayan range, are retreating and could lead to greater water shortages and potential disputes in the wider region in the future.

Despite last summer's rains bringing temporary relief to rural communities in the region that had previously suffered from three consecutive years of drought, Oxfam said future trends are still "ominous".

It forecast that droughts are likely to be more intense and frequent in the future. Scientists cited in the report said that 20% of the country's glaciers have retreated and up to 30% are likely to retreat or disappear by 2050.

Many farming communities in Tajikistan largely rely on over-stretched irrigation systems and on rainfall to cultivate and reap a harvest, according to the charity.

Key recommendations suggested in the report include, at a community level, to improve access to water and methods of food storage and preservation.

Internationally, Oxfam said "rich countries" should provide $200 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries adapt and reduce their own emissions.

Andy Baker, Oxfam Tajikistan’s country director, said: “It is indisputable that glaciers in Tajikistan are retreating. It is also indisputable that if glaciers continue to retreat, and the country experiences more extreme weather, countless people will be dealt an even harder blow. Nearly one and a half million people are already food insecure and that figure will likely rise if climate change is not addressed. There could even be a dangerous ripple effect across Central Asia, with countries throughout the region potentially wrestling over dwindling water resources in coming decades.”

Baker added: “Droughts are increasing and temperatures are rising. Harvests are failing for lack of water. Entire swathes of the rural population of Tajikistan have already suffered greatly in recent years, barely able to feed their families. Imagine what their situation will be in 2050 if adaptation measures are not put into place soon and if global green house gas emissions are not adequately reined in. It could be calamitous.” ###

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