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Snow cover variability in Western Himalayas and its implications on socio-economic status and livelihood of local communities

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Evaluation of Snow Covered Areas is important for hydrological and climatological studies. However, this is equally important for socio-economic studies and developing policies and programs affecting the livelihood of local communities. Western Himalayas receive limited precipitation through monsoon during the summer season, and western disturbances during the winter season are primarily responsible for moisture availability in the region. Hence, snow/ ice melt contributes about 56% of water to rivers flowing from western Himalayas, especially during the early and mid summer season, in Jhelum basin. The evaluation of Snow cover area using the MODIS 8 -day composite snow cover data has been done by researchers in the Himalayan regions. Similarly, studies on vulnerability of local communities to climate change induced environmental hazards have been conducted adopting an index based approach to quantify impacts. While snow cover variability studies have limited applicability for socio-economic planners due to their regional approach, socio-economic studies are limited to adaptation measures for climate change and associated disasters like heavy precipitation events and flash floods. This study is an attempt to identify linkages between assessment of snow cover variability and its applicability to adapt normal livelihood patterns of local communities. MODIS Terra 8-day maximum snow products freely available at NSIDC of NASA , for the past 15 year (2001–2015) was used in this study, to examine the snow cover variability in Jhelum basin of western Himalayas. Simultaneously, this study aimed to quantify the degree of dependence of local communities on melt water by linking their income generating activities to the indicators identified through socio-economic survey in the region. A zone of impact and a zone of influence was delineated to define the spatial variability in livelihood vulnerability. Annual range of snow cover in Jhelum basin was found to be 1% – 52% but a general variation of maximum and minimum SCA was found to be ±15% for the study period. While SCA was found to be increasing during both summers and winters seasons, within the winter season it varied from 24%-46%-30% during early, mid and late winters in Jhelum basin. As defined by Chambers and Conway (1992), ‘a livelihood comprises of capabilities, assets (stores, resources, claims and access) and activities required for a means of living’. Snow cover being the direct indicator of water availability in the regions with little liquid precipitation, its variability affects livelihood. In Jhelum basin, education levels are low and general family size is >6. As a result, major source of household income to the local population is through cultivation of crops like apple, walnuts and saffron. Another prominent source of income is tourism and at least 1 member of every family is associated with tourism limited to spring months of a year. These two constitute about 95% dependence of local income on snow melt. Almost 70% area of Jhelum basin is less than 3000 m in elevation, which is also the inhabited zone. But the rate of SCA depletion is very fast reducing by almost 50% within 2 months of late winters-early summers from their peak, limiting time

This talk is part of the British Antarctic Survey series.

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