The glaciers in the Himalayas are melting at an unprecedented rate due to climate change, threatening to cause dangerous flooding and water shortages for the nearly two billion people living in the region, according to a report published today.

From 2011 to 2020, glaciers were melting 65% faster than in the previous decade, according to this report by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

“Because of climate change the ice will melt, we knew that. But what is unexpected and alarming is the speed” at which they are melting, said the study’s lead author Philip Wester.

“It’s happening a lot faster than we thought,” he explained. “We are losing the glaciers and we will lose them in 100 years”, he stressed.

The glaciers of the Hindu Kush and Himalayan region – spanning 3,500 square kilometers in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan – are critical to about 240 million people in the mountainous regions as well as for another 1.65 billion in the valleys below the mountains.

Based on current emissions of greenhouse gases, glaciers could lose up to 80% of their volume by the end of the century, estimated ICIMOD, an intergovernmental organization based in Nepal, of which they are also members Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Pakistan.

The glaciers of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush they feed 10 of the world’s largest riverss – among them the Ganges, the Yellow River, the Mekong, the Indus and the Irrawaddy – and indirectly or directly provide food, energy and income to billions of people.

“Two billion people in Asia depend on water that comes from glaciers and snow. We can’t even imagine the impact of losing this cryosphere,” ICIMOD Vice President Isabella Koziel said.

Even if global warming is limited to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times, glaciers will lose a third to a half of their volume by 2100, according to the research.

“This underscores the need to take immediate climate action,” Wester emphasized. “Any small increase (in temperature) will have serious consequences and we really need to work to limit climate change.”