Siachen: Can This Ice Melt?


velocity of 150 kmph that sometimes continue for weeks together. The Glacier gets 35 ft of snow every season as temperatures plumes to 60 degrees Celsius below freezing. Kerosene oil warms him only to make him spit soot for years together.

On this battleground nature has camouflaged traps under the snow, says one soldier who had his three-month stint at the glacier during the height of tension, one has to be lucky to survive. It could be an avalanche, a blizzard or a crevasse. The cold is the biggest enemy, he says. Touch a rifle barehanded and one gets frostbite. Physiological threats include high altitude pulmonary oedema (water-logging in lungs), high-altitude cerebral oedema (leaking of fluids from oxygen starved blood vessels in the brain), increase in RBC count causing thickness of blood and a host of other disorders including amnesia. Apart from reporting over 15 kilograms of weight loss in 90-days, soldiers after returning to bases often suffer hearing, eyesight and memory loss because of prolonged use of oxygen masks.

Kevin Fedarko, the American journalist who spent two months with soldiers manning the glacier on either side in 2004 summer reported: “Soldiers talk of men losing their minds and leaping from the posts to their death. Some say their tormented cries can be heard in the wind over the peaks”.

Over two decades of ‘refrigerated combat’ has helped rivals to learn the lessons of survival in the most brutal environment. There are fiberglass igloos fitted with solar panels. Bio-digesters, drum-sized latrines carrying bacteria that eat the human wastes (its efficacy is yet to be determined independently) which are dumped into crevasses once filled, and the state of the art gadgetry that money can buy. Snow scooters were inducted during NDA regime at select posts. A kerosene oil pipeline connecting different posts at a particular camp is also in place. A sky-lift and a pulley system is reportedly in progress to ferry soldiers, take supplies and evacuate the human waste and make the operation less exorbitant.

Over the years, the concern over the crisis is transcending the national borders of the two countries. The world is talking about the ecological costs that the standoff has for the world at large.

The World Widelife Fund (WWF) in 2007 listed Indus as one of world’s ten most threatened rivers.  Around 2900 kms long river with around 1.10 million sq kms of basin hosting 178 million people irrigates 80 percent of Pakistan’s agricultural land. Its report said the Indus is “extremely sensitive to climate change” as glaciers feed its 80 percent discharge. More water in dry, warm years and less water in cool years” could hit the livelihood and threaten the food security of a host of population severely.

Himalayan glaciers – of which Siachin is a major one – have reduced their volume by 35 percent in last twenty years and are retreating at the rate of 110 meter per year. World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) in 2005 said Siachen and other Himalayan glaciers contributed 24 percent to sea level rise in last 20 years. Unlike other glaciers that might be impacted by the climate change, massive human activity on either side of the Saltoro ridge is termed to be the main factor for its increased meltdown.

Arshid H Abbasi, the WWF consultant, whose December 2006 report ‘Revenge of The Wild Roses’ (apparently plagiarizing it from Nicole Galland’s novel ‘Revenge of the Rose’), triggered massive cries of concern the world over, attributed the meltdown to the host of human activity: permanent cantonments on either side, daily heavy air traffic to advance camps up to Thoise and then to Sonam and then to Indra Col post, cutting and melting of glacial ice through application of chemical, daily dumping of more than a ton of chemicals, metals, organic and human waste, daily leakages from 2000 gallons of kerosene oil from 250 Km plastic pipeline laid by India throughout the glacier. “Today Siachen is weeping, tomorrow the world will cry”, was his famous quote that hogged the headlines world over.

“Unprecedented increase in the flow of the Nubra River, emerging from the Siachen glacier further supports the melting process. The melt rate is increasing and the yearly swelling of this river is now destroying carefully constructed bridges and infrastructure along its course”, Abbasi observed. “Surely clear evidence of human influenced warming the world’s largest glacier, which will have serious long-term repercussion on the water resources with climatic changes at regional

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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