188.8.131.52 Populations in mountain regions
Changes in climate are affecting many mountain glaciers, with rapid glacier retreat documented in the Himalayas, Greenland, the European Alps, the Andes Cordillera and East Africa (WWF, 2005). Changes in the depth of mountain snowpacks and glaciers, and changes in their seasonal melting, can have significant impacts on the communities from mountains to plains that rely on freshwater runoff. For example, in China, 23% of the population live in the western regions where glacial melt provides the principal dry season water source (Barnett et al., 2005). A long-term reduction in annual glacier snow melt could result in water insecurity in some regions.
Little published information is available on the possible health consequences of climate change in mountain regions. However, it is likely that vector-borne pathogens could take advantage of new habitats at altitudes that were formerly unsuitable, and that diarrhoeal diseases could become more prevalent with changes in freshwater quality and availability (WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia, 2006). More extreme rainfall events are likely to increase the number of floods and landslides. Glacier lake outburst floods are a risk unique to mountain regions; these are associated with high morbidity and mortality and are projected to increase as the rate of glacier melting increases.