Dear Richard and Montserrat,
In 1780 high in the Peruvian mountains a fair-skinned boy turned a shepherd to stone. To the locals the boy was Christ. These days each year 100,000 pilgrims climb 16,500 feet to a glacier high in the Andes to worship and mark the Andean new year and harvest season. To confirm their devotions at the ‘Snow Star’ festival, chunks of ice are taken in buckets for sacred water to bless their homes. However, with the glacier near death, buckets are now not allowed as the removal of even small ice blessings is forbidden!
In September 2019 the Swiss Pizol Glacier was declared scientifically dead. In August 2020 the Okjokull Glacier had its funeral as Iceland, historically with some 400 glaciers, now loses 11 billion tons of ice a year. The casualties are mounting!
Soberingly, the ‘Roof of The World’ once ‘The Land of Perpetual Snow’, also diminishes. The Tibetan Plateau, a key cryosphere, is Asia’s “water tower” and feeds the Mekong, Yellow, Yangtze, Indus and Karnali rivers to nourish hundreds of millions. It is the planet’s most important water store but studies warn of its extreme vulnerability and as global warming disrupts precipitation and robs glaciers of storage capacity, geopolitical tensions deepen as the Indus intersects national boundaries.
The geography of water is becoming weaponised. Arising in Tibet, the Brahmaputra is controlled by China, which alarms India, as Chinese Hydro dams now govern water flows. The eight Himalayan nations’ agreement on climate action is hampered by strategic paranoia as chronic water shortages grow. China proposes to build more hydropower dams on the Brahmaputra, closer to the Indian border.
The US, the World Bank reports, has 9,000 cubic metres of annual renewable freshwater per person, China 2,000, India 1,000 and Pakistan less than 300. A burgeoning Far East will compete internally in order to sustain booming cities, agriculture and industry.
In Europe, the Alps’ summer melt outpaces the accumulation of winter snow. A 2019 study predicts that half of the Alps’ glaciers are to disappear by 2050. The Rhine, Europe’s key shipping lane, is already grounding vessels as it becomes more reliant on rainfall than melt, just as jet stream changes bring arid Saharan heat to Europe’s summers.
Millions will be migrating to seek water security and stresses will shatter national co-operation. Europe and the UK will remain a place of refuge but it too will need to adjust. Geographic security will be much prized and, for the non-national, lost at a family’s peril. Remind the Non-Domicile and newly resident that it is cardinal for visas, taxation and banking to be fully compliant, otherwise banishment beckons. Under the long burden of C-19 debt, HMRC will effectively decide who stays and who goes.
The devotions that ascend into the Andes’ star-studded night need to be met by ours as we too consider how long we can depend on precious ice water to bless our homes.