The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s (SDCs) Global Programme Climate Change and Environment (GP CCE) India is supporting the operationalization of climate change adaptation actions in the mountain states of Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh through the phase two of the “Strengthening State Strategies for Climate Action” (3SCA) project that was launched in 2020. The second phase of 3SCA (2020-23), known as the Strengthening Climate Change Adaptation in Himalayas (SCA-Himalayas), while building on the experience and achievements of Phase 1, aims to showcase mountain ecosystem appropriate scalable approaches for climate resilience in water and disaster risk management sectors; using these efforts to enhance the capacities of the institutions across the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) to plan, implement and mainstream adaptation actions into their programmes and policy frameworks; and disseminating the experiences and lessons at the regional and global level.

Within this programme, SDC has granted a project to FutureWater, together with Utrecht University, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the University of Geneva and a few individual experts. The activities in this project focus on the development and application of climate responsive models and approaches for integrated water resources management (IWRM) for a selected glacier-fed sub-basin system in Uttarakhand and that at the same will find place in relevant policy frameworks paving way for their replication across IHR and other mountainous regions. This will allow the policy makers from the mountain states in India to manage the available water resources in an efficient and effective manner, benefiting the populations depending on these resources.

The combination of future climate change and socio-economic development poses great challenges for water security in areas depending on mountain water (Immerzeel et al., 2019). Climate change affects Asia’s high mountain water supply by its impact on the cryosphere. Changes in glacier ice storage, snow dynamics, evaporation rates lead to changes in runoff composition, overall water availability, seasonal shifts in hydrographs, and increases in extremely high and low flows (Huss and Hock, 2018; Lutz et al., 2014a). On the other and, downstream water demand in South Asia increases rapidly under population growth and increasing welfare boosting the demand for and electricity generation through hydropower. To address and adapt to these challenges integrated water resource management (IWRM) approaches and decision support systems (DSS) tailored to glacier- and snow-fed subbasins are required.

To fulfil the mandate outlined by SDC a framework is presented for IWRM and DSS for Himalayan subbasins consisting of three integrated platforms. (i) A modelling and decision support platform built around a multi-scale modelling framework for glacier and snow fed subbasins, based on state-of-the art and “easy to use” modelling technology. (ii) A stakeholder engagement platform to consult key stakeholders, identify key IWRM issues and co-design a new IWRM plan for Bhagirathi subbasin. (iii) A capacity building platform with on-site training and e-learning modules for the key project components: glacio-hydrological modelling, IWRM and DSS, to ensure the sustainability of the approach and pave the way for upscaling to other subbasins in the Indian Himalayan Region.

The three platforms are designed designed to be flexible, integrated and interactive. Moreover they align with the three outcomes of the project, thus contributing to: develop and validate an integrated climate resilient water resource management approach (Outcome 1); increase technical and institutional capacity in the fields of hydrological modelling, IWRM and DSS (Outcome 2); support the embedding of the IWRM approach tailored to glacier-fed Indian Himalayan subbasins in policies, and provide generic outputs and guidelines to facilitate upscaling to other subbasins in the Indian Himalayan Region (Outcome 3).

The modelling and decision support platform is designed for operation under the data scarce conditions faced in Himalayan catchments, and yields reliable outputs and projections. The modelling toolset covers the Bhagirathi watershed (Figure below) and consists of 3 hydrological models: (i) a high resolution glacio-hydrological model for the Dokriani glacier catchment (SPHY-Dokriani). Key parameters derived with this model are upscaled to (ii) a distributed glacio-hydrological model that covers the Bhagirathi subbasin (SPHYBhagirathi). Outputs of this model feed into (iii) a water allocation model that overlays the SPHY-Bhagirathi model in the downstream parts of the basin, where water demands are located (WEAPPODIUMSIM Bhagirathi). This modelling toolset is forced with downscaled climate change projections and socio-economic projections to simulate future changes in water supply and demand in the subbasin. On the basis of stakeholder inputs, adaptation options are identified and implemented in the water allocation model for scenario analysis. Thus, socio-economic projections and adaptation options are co-designed with the stakeholders to ensure maximum applicability, and are tailored to the requirements for formulation of the new IWRM plan. The outputs of the modelling toolset feed into the Decision Support System, where they are presented in such a way that they can truly support decision making in this subbasin. Results of the modelling, decision support and stakeholder engagement platforms jointly support the co-design of an IWRM plan for the subbasin. Capacity in glacio-hydrological modelling, IWRM and the use of DSS is built through a combination of on-site training and e-learning; replicable training modules are developed for glacio-hydrological modelling, IWRM and DSS in general and for this particular approach to support implementation and sustainability.

Overview of the Bhagirathi sub-basin. The inset on the right shows the Dokriani glacier watershed


The SREB is part of the Belt and Road Initiative, being a development strategy that focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries. Essentially, the SREB includes countries situated on the original Silk Road through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The initiative calls for the integration of the region into a cohesive economic area through building infrastructure, increasing cultural exchanges, and broadening trade. A major part of the SREB traverses Asia’s high-altitude areas, also referred to as the Third Pole or the Asian Water Tower. In the light of the planned development for the SREB traversing the Third Pole and its immediate surroundings, the “Pan-Third Pole Environment study for a Green Silk Road (Pan-TPE)” program will be implemented.

The project will assess the state and fate of water resources in the region under following research themes:

1. Observed and projected Pan-TPE climate change
2. Impacts on the present and future Water Tower of Asia
3. The Green Silk Road and changes in water demand
4. Adaptation for green development

HI-AWAREHI-AWARE is one of four consortia of the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA). HI-AWARE aims to contribute to enhanced adaptive capacities and climate resilience of the poor and vulnerable women, men, and children living in the mountains and flood plains of the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra river basins through the development of robust evidence to inform people-centred and gender-inclusive climate change adaptation policies and practices for improving livelihoods.

HI-AWARE will:

  • Generate scientific knowledge on the biophysical, socio-economic, gender, and governance conditions and drivers leading to vulnerability to climate change;
  • Develop robust evidence to improve understanding of the potential of adaptation approaches and practices, with an explicit focus on gender and livelihoods;
  • Develop stakeholder-driven adaptation pathways based on the up- and out-scaling of institutional and on-the-ground adaptation innovations;
  • Promote the uptake of knowledge and adaptation practices at various scales by decision-makers and citizens; and
  • Strengthening the interdisciplinary expertise of researchers, students, and related science-policy-stakeholder networks.

HI-AWARE study sites

HI-AWARE will focus its activities in 12 sites, representing a range of climates, altitudes, hydro-meteorological conditions, rural-urban continuum, and socio-economic contexts in four study basins: the Indus, Upper Ganga, Gandaki and Teesta. It will conduct research in these sites, including modeling, scoping studies, action research, and randomized control trials. It will test promising adaptation measures in observatory labs at the sites for out-scaling and up-scaling. It will also conduct participatory monitoring and assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation practices to identify:

  • Critical moments – times of the year when specific climate risks are highest and when specific adaptation interventions are most effective;
  • Adaptation turning points – adaptation turning points – when current policies and management practices are no longer effective and alternative strategies have to be considered; and
  • Adaptation pathways – sequences of policy actions that respond to adaptation turning points by addressing both short term responses to climate change and longer term planning.

FutureWater’s main tasks focus on biophysical drivers and conditions leading to vulnerability to climate change. Key tasks are to:

  • Develop detailed mountain specific and basin scale climate change scenarios;
  • Improve cryosphere-hydrological modeling to assess significant shifts in flow regimes with an aim to develop water demand and supply scenarios as well as improve and apply water-food impact models; and
  • Better understand climate change impacts on extremes (heat, floods, drought),and quantify these extremes from climate models and subsequently impact models.

Water is becoming an increasingly critical factor in Asia. The catchments of Hindu – Kush Himalayan (HKH) are a source of a significant portion of this water. Glaciers are a component of the HKH water budget. There is general agreement that a widespread retreat of the global ice cover has been occurring since at least the late 1800s. However, a consensus view of the significance of this retreat in terms of factors determining glacier mass balance, or the resulting water resources and general environmental impacts has not been reached for the HKH mountains. It is believed that only a combined effort of local observation, remote sensing and simulation modeling can lead to a better understanding of what’s happening. Especially the modeling is essential to provide projections for the future.

FutureWater has conducted a review of current state of knowledge in (i) climate change datasets and downscaling used for glacier and high mountain modelling, (ii) glacier and snow contribution to river runoff in the HKH region, (iii) hydrological modelling studies used for glacier and high mountain environments and, (iv) downstream impacts of climate change on the HKH region.

The concept of using simulation models in scenario analysis.
Importance of Himalayan’s rivers for people.

The Indus basin is a densely populated area and water supplied by the Indus River is extremely important for agriculture, domestic use and hydropower production. The Indus is largely dependent on melt water generated in the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountains. Understanding of the hydrological regimes in the mountainous Upper Indus basin (UIB) is essential for water resources management in the region.

It is highly likely that future climate change will impact future water availability in the Upper Indus river basin. Temperature increases and changes in the timing, magnitude, and phase of precipitation will alter the timing and contribution of snow and ice melt.

High-resolution gridded meteorological datasets, which capture the spatial variability of precipitation, are critical for modelling the hydrology of high-mountain regions. In the Upper Indus Basin (UIB), previous modelling studies have demonstrated that snow and glacier melt are major contributors to stream discharge, and on daily or seasonal scales can play even larger roles. However, hydrologic models suffer from a lack of gridded input climate data which accurately reflects the topographic complexity and spatial variability in precipitation. Improvements to existing gridded datasets using high-elevation station data will increase the reliability of hydrological models in the region. FutureWater’s Spatial Processes in Hydrology (SPHY) model will be updated and recalibrated to improve understanding of the stream flow composition in the basin and to provide better estimates of the future water availability, by forcing the model with downscaled CMIP5 general circulation models.

Summarizing, the three main goals of the project are:

  • To develop a high-quality meteorological forcing dataset (temperature and precipitation) for the UIB by merging existing gridded datasets and high-altitude climate observations.
  • To improve the existing large-scale SPHY model by including a reservoir scheme and recalibrating the model with additional observations (geodetic mass balance, time series of river runoff, time series of reservoir inflow data).
  • To use the recalibrated SPHY model to examine shifts in the basin hydrology under CMIP5 climate change scenarios.

Global warming is considered as one of the major threats for the world’s population and coping with it may be one of the largest challenges for this century. Multiple attempts to streamline global policy on climate change mitigation have been made over the past decades, and the “Paris Agreement” which was signed at the 21st Conference of the Parties in 2015 is considered a major breakthrough in formulating adequate measures to tackle climate change. Governments agreed on “a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels”, and “to aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change”. In response to this development, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish a Special Report on global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, and is gathering scientific content for this report.

Flooding in Bangladesh.

However, scientific evidence of the impacts of a 1.5 ˚C global warming, and more importantly, the differences in impacts between a 1.5 ˚C and a 2 ˚C global warming, is lacking. Therefore, the scientific community has been mobilized to provide this scientific evidence as input to the special report. FutureWater leads a regional assessment quantifying the impacts of a 1.5 ˚C versus a 2 ˚C global warming for a major global climate change hotspot: the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins in South Asia.

De Ganges is het dichtst bevolkte stroomgebied ter wereld en is de thuisbasis van de helft van de bevolking van India, waaronder tweederde van India’s armen. Het stroomgebied bedraagt meer dan een derde van het beschikbare oppervlaktewater in India en is de focus van meer dan de helft van het nationaal watergebruik – waarvan 90 procent voor irrigatie gebruikt word.

De ecologische gezondheid van de Ganges en zijrivieren is aanzienlijk verslechterd als gevolg van vervuiling, wateronttrekking voor consumptief gebruik (vooral voor irrigatie, maar ook voor de huishoudelijke en industriële toepassingen), en andere modificaties aan het afvoerregime veroorzaakt door infrastructuur (dammen en stuwen voor het reguleren van de afvoer en het genereren van waterkracht).

Waterbeheer wordt grotendeels uitgevoerd op nationaal niveau, en er is geen stroomgebied-brede aanpak voor water planning en toewijzing. Met de toenemende vraag naar water in meerdere sectoren is een meer strategische benadering nu nodig. De regering van India heeft zich geëngageerd om een ambitieuze doelstelling van verjonging van de Ganges waar te maken en maakt middelen vrij om het probleem aan te pakken. Echter, naast de technische complexiteit en schaal, is de verjonging van de Ganges problematisch gezien de grote diversiteit aan waarden en perspectieven van belanghebbenden en de politieke en institutionele dimensies waar het land mee te maken heeft. De Wereldbank heeft Deltares en haar partners AECOM India en FutureWater de opdracht verleend voor de uitvoering van het project: “Analytical Work and Technical Assistance to support Strategic Basin Planning for Ganga River Basin in India”.

De belangrijkste doelstellingen van dit project zijn:

  • Versterking van de capaciteiten van de relevante centrale en nationale overheidsinstellingen om uitgebreide strategische stroomgebiedsplanning  te kunnen implementeren in het stroomgebied van de Ganges;
  • Ontwikkelen, documenteren en verspreiden van een set van plausibele scenario’s die de balans balans verbeteren tussen de gezondheid van de rivier en het behoud van een aanvaardbaar niveau van economische productiviteit;
  • Opzetten van een sterker meer toegankelijke informatie en kennissysteem om helpen bij de permanente dialoog rond het beheer van het Ganges stroomgebied; en
  • Stakeholders in het stroomgebied betrekken om strategische stroomgebiedsplanning te ondersteunen.


Deze doelstellingen worden bereikt door :

  • Het ontwikkelen van een gedetailleerd en robuust model voor waterplanning in het gehele stroomgebied van de Ganges in India en het trainen van de centrale en provinciale overheids-ingenieurs en planners in het gebruik hiervan;
  • Het karakteriseren en analyseren van oppervlakte-grondwater interacties in het stroomgebied om modellering te verfijnen;
  • Onderzoeken van ecologische benodigde afvoeren op verschillende schalen om in scenariomodellering te gebruiken;
  • Het ontwikkelen, modelleren en verspreiden van een reeks plausibele scenario’s die alternatieve mogelijkheden verkennen voor de verbetering van het waterbeheer, waaronder het verbeteren van de waterkwaliteit;
  • Instellen en een multi-stakeholder overleg (binnen en buiten de overheid) om werk aan bovenstaande aspecten te begeleiden en te delen; en
  • Zorgen voor een ruime toegang tot de modellen en analyses en documentatie. 

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. The Himalayan region (after Antarctica and the Arctic) has the third largest amount of ice and snow in the world, and is exceptionally vulnerable. The various Global Climate Models (GCM) predict very similar future temperature trends for the region, but projections of future precipitation patterns differ widely. As a consequence, the need for increased knowledge about future climate change remains high. The main focus of GCMs thus far was on temperature increases and potential changes to the hydrological cycle. The overall tendency that has emerged is that wetter regions are likely to become wetter and drier regions drier. Increased scientific knowledge, coupled with recent weather events, show that changes in hydrological extreme events can be substantial and the geographical and temporal resolution of predicted changes remains low in many areas.

For Statkraft, as the largest generator of renewable energy in Europe and a leading company in hydropower internationally, an understanding of future changes to the hydrological cycle and its uncertainty is crucial for effective business planning. Investment decisions regarding the business strategy for the next 50 years depend on accurate predictions of climate change impacts on inflow over that period.  In addition, changing probabilities and magnitudes of extreme events can put additional risk on infrastructure (dams and hydropower plants) or on other crucial infrastructure (roads and transmission lines).  Statkraft’s intention to grow in the region makes it necessary to assess short, medium and long-term impacts, risks and opportunities resulting from climate change, to ensure sustainable management of the water resources for all stakeholders. Currently, Statkraft’s main business focus lies with northern India (mainly the state of Himachal Pradesh) and Nepal, while Bhutan and Myanmar might be areas of future business development as well.

Kaligandaki Hydro power located in Nepal.

Through the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the inter-governmental learning and knowledge sharing Centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH), FutureWater provided a comprehensive review study on climate change and the impacts on cryosphere, hydrological regimes and glacier lakes in the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra river basins. This review study was done in the context of future hydropower development in the region.

ICIMOD is the implementing agency for the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP) that runs from January 2011 to December 2015. HICAP addresses climate change adaptation challenges across different related disciplines such as water resources, ecosystem services, food security, vulnerability and gender. Part of the project is related to the generation of water availability scenarios from upstream river basins that are primarily characterized by snow and glacial melt. ICIMOD has contracted FutureWater to generate these scenarios based on a high resolution hydrological model that FutureWater has developed. The project runs from January 2012 until June 2013. FutureWater will generate climate change and water availability scenarios for the upstream parts of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins.

With the overall goal to improve our knowledgebase on climate change impact on water availability and demand in the upper parts of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra basins, the specific objectives of the proposed study are to:

  • Assess climate change scenarios and develop water availability scenarios corresponding to base and future climate scenarios at sub-basin and catchment scales in the three basins
  • Improve our understanding of the partitioning of runoff contribution from different natural sources (snow, glacier, rainfall and base flow)
  • Detailed analysis of uncertainty of water availability scenarios and assessment of hydropower potential for five pilot catchments