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There were several alarming developments threatening freshwater resources. In July, UNDP warned that Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan could dry up, creating another major environmental crisis in the region (UNDP 2004b). This is the second largest lake in Central Asia after the Aral Sea, which is already drying up.

Box 4: Philippines bans commercial logging in storms' wake

Satellite images showing the area around Alitas, north-eastern Philippines, before and after the storm.
Source: UNOSAT 2004

A series of tropical storms resulted in catastrophic flooding and massive loss of life across parts of the Philippines. As of 15 December 2004, the disasters left 1 060 people dead, 1 023 injured and 559 missing. An additional 3.6 million people were affected. Some 880 000 people were displaced by floods and are reliant on outside assistance to meet basic needs (WHO 2004).

Four serious storms struck northern and north-central Philippines in close succession, including Typhoon Muifa in mid-November, tropical storm Winnie on 29 November, and Typhoon Nanmadol on 2 December. By far the most damaging of these storms was Winnie, which accounted for over 1 200 of the dead and missing (NASA 2004).

Over the period 16 November to 3 December 2004 the island of Luzon received between 381 and 1 016 mm of rain. The typhoons caused massive and widespread flooding, flash floods and landslides. More than 12 000 homes were destroyed, and there was extensive damage to infrastructure and agriculture (UNICEF 2004).

Officials blamed widespread logging for the landslides that occurred in the wake of the typhoons. In response, the President of the Philippines banned all commercial logging. The government estimates the country's forest cover at seven million ha. The logging ban would affect 18 timber licensing agreements covering just over 800 000 ha (AFP 2004).

Source: CMS 2004

Lake Balkhash is suffering from industrial pollution and from high usage in China of the river Ili, largest of the seven tributaries that feed into the lake. Kazakhstan 's own heavy use of water, especially for irrigation, poses an additional threat (UNDP 2004b).

Another worrying trend is the retreat of glaciers, which has important impacts on stable water resources and flooding in downstream areas (Box 5). A study by the Chinese Academy of Science (Tandong and others 2004) shows that glaciers in the High Asia region of Northwest China are retreating under the impact of global warming. The region includes the Tibetan Plateau, the Tien Shan Mountains and the Altai Mountains. The 1990s retreat was the most rapid of the 20th century, and caused an increase of more than 5. 5 per cent in the runoff of glacial meltwater in Northwest China (Tandong and others 2004).

Box 5: Gangotri Glacier recedes

Source: Image by Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory, based on data provided by the ASTER Science Team. Glacier retreat boundaries courtesy of the Land Processes Distributive Active Archive Center.

Gangotri Glacier is situated in the Uttarkashi District of Garhwal Himalaya, northern India. With its tributary glaciers, it is one of the largest glaciers in the Himalayas. It has been receding since 1780 although studies show its retreat quickened after 1971. It is currently 30.2 km long and between 0.5 and 2.5 km wide.

The blue contour lines drawn in the image show the recession of the glacier's terminus over time. They are approximate, especially for the earlier years. Over the last 25 years, Gangotri Glacier has retreated more than 850 metres with an accelerated recession of 76 metres from 1996 to 1999 alone.

The retreat is an alarming sign of global warming, which will impact local communities. Glaciers play an important role in storing winter rainfall, regulating water supply through the year, reducing floods, shaping landforms, and redistributing sediments.

Source: Earth Observatory 2004

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