The Himalaya mountain range is a global climate change "hot-spot" as the source of the largest trans-boundary river systems of the planet providing water to 40% of the world population. Shimla, the capital city of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh and the former summer capital of the British colonials, lies at approximately 2200m in the middle hills of the Western Himalayan range.
The central square of Shimla is the city's highest point and is known as the "Ridge". From the Ridge one can view the snow covered Great Himalayas. On one of the seven hills surrounding Shimla, an imposing statue of Hunaman, the Hindu monkey god overlooks the city. The city is co-habited by brown and grey monkeys who will snatch your food and even your eye-glasses. The sign in my hotel room reads: "WARNING, Beware of Monkey. Keep Balcony Door Shut when not in room."
From one side of the Ridge, the mountain waters flow through the Indus River system through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea; from the other, the Ganges system carries water to the Bay of Bengal. Hunaman is the god Hindus turn to in times of crisis and because of dramatic changes in climate patterns coupled with the impacts of urbanization, that is just what Himalayan towns are planning for.
I am in Shimla with a team of three Boulder, Colorado local government resilience and water resources specialists, facilitating the second part of a CityLinks exchange. The Mayor, the Commissioner and a senior engineer of Shimla visited Boulder in August 2015 to observe the city's water supply and distribution systems. Here in Shimla we are visiting the forest catchment areas, the filtration systems, reservoirs, pumping stations, meter testing workshops and city distribution networks. Much of this infrastructure was built by the British in 1921 and is functioning to this day. On the Ridge, one stands above a large underground reservoir wherein the mountain waters from several catchment schemes flow, merge and are stored for distribution to the water tanks of the city's homes and businesses.
As a result of climate change, Shimla faces dramatically reduced rainfall and snow accumulation, drying river beds and periodic flash flooding and serious biodiversity impacts. Land-use changes and deforestation, pesticide pollution, contamination of water resulting in hepatitis and jaundice outbreaks and a rapidly growing urban population compound the challenges. State and municipal corporation officials are hyper-focused on dealing with these issues and have warmly welcomed the Boulder team to provide their observations and eventually, recommendations. Later this week, the team will facilitate an inter-active workshop where these State and local government practitioners will engage to plan, prioritize and develop potential solutions under different climate projection scenarios.
In a subsequent message, I will summarize the results of this phase of the Shimla-Boulder CityLinks project. Participating in this exchange, one recognizes the real impact of how cities best learn from one another and the critical role ICMA provides by facilitating the networking of local government professionals.