More than 1.4 billion people depend on water from the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers. Upstream snow and ice reserves of these basins, important in sustaining seasonal water availability, are likely to be affected substantially by climate change, but to what extent is yet unclear. Here, we show that meltwater is extremely important in the Indus basin and important for the Brahmaputra basin, but plays only a modest role for the Ganges, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers. A huge difference also exists between basins in the extent to which climate change is predicted to affect water availability and food security. The Brahmaputra and Indus basins are most susceptible to reductions of flow, threatening the food security of an estimated 60 million people.