TOPICS : High mountains in peril

December 2008 marks the completion of a quarter of a century of recognising the underlying importance of specialised development approaches for the high mountains. The Hindu Kush-Himalayas nurture the most prominent and unique ecosystems on earth with their constituents as the world’s highest mountains, the highest plateau —The Pamir, the people and rich variety of flora and fauna. Ten major river systems of Asia including Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Mekong and Yellow River originating from these Himalayas provide basis for livelihood of more than one-fifth of the world population. In the context of ever-growing need of clean energy use, the high currents and steep headworks of these Himalayan rivers provide virtually limitless potential to hydropower generation.

The ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development), based in Kathmandu, is working in eight regional member countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan — that fall on the 3,500 km long east-west range of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas. As per its mission statement, it, as a regional knowledge development and learning centre, is working to “enable and facilitate the equitable and sustainable well-being of the people of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas by supporting sustainable mountain development through active regional cooperation.”

There are some significant facts and figures useful for policymakers and planners. First, as the after-effects of the climate change and gradual rise in global temperatures, the fragile highland ecosystems are at risk of collapse. Such an incident will not only affect the people in the high mountain areas but also those millions who live in the basins of hundreds of rivers originating from these Himalayas. Second, the growing trend of out migration of hill people and dreadful pace of acculturation, rather homogenization, of them under the influence of the agents of globalization, are likely to have an overarching bearing on the cultures, customs and life-styles of these mountain people. Sustainable livelihood practices and indigenous skills found in these areas are also sure to disappear in course of time. Third, there is an immediate need to begin appropriate adaptation strategies and train people about the possible drastic outcomes of climate change and global warming.

It is, therefore, high time to ask, how many legislators, policymakers and high-ranking bureaucrats in the member countries know about such researches and findings about the mountain ecosystems and how they reflect these facts in their respective works? The same question may also be asked about the media and people in general. Therefore, it is important to begin to sensitize the governments, law- and policy-making bodies of the member nations, disseminate useful information in a more accessible fashion to the masses. Advocacy strategies should also be in place for important and urgent issues that need to be addressed sooner than later.