ICIMOD hosts session on Building Climate Change Resilience at the 2nd Asia-Pacific Water Summit


At the 2nd Asia-Pacific Water Summit, ICIMOD Director General Dr David Molden highlighted the vulnerability of mountain people and downstream populations to climate change threats, calling attention to the need for greater attention to mountains in the international agenda. The meeting, held in Chiang Mai, Thailand from 16 to 20 May by the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, brought together 10 heads of state, more than 300 government leaders from ministerial level delegations, and representatives of international organizations, the private sector, academia, and civil society during the Leaders Forum. Key messages from technical sessions were taken to seven focus area sessions for further discussion with policy makers and leaders, including members of ministerial-level delegations. 

Dr Molden was invited on focus area session panels on ‘Economic, Food, and Water Security’, organized by FAO and ESCAP, and on ‘Environmental Water Security’ organized by IUCN. He was also invited to make a special intervention during discussions on ‘Water Risks and Resilience’ organized by ICHARM. At the Technical Workshop sessions, Dr Molden moderated the panel discussion on the water-energy-food nexus organized by FAO and ESCAP. Dr Ramesh Vaidya, Senior Advisor from ICIMOD, helped kick off discussion at the session on ‘IWRM Process for a Water Secure World’ organized by NARBO (Network of Asian River Basin Organizations). He also represented ICIMOD at the 5th General Meeting of NARBO, organized during the Summit, in which a new constitutional body was nominated and approved.

Dr Molden chaired the ICIMOD technical session on ‘Building Resilience to Climate Change Impacts in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region’, one of four technical sessions on the sub-theme of ‘Water Risks and Resilience’. Speakers at the ICIMOD session included water and hazard experts from three of ICIMOD’s eight regional member countries: Dr M. Tousif Bhatti of the Centre for Excellence in Water Resource Engineering at the Pakistan University of Engineering and Technology, Professor Dr M. Monowar Hossain of the Bangladesh Institute of Water Modelling, and Suman Sijapati of the International Network of Participatory Irrigation Management, Nepal Chapter.

During a keynote presentation Dr Molden highlighted a gap in the important interface between local institutions and formal government institutions that should be addressed while developing adaptation measures and government policies: community-level responses need to be empowered through social networks and local institutions. National and global level institutions need to be encouraged to make deliberate efforts to be better informed about local adaptation and local concerns. Furthermore, since the mountains upstream have tremendous potential to contribute to flood protection and water availability downstream, institutional mechanisms, such as appropriate and fair benefit-sharing mechanisms, should be developed for upstream communities.

While discussing the level of resilience to water-related disasters in the HKH, Dr Vaidya noted that, according to the Asian Water Development Outlook 2013, countries in the HKH are less resilient compared to other Asia-Pacific countries, a major challenge that needs to be addressed, especially in the context of drivers like climate change, population growth, and urbanization. When considering resilience to all types of water-related disasters, Nepal is the least resilient among the 36 countries analysed, with Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India ranking sixth, ninth, and sixteenth from the bottom.

The speakers, panelists, and participants at the discussions reinforced the view of IPCC that there is insufficient data and information on climate, hydrology, and meteorology in the HKH region. However, recurring floods of the rivers in the region pose major hazards to a vulnerable population and too often leads to disasters. To face these challenges, much work needs to be done on developing risk assessment methodologies, including hydrodynamic modeling and flood hazard mapping, preparing ICT-based early warning systems, and designing mechanisms to empower local communities for the use of information. Furthermore, it is essential to strengthen mechanisms for regional cooperation on generating and exchanging hydrometeorological data and information with the aim of reducing vulnerability and enhancing the resilience by providing reliable flood early warning, further along the lines of the HYCOS (Hydrological Cycle Observing System) regional flood information system initiative started for the HKH region at ICIMOD.

The speakers and panelists also discussed a number of adaptation measures to build resilience for food security in the region, including the development of weather forecast information systems; shifting crop timing and cropping patterns; and rainwater harvesting and management.

The overarching message of the session was that the magnitude and scope of the problems related to climate change and water resources in the HKH region may have a catastrophic impact on the livelihoods of the more than 1.3 billion people living in the ten river basins in the HKH region. However, there are ‘low-hanging fruits’ available to help expedite resilience building at community levels by reducing exposure (e.g., zoning regulations) and vulnerability (e.g., awareness building) and by enhancing soft (e.g., early warnings systems) and hard (e.g., participatory infrastructure decisions) coping capacities. Knowledge institutions can help by identifying and evaluating the suitability of such measures to specific communities, and by developing institutional mechanisms for their implementation.