Message from Director General

Satyagraha: Standing for the Truth

Earlier this month, I was asked to deliver the memorial lecture at the G B Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development in Almora, India. I am thankful to the Governing Body of G B Pant and Director Dr P P Dhyani for providing me the opportunity to share my thoughts on the 128th anniversary of Pant’s birth. It was a particular honour for ICIMOD as I was the first non-Indian to have ever given the presentation.

As I prepared for the talk, I was intrigued by the word and philosophy of Satyagraha. This has many different meanings to many people, but I take it to mean “standing for the truth”. Pant was a visionary and Satyagrahi who worked fearlessly alongside Mahatma Gandhi as India pushed for its independence. Pant valued all voices, great and small. In 1957, Pant was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, bestowed upon the likes of Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela. It was with this in mind that I reflected upon ICIMOD and our mission as an organisation.

We are experiencing a rapidly changing mountain environment, with more and more influences from an increasingly globalised world. The truth about what is happening in mountains is increasingly difficult to find. Science has an important role in searching for the truth, and leading the way. Thus the role of ICIMOD in searching for the truth and sharing mountain knowledge is increasingly valuable.

During my talk I spoke of climate change, the mountains, impacts on livelihoods and ecosystems, and of the increasing likelihood of disasters. However, let us recognise that climate change is not everything. Usually it is climate change combined with the decisions and actions people make that ultimately cause problems. For example, for years people have built homes and businesses along flood plains leaving them highly vulnerable to floods. Little effort has been made to move these communities to higher elevations.

Although people caused these problems, people can solve them. Urgently needed protective adaptation measures are being taken to reduce disasters at the community, regional and national levels. Assessing vulnerability, building resilience, providing risk reduction training, community engagement, and community-based early warning systems will better prepare at risk communities to react in the event of a serious hazard.

We also need transformative adaptation measures, ones that provide new opportunities and build livelihoods of mountain women and men. It is possible to sustainably use mountain resources to provide these opportunities in a range of areas: agriculture, energy, ecotourism, and in business.

During my time in India, I found myself sharing a taxi in Delhi with my colleague Mr BMS Rathore. Among the many things we discussed, a Hindi phrase Mr Rathore shared with me caught the immediate attention of our driver.

            Pahar ka pani pahar ki jawani, Pahar ke kam nahi aani.

     Water and youth of the mountains do not benefit the mountains.

Overhearing our conversation, our driver turned enthusiastically to join our discussion as he was from Garwal in the Uttarakhand mountains. Curious as to his opinion, we asked, “Will you share your advice for the mountains with the minister since you have him here in the back of your taxi”? Without hesitation he said, “Sir, we need skills and we need jobs”.

ICIMOD’s role is to identify and develop those skills and to share our institutional knowledge. Just as G. B. Pant worked to make a better future for India, ICIMOD seeks to better the livelihoods and ecosystems of the HKH region. And this can only be done by working closely with valued partners like GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment & Development in India and other partners in regional member countries of Hindu Kush Himalayas.