Resilient Hindu Kush Himalaya: Developing Solutions towards a Sustainable Future

ICIMOD and the European Union call for collective action

   TwitCount
David James Molden
Veronica Cody

The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region, which includes eight countries - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan, sources 10 major river systems in Asia that provide water, ecosystem services, and livelihoods to more than 210 million people. Nearly a quarter of humanity living downstream depends directly or indirectly on mountain resources such as water, food, energy, biodiversity, and carbon. What happens in the HKH has repercussions for Asia and the world. 

Today, however, the HKH faces unprecedented challenges that threaten the health of these vital ecosystems and the billions of people who depend on these resources.

A two-degree rise in temperature globally would mean a rise of three to four degrees in the mountains – an outcome that would have dire consequences for the HKH and communities downstream. Mountain communities are already feeling the effects of climate change. Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity. The catastrophic floods in Nepal, India and Bangladesh this year demonstrate that communities and governments are struggling to prepare for, and recover from, these disasters. 

The current pace of change in the HKH is unprecedented as climate change interacts with multiple other forces, including land use change, outmigration, globalization and depopulation due to urbanization.

In this context, many mountain families are pushed and pulled into migration, lured, on the one hand, by the promise of better lives in urban centres, but also driven away from their homes by disaster and poverty. As a result, migration (primarily male) to urban centers and international destinations decimates local labor forces while intensifying work burdens on women and the elderly who stay behind.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals, launched by the United Nations in 2015, provide a series of milestones and targets with the objective to eradicate poverty and hunger and spur effective climate change mitigation. The European Union (EU) has significantly contributed to shape the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Accord, and will continue to play a leading role as we move into the implementation of these transformative agendas. Key to achieving many of these goals is resilience building and therefore it is at the heart of the EU's development cooperation across the globe. 

Resilience consists of the ability to prepare for shocks, recover from shocks, and create transformative change in mountain communities. With national governments committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, resilience building in the HKH is a pre-requisite.

At ICIMOD, we focus on generating resilience-building solutions through our Himalica programme, jointly with the EU, our major partner.  Together these solutions comprise an intersecting approach for addressing disaster preparedness, institution building, and farming practices – from the community and national level to the entire HKH region.

At the local level, early warning systems offer additional precious minutes and hours to prepare for oncoming floods and landslides, minimizing the loss of property and human life in the process. Low-cost technologies such as jholmal (an organic fertilizer), polyhouses, and rainwater harvesters empower farmers to produce more crops with fewer inputs of land and water. In all our activities, empowering women to assume control of livelihoods and resources is crucial to their ultimate success.

In terms of policy and practice, government agencies can take advantage of innovative institutional arrangements that link formal extension systems with social networks to deepen the reach of their services in remote areas and help in the wider dissemination of such affordable solutions. 

Across national borders, resilience calls for governments and NGOs to collaborate and share data, knowledge and experience that can strengthen institutional capabilities to address vulnerabilities. Internationally, we can take the mountain agenda to global fora to raise awareness about the unique threats to mountains and mountain people.

Mountains offer unique opportunities that can be tapped through partnership. Value-addition to niche mountain products, like honey and cardamom, can help to raise prices and increased diversity of these products can provide a buffer against economic shocks. To bring these products to buyers, improved market links are needed to ensure fast, efficient delivery of mountain goods. Partnerships with business will help develop entrepreneurship at the local level and bring the investment needed to make supply chains robust.  

For these reasons and others, the ICIMOD and the EU have joined together to host Resilient Hindu Kush Himalaya: Developing Solutions towards a Sustainable Future for Asia. This international conference will bring together more than 200 experts to share ideas to develop solutions to positively transform the livelihoods and ecosystems of the HKH.

This is the time for all actors to come together and direct their collective energy and effort toward a future where mountain communities enjoy resilient livelihoods and the natural resource systems of the region are no longer vulnerable to pressures of loss and degradation.  Collectively, we are confident we can change these multiple threats into transformative possibilities for mountain people in the HKH, and mountains everywhere.

Cody is Head of Delegation, Ambassador, Delegation of the European Union to Nepal & Molden is Director General, International Center for Integrated Mountain Development.)