Message from the Director General

International Mountain Day

‘Disaster Risk Management in Mountains’

11 December 2009

Dear All,

International Mountain Day provides us with an opportunity to join with our friends and colleagues from the Hindu Kush-Himalayas and the rest of the world in creating awareness about the importance of mountains for sustenance, to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development, and to build partnerships that will help bring positive change in the world's mountains and highlands.

The theme of this year‘s World International Mountain Day is ‘Disaster Risk Management in Mountains’. The theme aims to raise awareness of the increasing number of natural hazards in mountain areas and the increasing vulnerability of mountain communities to disasters. It draws the attention of policymakers to the need to adopt climate change adaptation strategies that reduce the risks of disasters in mountain areas. For example, sustainable water management, and agricultural, rangeland, and forestry practices should be put in place as key elements of risk reduction approaches at national and regional levels as part of integrated strategies and policies. In view of the increasing number of disasters in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region – for example the Kashmir Earthquake in 2005, China Earthquake in 2008, Koshi Floods in 2008, and Aila cyclone in 2009, the theme appears well chosen.

Many mountain communities in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region live under the threat of earthquakes, avalanches, landslides, and floods. The regional member countries of ICIMOD are among the most vulnerable countries in the world to natural hazards, particularly those induced by weather and climate, and these often lead to disasters impeding socioeconomic development and poverty reduction. Annually, more than 2000 lives on average are lost in the region as a result of various types of natural hazards. Mountain people are among those hardest hit by global warming, economic globalisation, and migration. These phenomena are particularly visible in the HKH where glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates, habitats and ecosystem services are being eroded, and the mountain communities are being increasingly feminised. Globalisation and climate change will have an increasing influence on the stability of our fragile mountain ecosystems and the livelihoods of mountain people. According to the Fourth assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the incidence and intensity of water-related hazards and of water stress are expected to increase in the Himalayan region as a result of an increase in precipitation during the monsoon season and increased glacial retreat, both following from global climate change. We have to be aware that changing rainfall patterns and melting glaciers create new vulnerabilities with an increase in floods and droughts that extend beyond national borders. While mountain people are particularly vulnerable, these changes impact on entire river basins across the whole region. We need to create resilient communities in the mountains in order to reduce vulnerabilities not only of the mountain people but also in the downstream plains.

Like in other regions around the world a balance of structural and non-structural measures is required for disaster risk reduction. Early warning systems, hazard mapping, creating awareness and capacity development for better preparedness are immediately required. Adaptation in the mountains means that we also learn from the community practices evolved over generations to deal with hazards. It is important to incorporate disaster risk management into the development process, for example by producing area based land-use management plans in the context of existing risks. Vulnerability assessment is necessary for analyzing differential risk conditions in the mountain areas and downstream plains, based on a multi-hazard approach that looks at the geological, hydrological, climatic characteristics of the area and the socioeconomic factors.

ICIMOD is working to develop an economically and environmentally sound mountain ecosystem to improve the living standards of the mountain people and to sustain vital ecosystem services – now, and for the future. ICIMOD has chosen to focus mainly on hazards and disasters related to adverse weather and climate conditions, such as high intensity rainfall, Glacial Lake Outburst floods (GLOFs), regional floods, and flash floods. In order to address the risks facing mountain communities and support their desire to better understand the nature of hazards that might lead to disasters, ICIMOD has outlined a series of activities to be undertaken as part of “Disaster risk reduction and community resilience”. Among these activities are the assessment of vulnerability of communities and building their resilience to multi-hazards; assessing the impact of climate change on ecosystems, natural hazards, and human health; delivery of training in disaster risk reduction; and providing a platform for sharing knowledge and experiences within disaster risk reduction. As a regional knowledge development and learning centre serving the eight countries of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas, ICIMOD aims to assist mountain people in implementing improved disaster risk reduction at national and regional levels addressing upstream-downstream linkages for saving lives and livelihoods.  This is achieved, among others, through implementation of transboundary programmes in partnership with regional partner institutions, exploring the application of satellite based technologies for disaster risk reduction, supporting networking, facilitating the exchange of experience, and serving as a regional knowledge hub. Institutional strengthening and capacity building of our partner institutions is extremely important to contribute to effective disaster risk reduction. We believe by working together with national and international partners, and by jointly identifying different roles and responsibilities among us, we can work towards the achievement of ICIMOD’s new vision for a safer and more secure region.

Best wishes to all on this special day,

Andreas Schild, PhD
Director General