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ICIMOD’s work and the COVID-19 crisis

David James Molden

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I feel fortunate that ICIMOD colleagues have the opportunity to work at home, and to safely work during this COVID-19 crisis. We also appreciate the many actions of our regional member countries in containing the spread of the disease.  At the same time, this crisis has opened our eyes to many vulnerabilities of mountain people and reinforced to us the importance of our work in amplifying the voices of mountain people and in working towards a prosperous future for the HKH.

Many migrants are now stuck trying to reach to their families and safe places. Remittance flows, important for poverty reduction,  are curtailed for many families. Recent migrants to Himalayan towns are crowded together or others are walking back to their homes. Their vulnerabilities need to come into clearer focus. In crowded Himalayan towns, there is limited opportunity for social distancing and adequate water availability – whether for hand washing or for other basic needs – is not keeping pace with the rising demands.

In the midst of this current crisis, the specificities of mountains make communities living in mountain areas more vulnerable. For instance, the two sides of agriculture value chains – a mainstay economic option for rural populations – are impacted by government lockdowns and road closures, threatening food security with limited supplies reaching remote mountain areas. This additionally threatens livelihoods as getting produce to markets becomes impossible. Women face additional vulnerabilities, taking in more stress balancing work and family demands, and for some facing the prospect of increases in gender-based violence, closure of protection centres and organisations who provide help.

Climatic changes, including extreme weather events, are likely to aggravate mountain-specific issues, making water availability more scarce and unpredictable and water-related hazards such as floods and droughts are also likely to increase. But these concerns actually reach far beyond this crisis. They have to do with marginalization of mountain communities, who live along the front lines of climate change and require special attention from the global community.

Through our work with partners throughout the region and across the globe, we aim to build resilience of mountain people and systems. This resilience is now being put to test. While this COVID-19 shock has developed quickly and the global community was not prepared, we must be prepared for the other kinds of shocks that put mountain communities to test. We know the shock of climate change is intensifying, yet we as a global community are slow to prepare. There are urgent actions we need to take together to reduce vulnerabilities, to increase the resilience of communities to respond to shocks and to make possible a prosperous HKH.

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