Himalayan Adaptation, Water and Resilience (HI-AWARE) Research on Glacier and Snowpack Dependent River Basins for Improving Livelihoods

Work areas Team leaders PhD FellowsMPhil/Msc Fellows

HI-AWARE is one of the four consortia of the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA). It conducts research and pilot interventions, capacity building and policy engagement on climate resilience and adaptation in the mountains and flood plains of the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra river basins. Its overall goal is to contribute to increasing the climate resilience and adaptive capacities of the poor and vulnerable women, men, and children living in these river basins, by using the findings from research and pilot intervention outcomes to influence policy and practice that will improve their livelihoods. HI-AWARE is implementing three Work Packages—Knowledge Generation, Research into Use, and Strengthening Expertise—in 12 sites in the Indus, Upper Ganga, Gandaki and Teesta river basins. The sites are located in Hunza, the Soan River basin, Mona and Sargodha in Pakistan; Garhwal and between Rishikesh and Roorkee in India; Langtang and Nuwakot in Nepal; and the Gandaki floodplain in Nepal; and West and North Sikkim; Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Gangtok; and Jalpaiguri district in India. There is also one site in Niphamari district in Bangladesh.

In addition to conducting research on water, energy, food security, human health, water-induced hazards—such as floods, landslides and droughts—and extreme weather events, HI-AWARE is also in the process of testing adaptation measures in observatory labs in these sites and designing adaptation pathways for out-scaling and up-scaling.


HI-AWARE is supported by the UK’s DFID and Canada’s IDRC through the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA).

For more information visit the HI-AWARE website.


The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, the source of ten large river systems of Asia, provides water and other ecosystem services to more than 210 million people living in the mountains and over 1.3 billion living in the plains. That is why these sources in the HKH region are also known as the ‘Water Towers of Asia’. Characterised by the youngest, highest and some of the most fragile mountain systems in the world, the HKH region and its glacier- and snow- fed river basins are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Climate change-induced shifts in the timing and pattern of rainfall, especially monsoon rainfall, and of glacier and snow runoff in the region, are already having an impact on water resources, including water availability and energy security across the region. As most of the HKH region, including the Indo-Gangetic plains, is dependent on monsoon rain for agriculture, any changes in the monsoon cycle are going to have implications for food and nutritional security in the region. The impacts of climate change can be especially difficult to cope with for vulnerable populations, many of whom are dependent on subsistent farming. The impacts created by changing weather patterns, for example, can adversely impact agricultural output.

Because of climate change, the frequency and intensity of extreme events such as floods, heat waves, and droughts are projected to increase, with implications for human health and safety, making disaster preparedness and management all the more imperative at all levels. Coupled with demographic and socioeconomic changes, the climate change impacts will affect the lives and livelihoods of over 1.5 billion people living in urban, peri-urban and rural communities in the region and downstream plains in ways that are still little understood. It is the more vulnerable populations –comprising the marginalised, the poor and the women and children – who are usually the hardest hit by extreme events.

Although the people in the region have been coping with or adapting to climate change impacts in their own ways for centuries, this is clearly not enough. Planned adaptation is also needed in addition to the ongoing coping strategies and autonomous adaptation – measures that communities have come up with on their own. Adaptation measures and strategies, based on traditional and indigenous knowledge, and informed by modern science, are needed. However, we do not know enough about the local, seasonal, and sectoral impacts of climate change; nor do we know enough about how people are adapting, and what adaptation measures work – when, for whom, and at what scale.

This is where HI-AWARE comes in, to: Address some of these knowledge gaps as well as influence policy and practice to improve the resilience of people and their systems most vulnerable to climate change.

  • Generate scientific knowledge on the biophysical, socio-economic, gender, and governance conditions and drivers leading to vulnerability to climate change
  • Develop robust evidence to improve understanding of the potential of adaptation approaches and practices, with an explicit focus on gender and livelihoods
  • Develop stakeholder-driven adaptation pathways based on the up- and out-scaling of institutional and on-the-ground adaptation innovations
  • Promote the uptake of knowledge and adaptation practices at various scales by decision-makers and citizens
  • Strengthening the interdisciplinary expertise of researchers, students, and related science-policy-stakeholder networks
Study basins

The HKH region comprises regions with varying topographies and climatic conditions. There is acute need to conduct studies on the ground, collate the findings generated and use them to inform adaptation measures. HI-AWARE will focus its activities in 12 sites that represent a range of climates, altitudes, hydro-meteorological conditions, rural-urban continuums, and socio-economic contexts in four study basins: the Indus, Upper Ganga, Gandaki and Teesta.

It will conduct research in these sites, including modeling, scoping studies, action research, and randomised control trials. It will test promising adaptation measures in observatory labs at the sites for out-scaling and up-scaling. It will also conduct participatory monitoring and assessments of climate change impacts and adaptation practices. These activities will seek to identify:

  • Critical Moments– times of the year when specific climate risks are highest and when specific adaptation interventions are most effective;
  • Adaptation Turning Points – those points in time when current policies and management practices are no longer effective and alternative strategies have to be considered; and
  • Adaptation Pathways– sequences of policy actions that respond to adaptation turning points, by addressing both short-term responses to climate change and longer-term planning.


Any climate change adaptation measure needs to take into account the variable effects of climate change in different places and the differing capacities of populations. HI-AWARE will thus adopt a comparative, participatory, cross-scalar, trans-disciplinary. gender-inclusive and integrative approach to look at short- and long- term climate trends, physical and social vulnerabilities, and adaptation strategies at various scales.

It will do this by building on existing initiatives and mobilising the strong research and policy networks of the consortium members. It will engage with key stakeholders, including researchers, practitioners and policy makers, at all levels, from the beginning, so that they have a right mix of incentives, tools, and capacity to use HI-AWARE-generated research findings and pilot-tested outcomes to contribute to improving the livelihoods of vulnerable groups in the region.


Consortium Members

The HI-AWARE Consortium is led by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. ICIMOD aims to assist mountain people to understand global and local changes, adapt to them, and make the most of new opportunities, while addressing upstream-downstream issues. It is working to develop an economically and environmentally sound mountain ecosystem to improve the living standards of mountain populations and to sustain vital ecosystem services for the billions of people living downstream now, and for the future. 

The Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS): Founded in 1986, BCAS is an independent, research, implementation and policy institute working on Sustainable Development (SD) at local, national, regional and global levels. BCAS encourages multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary in its approaches of running programs and projects by working under four broad themes – Environment-development integration, Good governance and people’s participation, Poverty alleviation and sustainable livelihoods, Economic growth and public-private partnership. 

The Energy and Resources InstituteThe Energy and Resources Institute (TERI): Established in 1974, TERI’s activities range from formulating local- and national-level strategies to shaping global solutions to critical issues in the fields of energy, environment, natural resources, and sustainable development. Buoyed by track records of excellence in research and innovation, TERI is driven by a global vision with local focus, with a philosophy that assigns primacy to enterprise in government, industry, and individual actions. 

The Climate Change, Alternate Energy and Water Resources Institute of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Centre (CAEWRI-PARC): PARC, based in Islamabad, is the apex national organization working in close collaboration with other federal provincial institutions in the country to provide science based solutions to agriculture of Pakistan through its statutory functions. CAEWRI of PARC has taken the initiative to explore the application of alternative energy sources such as biogas, solar, and wind and related technologies in agriculture. 

Alterra-Wageningen University and Research Centre (Alterra-WUR): Wageningen UR, whose mission is “to explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life, is a collaboration between Wageningen University and specialized research institutions under the DLO foundation, including Alterra. Wageningen UR works in areas such as food and food production; living environment; and health, lifestyle and livelihood. Alterra contributes by qualified and independent research to the realisation of a high quality and sustainable green living environment. 



Strategic Partners

Megh Pyne Abhiyan (“Cloud Water Campaign”), a Public Charitable Trust is based on the belief that every individual has a right to lead life with ‘dignity and determination’. The Trust is committed towards behavioural change amongst the rural communities to effectively revive, innovate and institutionalize water and sanitation management practices and mainstream issues concerning flood, drought, and groundwater management, through collective accountability and action. MPA works through a network of grassroots organizations, social development professionals and resource institutions/individuals in north Bihar (Supaul, Saharsa, Khagaria, Madhubani, and Pashchim Champaran) and Jharkhand (Dhanbad).

The Centre for Ecology, Development and Research (CEDAR) was established in January 2006 by a group of academics and development professionals with the aim to work on issues pertaining to environment, ecology and rural development in the mountain regions. Applied research and policy issues are of particular interest to CEDAR. In pursuance of its mandate, CEDAR aims to bridge information gap constricting field practitioners and decision makers in the field of environmental management. Towards this end, CEDAR proposes to develop as a field research and monitoring agency with an arm dedicated to supporting NGOs and building their capacity in the relevant areas. The research activities of the Centre essentially focus on generating and interpreting socio-ecological field-data that can improve the management of natural resources. Central to CEDAR’s ideology is the recognition that local communities must participate in the conservation of their habitat. Therefore, in addition to core research in forestry, ecology and social sciences, often in collaboration with Universities and research institutions, CEDAR also works towards strengthening links between communities and ecosystems by networking with grass-root organisations. Cedar sees itself as being a platform to carry out research work of relevance to people and their environment. We aim to get together a mix of researchers, development professionals, and visionaries to identify areas where gaps in information and knowledge exist. These gaps may then be filled by in-house resources, and by collaborating with likeminded institutions and individuals. Cedar does not see itself as a research agency or a grassroots intervention agency but, instead, as an agency with an ability to work closely with both. Cedar currently focuses on the Western and Central Himalayan regions of India. 

The Mountain Institute lndia is registered as a charitable trust in New Delhi. The Mountain Institute entered in Sikkim way back in 1996 which was later on registered as TMI lndia in 2006. lt is a part of the TMI that is committed to work to conserve the world’s high priority mountain ecosystems, improve the livelihoods of mountain people, and increase awareness for mountain issues through research, advocacy, education, and outreach. Currently, it is involved in community-based conservation programs in the Eastern Himalayan region, partnering with local people to strengthen their communities and to conserve natural resources and cultural heritage. TMI India has conceived three broad programmes viz., (1) Ecosystem services, (2) Biodiversity and Environmental Change, and (3) Livelihoods of Mountain Communities and their Cultures. The long term vision of the TMI lndia is to ensure the sustainable future of India’s mountains and people by conserving high priority mountain ecosystems, increasing environmentally and culturally sustainable livelihoods for mountain communities, and promoting support for mountain culture. As a mountain based organization, TMI lndia seeks to develop and provide innovative solutions, in cooperation with a numerous regional and international partners, national and local partners, which foster action and change for overcoming mountain people’s economic, social and physical vulnerability. 

Practical Action, established in 1966 by an Economist Dr E. F. Schumacher, has its head office in the UK and regional and country offices in Bangladesh, Kenya, Nepal, Peru, Sri Lanka. Sudan and Zimbabwe which were established with an objective of reducing poverty through the wider use of appropriate technologies in the development world. Practical Action started its work in Nepal in 1979 and established its country office in Nepal in 1998. Practical Action Programme in Nepal was directed to its programmatic areas such as (i) access to energy, (ii) agriculture, and food security (iii) urban water, waste and sanitation, and (iv) disaster risk reduction. Furthermore, climate change and markets has been identified to be cross-cutting through all of these programmatic sectors.

Practical Action’s head office in Nepal is in Kathmandu, and regional offices are in Chitwan, Nepalgunj, and Banke, and field offices in Doti.

LEAD Pakistan was established in 1995 as a non-profit organisation under the Societies Registration Act XXI, 1880. Since then, it has grown into one of the most dynamic member programmes in the world with a fully equipped office in Islamabad, Pakistan. Lead’s Flagship Leadership Development Programme (LDP) was started in 1996 which is an innovative capacity building initiative designed with the purpose of providing knowledge, awareness, skills, exposure and linkages to leaders of tomorrow to integrate sustainable development concerns with their professional work. Till date, a strong community of more than 200 LEAD fellows is making the difference at national and international levels. Lead Pakistan started project implementation at the grassroots level in 2004.

The main focus initially was to leverage its strength in capacity building and training to bring about a meaningful change at institutional and community levels. For implementation and sustainability of development interventions, networks of organizations were formed. Research was carried out and disseminated to inform the stakeholders and increase the impact of interventions. LEAD Pakistan has continued to build its portfolio by planning and delivering interventions in different development areas and sectors especially education, health, livelihood, food & agriculture, environment, forestry, water, energy, water and climate change. etc. The organisation has successfully developed and delivered more than 180 development initiatives with the total financial outlay of more than 25 million dollars.

Currently, LEAD is positioning itself as a think tank and is increasingly incorporating learning, knowledge management and public policy engagement activities in the design and implementation of projects. The policy level interventions are meant to enrich the development vision of the Pakistan government through evidence-based research, and the sensitization of policy and law makers to emerging development needs.