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13 Jan 2020 | Cryosphere

International forum spotlights need for collaborative, transdisciplinary cryosphere research in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

Despite decades of research on mountain development and the cryosphere, knowledge building and its applications have often followed independent, if parallel, tracks. It has become increasingly apparent that an alternative framework may be needed that acknowledges the plurality, interactivity, intersectionality, and co-production in the cryosphere and of the communities in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH).

Accordingly, ICIMOD, Kathmandu University, and the State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences organized a first-of-its-kind international forum from 28 to 30 August 2019 to discuss and share expertise on the intersections of the cryosphere and society in the HKH. The forum aimed to articulate a collective voice of the HKH regarding the relevance of and approach to the region’s cryosphere.

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Leading experts, practitioners, and stakeholders from the region and beyond attended the forum to discuss the latest research in cryosphere contributions in the HKH (Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya/ICIMOD)

One hundred and twenty leading experts, practitioners, and stakeholders from the region and beyond attended the three-day forum. They discussed the concept of cryosphere contributions to the region’s life and economy – a comparatively new lens through which the cryosphere is viewed, specifically encouraging reflection on its intersection with society.

Through deliberations during the forum, participants highlighted the need to find contextual and pragmatic solutions to challenges induced by cryospheric changes and their impacts. They emphasized that there is enough actionable data to address these challenges and called for the following:

Better communication

Communication among scientists, decision makers, and diverse groups of high-mountain communities needs to be improved, along with enhanced regional and inter-regional dialogue on cryosphere change and its impacts on society. We need to leverage the key role of knowledge brokers in bridging local and scientific communities and their knowledge systems. Scientific information needs to be tailored as per the needs of communities, and local knowledge and needs should be translated and integrated into scientific research and interventions.

Involving local communities and incorporating indigenous knowledge

The traditional knowledge held by diverse groups of high-mountain communities needs to be integrated into scientific research and decision making, ensuring that mountain peoples can choose to use science for the benefit of their communities.

Transdisciplinary approaches

Policy makers in the HKH need to adopt a transdisciplinary approach to managing change and impacts and protecting natural resources, people, and their livelihoods. Linkages between the cryosphere and society are complex and specific to the location, frequency, and scale of changes in the cryosphere. Hence, it is unclear how these changes will impact regional communities and infrastructures in the future. Finding solutions to such complex phenomena would require a transdisciplinary approach engaging multiple stakeholders, i.e. local communities, researchers, institutions, and policy makers at different scales.

Integrated risk assessment and management

Transformative strategies need to be employed for integrated risk assessment and management to protect HKH communities and their livelihoods from cryosphere hazards such as glacial lake outburst floods, landslides, rockfalls, and ice and snow avalanches. The effects and impact of these risks vary according to different demographic factors and geographical location.

Identifying and addressing knowledge gaps

There are several key areas where knowledge on the HKH cryosphere is underdeveloped. It is crucial to identify and address these knowledge gaps and the needs of diverse stakeholders at all levels, including gaps in the following: scientific data, people’s awareness about the impacts of cryospheric change, between scientific findings and policy uptake, and at the interface of physical and social sciences.

Inclusivity and acknowledgment of different perceptions and impacts

Peoples’ interpretations of changing conditions are influenced by their experiences and surroundings. Gender, age, ethnicity, indigenousness, disability, hierarchy, caste, religion, and other more fluid social categorizations such as education, profession, and marital status all play a significant role in impacting an individual’s experience of the effects of environmental and social change. This heterogeneity should be integrated into planning and decision making at all levels.

Community members and scientists
Community members and scientists discuss common issues in tackling cryospheric change
(L to R): Arjumand Nizami, Helvetas, Pakistan; Lobzang Stanzen, Shoolini University, India; Son Norpu Lama, community member, Langtang, Nepal; Amina Maharjan, ICIMOD; Arabinda Mishra, ICIMOD; Anna Sinisalo, ICIMOD; Xiaoming Wang, State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science (SKLCS), CAS, China; Miriam Jackson, NVE (Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya/ICIMOD)

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