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Mountains bring us together

David James Molden

2 mins Read

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Mountains are generally considered to be barriers that isolate and divide. Their formidable physicality presents challenges for development and the delivery of goods and services. Some mountain ranges mark international borders. But if we zoom out we also begin to see a certain unity – in the physical geography, in the everyday struggles of mountain communities across borders, and in common challenges in an era of environmental change.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) is shared by eight countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. It is home to around 240 million people and is the origin of 10 major rivers including the Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus, Yangtze, and Yellow. Imagine a blue network of arteries and veins if you will, coursing through the region and nourishing the lives of 1.9 billion people in these river basins. Water ties us together and mountains unite us.

The rapid pace of change is visible across the whole HKH, with repercussions for mountain people and beyond. Outmigration, rapid urbanization, pollution and environmental degradation are changing the face of the HKH. The impacts of climate change will become even more prevalent with rising temperatures. Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere across the Himalaya, affecting water flows. Climate change models indicate more rainfall, but also an increase in extreme weather events. Clearly there is a need to be much better prepared than we are now, to adapt to a host of changes.

Cultural and linguistic diversity is also a function of isolation in the mountains. Diverse communities with unique cultures, practices, and traditional knowledge inhabit the HKH. Over the years, this culturally rich landscape and its people have provided inspiration and unique ideas. Many of these perspectives are important for the world as we face future challenges such as climate change.

One crucial way to deal with change is to make sure that we have the best knowledge and science to help us prepare. The Hindu Kush Himalayan Monitoring Assessment Programme (HIMAP) is one such programme developed for this task. A growing group of scientists and practitioners, now more than 350 people from the eight HKH countries and beyond, have contributed to the HIMAP process, which is reaching its culmination in the publication of the HKH Assessment report, to be formally launched on 11 December, International Mountain Day.

HIMAP findings suggest that we must invest more into helping mountain communities adapt to climate change. The uniqueness of these mountains needs to be realized, and their perspectives need to be embedded in national policies and programmes. In order to do so, mountain leaders need to be involved in political debates and communities must come forward to express their concerns.

HIMAP highlights the need for cooperation at all levels – between people, communities and nations. Cooperation across boundaries is crucial for addressing climate change in the HKH, and by extension for Asia and the world.

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