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Pushing the reset button

Pema Gyamtsho

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As we start 2021, our immediate priority is to take stock of the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic in our member countries and in the HKH region. We want to learn about both the positives and negatives which have come out of this experience and integrate these lessons into our programmes. We already know that the pandemic has deeply affected the lives and livelihoods of many mountain peoples and communities, so it is important for us to fully take into consideration this new reality as we move forward with our work.

Based on our preliminary interactions with communities and partners in the HKH region in 2020, we already know that resilience is something that has to be developed for our mountains and people. What we mean by resilience here is the ability to withstand social and economic shocks like the one posed by the pandemic. For this, all our future programmes will focus on solutions, whether it is in terms of skills development and diversification through knowledge transfer, through policy mechanisms, or through the use of appropriate technological interventions.

The most glaringly visible socioeconomic impact of the pandemic on our mountain regions is the return of economic migrants. What this means in terms of the future of these people as well as the increased pressure this is likely to put on existing limited resources in our mountains is something that needs to be carefully assessed and understood. This will be one of our research areas this year, through which we will hope to inform our policymakers and concerned stakeholders.

The COVID-19 experience has also helped bring into focus the importance of basic needs: food, water, and energy. Without these essentials in place, mountain communities will always struggle to improve their situation and life prospects. Keeping the food–water–energy nexus in mind and embedding this into our research, initiatives, and programmes will also be priority, as we begin to re-imagine our work’s focus in a post-pandemic reality.

Looking at challenges from a more macro level, it is clear that shocks (like COVID-19) and climate change are very much interlinked. Research has established the role of air pollution, water pollution, deforestation, and biodiversity loss as major contributing factors in the emergence and spread of viruses. These also happen to be the same areas which we need to work on to mitigate the impact of climate change. In this regard, ICIMOD’s work on climate, environment, and sustainable development in the HKH should prove to be more relevant and urgent than ever.

After the difficult experience and challenges of 2020, we are now pushing the reset button in 2021 in terms of reorienting and reframing our work to address the persistent and new challenges towards achieving our mission. We are very much looking forward to a productive year ahead with renewed energy and enthusiasm. As always, our work would not be possible without the continuous support and good wishes of all our partners. In 2021, let us all continue to work together for mountains and peoples of the HKH and to protect the pulse of the planet.

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