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12 Jul 2021


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Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD.

Deepened vulnerabilities and urgent need for green recovery for the mountains


As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across the globe, there were immediate disrupted lives and livelihoods in the HKH, compounding the vulnerabilities of mountain communities already impacted by climate and other changes. Government-mandated lockdowns began in March and in July we produced a paper on COVID-19 impacts and policy responses in the HKH, which argued that from the very first steps in recovery, we need to follow a trajectory that will build resilience, address climate change, and clear a path to a more prosperous and sustainable future for the HKH as outlined in the HKH Call to Action.

The pandemic struck at a time when HKH countries were enjoying economic growth. HKH countries continue to feel the sharp pains of dramatic economic decline and skyrocketing unemployment. Decreased mobility of workers has impacted the remittance economy, and the lockdown itself has challenged social and family norms. Mountain-based economies such as agriculture and tourism have collapsed, and mountain people are highly vulnerable to slide into chronic poverty. The looming threat of severe hunger and malnutrition has intensified as mountain farming systems were already declining before the pandemic. Gender, social, and economic inequalities could easily widen, accompanied by more poverty, constricted access to education, and higher risks of rising maternal child mortality and morbidity rates. With their rich natural resources, mountain environments are particularly sensitive to increased resource extraction, illegal wildlife trade, and zoonotic diseases spreading across borders, even while they also absorb climate change impacts leading to more natural hazards and disruption of ecosystems. These are frightening times, and matters could get worse unless we are able to take quick, strategic actions and – at the same time – address the roots of many of these vulnerabilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its multidimensional impacts have further reinforced the need for urgent, collective, and forward-looking actions across sectors at the national, regional, and international levels. Throughout this Annual Report, we highlight key messages and proposed actions from our paper since the issues and policy solutions elaborated there continue to be relevant and continue to guide our work in response to this ongoing shock.

It is important that first steps in a recovery set us on a trajectory that will build resilience, address climate change, and clear a path to a more prosperous and sustainable future. For the long-term sustainability of the global asset that is the HKH, this trajectory must be a compassionate one that recognizes the diverse situations and peoples, and effectively reaches the most vulnerable.