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The Hindu Kush Himalaya

Home to more life, culture, beauty and biodiversity than you can even begin to imagine, the Hindu Kush Himalaya is a microcosm of the world around us and the source of clean drinking water for close to two billion people. It is the place where, quite literally, the earth comes together, and its reach spans across everything. Regions. Countries. Landscapes. Languages. But despite its global importance, the Hindu Kush Himalaya remains one of the poorest and most neglected regions in the world. The forces of climate change and globalization are wreaking havoc on this fragile asset, wiping out resources, communities and cultures that have existed for centuries. Being at the top of the world, changes happen here before they happen anywhere else and the beat of this place vibrates across the globe.

The HKH region extends 3,500 km over all or part of eight countries from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east. It is the source of ten large Asian river systems – the Amu Darya, Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra (Yarlungtsanpo), Irrawaddy, Salween (Nu), Mekong (Lancang), Yangtse (Jinsha), Yellow River (Huanghe), and Tarim (Dayan) – and provides water, ecosystem services, and the basis for livelihoods to a population of around 240 million people in the region. The basins of these rivers provide water to 1.9 billion people, a fourth of the world’s population.

A considerable volume of water resources is stored as snow and glacier ice in the HKH. Cryosphere components including permafrost and glacial lakes provide various ecosystem services for mountain and downstream communities. The snow cover area during winter varies between 951,000 sq km and 1,390,000 sq km. During summer, it ranges between 388,000 and 481,000 sq km The total glacier area can extend up to 87,340 sq km.

Major river basins
240 M
HKH population
1.9 B
River basin population

Population of the HKH region

Total estimated area: 3,441,719 sq.km

Countries Areas included in the HKH region Population of HKH in million (Year of data sources) *Population in 2017 (million) *Population in 2030 (million)
Afghanistan All provinces except the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Nimroz, Farah, and Herat 22.85 (2016-17) 22.85A 29.91
Bangladesh Chittagong hills 1.60 (2011) 1.78 2.27
Bhutan Entire territory 0.78** (2017) 0.78 A 0.96
China Parts of the provinces of Yunnan (Diqing, Nujiang & Dali prefectures), Sichuan (Ganzi, Aba & Liangshan prefectures), & Gansu (Gannan, Wuwei & Zhangye prefectures); Xinjiang autonomous region (Kashigar, Kezilesu, Hetian & Altai prefectures); Tibet (entire territory), and Qinghai province (entire territory) 32.51 (2015) 33.29 38.86
India Entire territory of 11 mountain states (Assam, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Jammu & Kashmir (Indian administered area), Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh), & Darjeeling district of West Bengal state 76.98 (2011) 86.27 110.44
Myanmar Chin, Shan, Rakhine & Kachin states 11.18 (2014) 11.70 14.24
Nepal Entire territory 26.49 (2011) 28.75 34.31
Pakistan Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 24 districts (out of 32) of Balochistan province (excluded districts are Kachhi, Gwadar, Jafarabad, Jhal Magsi, Lasbela & Sohbatpur), Federally administered Tribal Areas (FATA) 51.47*** (2017) 51.47A 72.64
Total 223.86 236.90 303.63

* Exponential projections of populations. The periods of growth rate estimation for HKH areas were 2009-2017 (Afghanistan), 2001-2011 (Bangladesh), 2010-2017 (Bhutan), 2011-2015 (China), 2001-2011 (India), 1983-2014 (Myanmar), 2001-2011 (Nepal), & 1998-2017 (Pakistan). These growth rates are used to project populations for 2017 and 2030.
** Projected population for 2017 procured from Statistical Year Book of Bhutan, 2016

A Population statistics for 2017 are directly collected from official sources of respective countries (Statistical Year Book of Bhutan 2016; Population Census of Pakistan 2017; Statistical
year Book of Afghanistan 2016-17).

Sources: (1). Data  for latest population statistics are collected from Statistical Year Book of Afghanistan 2016-17; Population and Housing Census (Bangladesh) 2011; Statistical Year Book of Bhutan 2016; Year Books of China, Yunnan Province, Sichuan Province, Gansu Province, Xinjiang Autonomous Region (China) 2016; Population Census (India) 2011; Population and Housing Census of Myanmar 2014 (The Union Report, Volume 2); National Population and Housing Census of Nepal (national report) 2011;
(2). Data for Base Year population (used for growth rater estimation) collected from  Statistical Year Book of Afghanistan 2008-09; Population and Housing Census (Bangladesh) 2001; Statistical Year Book of Bhutan, 2016; Year Books of China, Yunnan Province, Sichuan Province, Gansu Province, Xinjiang Autonomous Region (China) 2012; Population Census (India) 2001; Population and Housing Census of Myanmar 2014 (The Union Report, Volume 2); National Population and Housing Census of Nepal (national report) 2011; Population Census (Pakistan) 1998.
Assumptions for Projections: In- and out-migration rates, fertility rate and mortality rate will remain stable. 

Ten highest mountain peaks in the region

Nanga Parbat















Cho oyu















Ten highest mountain peaks in the region

Name Height (m) Location Lower slopes Other names
Everest 8,848 (snow)
8,844 (rock)
Nepal China/Nepal Sagarmatha, Chomolungma
K2 8,611 Pakistan China/Pakistan Mt. Godwin-Austen, Qialogeli
Kangchenjunga 8,586 Nepal/India Nepal/India Kanchenjunga, Khangchendzonga
Lhotse 8,516 Nepal China/Nepal
Makalu 8,462 Nepal China/Nepal Kumba karna
Cho Oyu 8,201 Nepal China/Nepal
Dhaulagiri 8,167 Nepal
Manaslu 8,156 Nepal Kutang
Nanga Parbat 8,125 Pakistan Killer Mountain
Annapurna 8,091 Nepal

Highest peaks in countries

Country Peak Height (m)
Afghanistan Nowshāk 7,482
Bangladesh Tajingdong (Bijoy) 1,280
Bhutan Gangkhar Puensum 7,541
China Xixabangma 8,010
India Kangchenjunga 8,586
Myanmar Hkakabao Raz 5,881
Nepal Everest (Sagarmatha) 8,848/8,844 (rock)
Pakistan K2 8,611

Mountain ranges

Range Countries
Ganhdise Shan China
Hengduan Shan China, Myanmar
Himalaya Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan
Hindu Kush Afghanistan, Pakistan
Karakoram China, India, Pakistan
Kulun Shan China
Nyainqentanglha Shan China
Pamir Afghanistan, Pakistan, China
Qiantang Plateau China
Qilian Shan China
Tanggula China
Tien Shan China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan

Highest peaks by country


Nowshāk 7,482m


Tajingdong (Bijoy) 1,280m


Gangkhar Puensum 7,541m


Xixabangma 8,010m


Kangchenjunga 8,586m


Hkakabao Raz 5,881m


Everest (Sagarmatha) 8,848/8,844 (rock)


K2 8,611m

Area and population of 10 major river basins

River basins *Area sq km **Population in 2010 (million) **Population in 2015 (million) Change
Amudarya 645,870 27.19 30.18 11%
Brahmaputra 528,083 64.63 68.07 5%
Ganges 1,001,090 539.43 580.09 8%
Indus 426,393 40.18 42.87 7%
Mekong 841,337 74.58 77.31 4%
Salween 363,898 18.19 17.88 2%
Tarim 929,254 10.65 11.37 7%
Yangtse 2,066,050 600.92 604.94 1%
Yellow River 1,073,440 192.86 198.02 3%
Total 8,991,765 1,812.95 1,899.14 5%
* The area of individual basins have been calculated from basin boundary shapefile in Albers equal-area conic map projection developed by ICIMOD.
** The basin-wise population has been calculated from “Gridded Population of the World adjusted to UN country level population estimates for 2010 and 2015” dataset produced by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), Columbia University

Population of the HKH region with percent changes

Country *Population in 2017 (million) *Population in 2030 (million) Change
Afghanistan 22.85 29.91 31%
Bangladesh 1.78 2.27 28%
Bhutan 0.78 0.96 23%
China 33.29 38.86 17%
India 86.27 110.44 28%
Myanmar 11.70 14.24 22%
Nepal 28.75 34.31 19%
Pakistan 51.47 72.64 41%
Total 236.90 303.63 28%

Related resources

Regional Programmes

Our work is organized through Regional Programmes, which take integrated approaches to meet our region’s multifaceted challenges.

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For mountains and people

Our deep history of engagement across a broad range of issues, topics and concerns enables sustainable development in the HKH and provides the foundation for our current work.

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Thematic areas

We believe that integrated and transdisciplinary work is required to address complex mountain issues.

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