Experts from Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan highlight the biocultural diversity of the Hindu Kush Himalaya, call for harmonizing conservation and development
Kathmandu, Nepal (29 October, 2020): The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) is threatened by climate and other changes, and urgent coordinated action is needed to save it, warned experts from five mountain countries of Asia. They were speaking at a session titled ‘The HKH call to action – maintaining the ‘pulse of the planet’ at the ‘GLF Biodiversity Digital Conference: One World – One Health’ organized by the Global Landscapes Forum.
The One World – One Health concept is of immense significance at this time, as it advocates the role of biodiversity in preventing future crises of global pandemics and climate change.
The Hindu Kush Himalaya is referred to as the ‘pulse of the planet’ since changes to its cryosphere and biodiversity are a barometer of climate and environmental change across the world. It is a key global asset, sustaining the lives and livelihoods of nearly 2 billion people.
The session, hosted by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), aimed to highlight the links between biodiversity, landscapes, culture, and health in a post-COVID ‘new normal’. One of the objectives was also to draw attention to the environmental, socio-cultural, and economic value of the HKH region and the challenges presented by climate and other changes.
The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) is the world’s largest knowledge-led platform on sustainable landscapes. This year’s conference, which was digital owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, brought together top scientists, environmental practitioners, policy-makers, banks, corporates, indigenous peoples and local communities to discuss and showcase means to ‘build back better’. The conference hosted six plenaries, 23 sessions, and over 200 speakers this year, to discuss global challenges related to biodiversity, ecosystem restoration, and public health.
Speaking at the session, Dr Pema Gyamtsho, Director General, ICIMOD, highlighted the uniqueness of the HKH, particularly its rich biocultural diversity and the associated traditional and indigenous knowledge systems that continue to be practiced. Dr Gyamtsho informed that ICIMOD is committed to improving the well-being of communities in the HKH through three strategic areas of impact: Reducing poverty, enhancing resilience by reducing physical and social vulnerabilities, and enhancing ecosystem services.
Dr Gyamtsho also touched upon the complex challenges facing the HKH especially population growth, unsustainable development, migration and climate change, with COVID-19 further compounding these challenges.
In his keynote presentation, Dr Eklabya Sharma, Deputy Director General, ICIMOD, highlighted the ‘HKH Call to Action’ which provides a roadmap for the region with six urgent actions as pathways to prosperity. These six urgent actions emphasize greater regional cooperation, recognizing and prioritizing the uniqueness of HKH mountain people, taking concerted action to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, accelerated actions towards realizing the SDGs, enhancing ecosystem resilience, and facilitating greater data and information sharing. Dr Sharma also shared ICIMOD’s ongoing efforts in four transboundary landscapes in the HKH, using a landscape approach across boundaries to manage biodiversity and ecosystems and achieve conservation at scale.
A panel of speakers from Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan addressed critical questions related to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in the HKH. They highlighted the need for water conservation, reversing land degradation, ecosystem restoration involving local communities – particularly the youth, documenting traditional knowledge systems, and strengthening scientific capacity in the HKH.
The panel included Dr Mehjabeen Abidi-Habib, ecologist and writer from Pakistan; Dr Sarala Khaling, Regional Director, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment, Eastern Himalaya Programme, India; Dr Fu Yao, Kunming Institute of Botany, China; Sonam Tashi Lama, Red Panda Network, Nepal; and, Jamyang Dolkar, Sherubtse College, Royal University of Bhutan.
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan—and based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
ICIMOD visualizes the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources at the scale of larger landscapes defined by ecosystems. Guided by the four north–south transects of the HKH and six identified transboundary landscapes (Kailash, Kangchenjunga, Far Eastern Himalaya, Hindu Kush Karakoram Pamir, Everest, and Cherrapunjee-Chittagong), we aim to enhance socio-ecological resilience to environmental change.
We have adopted the landscape approach across boundaries to manage biodiversity and ecosystems, as we seek to bridge peoples of the HKH and their unique histories, cultures, knowledge, environments, and conservation practices.
Globalization and climate change have an increasing influence on the stability of fragile mountain ecosystems and the livelihoods of mountain people. ICIMOD aims to assist mountain people to understand these changes, adapt to them, and make the most of new opportunities, while addressing upstream-downstream issues.
The HKH region extends across eight countries from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east, crossing Pakistan, India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. It is home to 240 million people, who are directly dependent on the HKH for their livelihoods and well-being, while almost 1.65 billion people living in the river basins downstream depend on it for water, food, and energy.
The region has the largest ice reserves outside the polar region. It hosts diverse ecosystems, biodiversity, and culture, and is also home to four global biodiversity hotspots, six UNESCO natural world heritage sites, 30 Ramsar sites, and 330 important bird and biodiversity areas. The HKH is home to diverse cultures with more than 1000 languages, along with a unique range of traditional knowledge systems associated with these cultures.
However, the HKH region is experiencing environmental, socio-cultural, economic, and political changes that are complex in nature and are influenced by local, regional, and global developments. These changes, particularly human drivers and climate change have led to multi-dimensional challenges to livelihoods and environment. COVID-19 has further exacerbated the risks and vulnerabilities affecting the region.
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