Pratik Bhattarai

The author is a Program Support Assistant at an NGO based in Kathmandu.

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Published On: July 28, 2022 05:00 PM NPT By: Pratik Bhattarai

Rising threats of climate change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas

Rising threats of climate change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas

Climate change is affecting every inhabited region across the globe. There has been rapid warming of the climate as a result of human activity over the last 2000 years. The most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change are the least developed countries, like Nepal. It has become increasingly difficult for communities because of unpredictable and extreme weather events, especially those that are already vulnerable to climate stresses. 

The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) is on the frontline of climate change. Over the past decades,there has been a strong and clear warming trend across the region. Higher altitude areas have warmed faster than lowland areas, and also faster than the global average. HKHs are the freshwater towers of South Asia and parts of Southeast Asia. It is home to a series of the highest mountains on earth, including the world's highest and prominent peaks. It represents four globally significant biodiversity hotspots and provides numerous ecosystem services to millions of people living within as well as outside the region. It encompasses over 4.2 million square kilometers of area including 240 million population. HKH contributes enormously to the region’s economic growth and provides a wide range of goods and services to 12 percent of the global population sustaining their livelihoods.

The HKH countries face frequent flood and energy crises and growing political issues. Climate impacts have made it more difficult for development to progress, and efforts to achieve sustainable development goals have been slowed by the impacts of climate change. Agriculture is suffering from declining productivity, livestock receives inadequate nutrition, and there are problems of inbreeding and diseases. Food insecurity, increasing poverty, change in population patterns the rural push and urban pull, increase pollution problems, water scarcity, soil degradation, and mass tourism are inviting severe threats to the biodiversity and resources of the region. HKH regions are already vulnerable to natural calamities like earthquakes, landslides, and erosion and human-induced climate change is further exacerbating these risks. The continued global warming is projected to further intensify the global water cycle, including its variability, global monsoon precipitation, and the severity of wet and dry events. For HKH,climate change is likely to strongly impact the hydrological cycle. Illegal mining, random harvesting of non-timber forest products, destruction of forest resources, and spread of invasive species are causing undesirable impacts on the mountain environment.

Economic, environmental, and socio-cultural, changes in HKH are dynamically impacting the livelihood and environmental conditions. Many sustainability challenges are related to weak governance, overexploitation of natural resources, environmental degradation, unregulated urbanization, and unmanaged tourism along with the loss of traditional culture and indigenous practices. Biogas and micro-hydro for clean energy, community-based approaches for managing natural resources, and ecotourism for equitable income distribution could help to mitigate the existing threats to the mountain ecosystem. Organic agriculture and Agroforestry practices, Watershed management for enhancing and sustaining the productivity of ecosystem goods and services are some of the best practices that could help to attain the sustainable development goals
in HKH region.

Introduction of landscape-level and transboundary level biodiversity conservation approaches, regional cooperation, involvement of civil society, private sector, and local communities can help to mitigate the existing threats of the HKH region. To meet the challenges arising from environmental, sociocultural, and economic changes in the HKH, policy approaches must become more holistic and multidimensional. Government and environmental institutions in the HKH need to act now to strengthen the interface between science, policy, and practice. Institutional setup and linkages at various levels are an instant necessity. Furthermore, more investment and funding from donors and strong actions from government sector will ensure the sustainability and development of the region.

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