February 26, 2014
The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) mountain range acts as a direct source of fresh water for around 1.3 billion people. Indirectly, almost half of humanity depends on it. The region is now facing climate change impacts, ecosystem degradation, natural calamities and deforestation, in addition to rapid population growth, political instability and poverty.
A serious obstacle in tackling these issues is the lack of cooperation among governments, an obstacle that the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) tries to overcome. Established in 1983, ICIMOD is a Kathmandu-based regional intergovernmental centre working in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan.
Eklabya Sharma, ICIMOD’s director of programme operations, tells The Third Pole in an interview that recent disasters in India and Nepal provide an opportunity to improve regional cooperation in important ways.
The Third Pole (TTP): Where do you see the role of ICIMOD in advocating the mountain agenda at regional and global levels?
Eklabya Sharma (ES): ICIMOD is an organization mandated by its member countries to work specifically on mountain issues. It is a knowledge sharing and learning centre, which means we are non-political and driven by demand in member countries to work on relevant mountain issues. From the beginning our objective was clear, and coming to this point we feel proud of the progress we have made not only in enriching our knowledge, but also in helping our member countries come closer and work together to tackle environmental problems in the Hindu Kush Himalayas. There has been a paradigm shift on regional cooperation in recent years, which makes us happy.
TTP: What was the tipping point that caused this paradigm shift to boost regional cooperation?
ES: Climate change came as an opportunity to foster regional cooperation as the nature of the problems it has brought demands more transboundary cooperation. It doesn’t mean that there was negligible cooperation among member countries before, but climate change has compelled us to be more cooperative and collaborative. Since the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) fourth report mentioned the HKH region as a data deficit region in 2007, the countries have felt more pressure to generate information, which is more effective through joint research work. Increasing willingness of the countries to implement transboundary projects, better data sharing mechanisms, and frequent knowledge sharing efforts indicate that climate change has acted as a tipping point for this paradigm shift towards regional cooperation in the HKH region.
TTP: How has ICIMOD responded to the recent floods in Nepal and India, and in general to increasing disaster events in this region?
ES: Climate change is likely to have severe impacts in this region and casualties will increase if we fail to act collectively. Many problems related to flooding are of a regional nature because we share common water resources — rivers originate in the mountains and flow down to various countries. So there are upstream-downstream linkages between most ICIMOD member countries. We don’t have an option except to come together to address the effects of the changing climate and to save lives and property. This can only be done if we have strong scientific research and real-time data sharing mechanisms that can help people plan before and during disasters, ultimately saving lives. So ICIMOD has always emphasized reliable data generation and effective sharing mechanisms.
TTP: Have you been successful?
ES: Yes. In 2010, we started the SERVIR-Himalaya project, which is a regional visualization and monitoring system that integrates earth observation information – such as satellite imagery and forecast models – with in situ data and other knowledge for improved and timely decision making. We are also working to establish a regional flood information system in the HKH region that promotes the timely exchange of flood data and information for the reduction of vulnerability to floods through an easily accessible and user-friendly platform. I am mentioning only a few of our efforts. Overall, we are developing a stronger database and our sharing mechanisms are becoming more coordinated and timely. All the knowledge we generate is for the use of the member countries. and it can be best utilized through close cooperation among the member countries and various institutions in the region.
TTP: So what are the future steps in this direction?
ES: We have a firm belief that we can fight environmental problems through better cooperation and collaboration. This view is being internalized in each country and at every level. Understanding the complex geography of environmental issues and acting accordingly is not an easy task. We have to apply integrated efforts to tackle these problems. We have to ensure end-to-end information system is in place for this region. We have been very enthused by the response and support provided by the countries of the HKH region in the last few years and we hope that it will be enhanced even further in the years to come.