Trans-boundary Famine..

Posted on August 1, 2011

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We need to understand and acknowledge that when our people at local level are not secure with their livelihood, water, energy and food, it is not going to make difference at trans-national level.  When we consider our efforts in these lines, then only we are going to set our house right, before attempting to help others!

In one of recently held international seminar in Pakistan, experts from various institutions of the world highlighted concerns related to various developmental processes, natural resource crisis and ignorance towards local governance system in the mountainous part of Himalaya. The experts highlighted the dependence of over 1.5 billion people in South Asia region on water resources from Tibetan plateau and impact of fast melting glaciers in Siachen and Khunjerab on which 78% population of Pakistan depends and where 72% land is fed by Indus River only. Concerns were also raised on tectonic movements in Tibetan Plateau, which may lead to major earthquake in near future and putting millions to millions of Pakistani’s at risk.

Different issues like; growing demand of food and fodder, high consumption of water, upcoming governance challenges in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, development of hydropower and mining projects in mountainous part of Pakistan, negative environmental effect due to damage to various ecosystems, non-inclusive developmental activities, global attention in security and conflicts, jeopardized social and cultural well being of indigenous people in Himalayan region, and the need of mitigation efforts towards climate change and food security, where major points of discussion. The experts also highlighted the trans-boundary resource concerns affecting the water, livelihood, energy and governance in India, Pakistan, Nepal and China.

On a broader perspective, it is evident that, the proposed construction reservoirs in the Tibetan Plateau to save glacier runoff by China without considering ecosystem flow, its ongoing infrastructure development work in Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan without considering indigenous populace, the mass lopping of forest in Hunza valley (leading to 2010 flood and 14 million people homeless), skewed and poor environmental impact assessment (appraisal) in Indian Himalayan region, huge deforestation in western and eastern Indian Himalayan region, habitat loss and poaching in Nepal, and forest degradation and encroachments, etc. are leading to natural resource crisis and ecosystem dysfunctions in the region.

For instance, in Bhutan, the government wants to develop more and more hydropower projects, where as experts say that, “preserving uphill forests and wetlands can help store water for future use, but, building reservoirs as per government’s plans it has to pay environmental cost. It will definitely have an impact on biodiversity and aquatic ecosystems. So that is where Bhutan’s challenge is!” The agriculture and forests’ minister of Bhutan, Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho says that, “Unfortunately, pollution, degradation, and the overuse of non-renewable resources are depleting the vitality of the Himalayan ecosystems and have been causing an unprecedented loss in biodiversity”.

Janani Vivekananda at International Alert in Nepal says about the hand to mouth situation of farmers in high mountains of Nepal, and their complete ignorance about negative impacts of uncontrolled surface water extraction leading to fall in ground water, that keeps their drinking water taps dry for almost 3 months in a year. The government of Nepal also feels that, for their country the common threats are related to habitat loss, over harvesting, poaching in protected areas, gazing, theft of commercial tree species from low land forests, encroachment in wetlands, over fishing, pollution, and loss of local land races.

In this backdrop it is interesting to note that policy dialogue in South Asian countries on environmental and climate change issues are related to conflict, security and governance about their mountainous part. They are about various trans-boundary issues, confronted with shared natural resources like water and land. This also skewed the policies and programs of the government institutions those have been assigned the role of scientific research and development in various sustainable mountain development issues in Himalayan region. These institutions are now vouching upon the trans-boundary projects.

There is no big deal in taking them up, given that we have also prioritized and attended the very local issues, due to which the people in each of these countries and their mountains are confronted with. In this way somehow we are trying to divert the attention of people from local issues and realities to trans-boundary, while we are neglecting the resource crisis and linkages in terms of existing local problems of; livelihood, food insecurity, poverty, technology transfer, and communicating science.

It is advisable that, our institutions in the region could be more retrospective in their efforts at local level, and understand the crisis people are facing. We shall pay attention to vulnerable and resource deprived communities in our villages, and Hill townships, tehsils, districts, dzongkhags and anchals.

We need to understand and acknowledge that when our people at local level are not secure with their livelihood, water, energy and food, it is not going to make difference at trans-national level.  When we consider our efforts in these lines, then only we are going to set our house right, before attempting to help others!

Let’s be ‘sacred’ in our efforts before becoming ‘trans-boundary’ crusader!

Melting Himalayan Glaciers video

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I wrote this article for Climate Himalaya’s Youth Leaders Speak Column.


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