Knowledge Disconnect in Himalaya

Posted on November 8, 2011

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Much has been said about Himalayas and its beautiful mountains, rich biodiversity and rich culture. But, sometime it seems that the inhabitants in the region are not cognizant about this richness. Are they?

Let me take one of the factors that contributed to such situation in Hindu Kush Himalayan region and that is ‘disconnected knowledge sharing‘!

It has been learned that our scientists are not able to communicate what they do know to the public and policymakers. There are concerns related to coordinated and comprehensive research in the region and pool of research seems academic. Whatever research has been done, in majority of the cases, the results are not shared effectively due to inadequate communication efforts. The region has deficient information sharing mechanism of scientists and researchers to policy maker and communities.

In my view this had led to knowledge gap leading to poor understanding on various environmental issues and vulnerability aspects, while inadequate understanding contributed to poor leadership and subsequently poor actions.

The Tibetan plateau lies between the Himalayan...

Image via Wikipedia

Let me quote an example from one of the important study reports in 2010 by a UK based media group. In their report, Stephen Edwards, an earth scientist called for more high-quality, peer-reviewed data and specifically noted that the need of understanding problems in Himalayan region at first hand before attempting to manage them. He doubted that science itself is not enough, and suggested that scientists have to interact with economists and policymakers through proper dialogue. The Editor of Chinadilogue, Isabel Hilton mentioned Himalayan region as black hole in terms of data. Dr. Andreas Schild, outgoing DG of International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development mentioned that to close the knowledge gap in HKH region we have to strengthen the institutions.

A series of commentary by Youth Leaders and Experts at Climate Himalaya’s knowledge portal (Link) also indicates in same direction. I have extracted a few relevant one here:

  • # Dr. Shalini Dhyani writes that in majority of the cases in Indian Himalayan Region (IHR), the scientific and research institutions are not updated, and they rely on old scientific database leading to conflict and failures. Link
  • # Ms. Suman K Apparusu suggests the need of an innovative concept of forming ‘Learning-Alliance @ SMD’ in Hindu Kush Himalayan region Link. She also advocates for designing and delivery of appropriate adaptive social protection programmes through appropriate tools and inclusive mechanisms. Link
  • # Er. Pabitra Mukhopadhyay proposes the important role of an interface organization between the scientific communities and indigenous people in Himalayas that considers community wisdom and local innovations Link. He also observes that there is unpreparedness in Himalayan region in context to disasters mainly due to inadequate infrastructure and information systems in place Link.
  • # Dr. Anamika Barua suggests that the best way to reduce the vulnerability of mountain communities is by strengthening their resilience in terms of building their capacities. Link
  • # Dr. Manish Semwal writes about the need of taking initiatives like ‘Chipko Movement’ forward through collaborative initiatives of educational and research institutions and civil society groups. Link
  • # Expert commentator Prof. Iqbal Hasnain observes that the predominance of bureaucracy and coalition politics in India has stunted the growth of strategic thoughts Link . He suggests that within the region we need a ‘Knowledge Action Networks’, that is, managed social networks that link global science, technology and policy communities to local initiatives. Link

Given the scenario, I sometime wonder that when would it be possible that people in Himalayan region are capable of discussing and communicating about their rich tradition, heritage, indigenous practices and various facets of inclusive science! Are their options available for them and generations to come, to easily access such information, models, knowledge and science?

How a farmer in remote Humla will be able to cope with GLOF (Glacial Lake Outburst Flood) and his buddy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Uttarakhand with landslides and floods. Whom should a mountain dweller at first hand contact or refer to when he wants to know the livelihood opportunities and options available, the water management technologies, agro-forestry models, in case of crop failure, animal husbandry issues, and horticulture technicalities…?

In my view, access to Information, Capacity building and Leadership development are the important dimensions to overcome from this ‘knowledge disconnect’ and retaining mountain people.

Following are a few way forward:

  1. Let’s learn from our failures and change our traditional strategies of development on various social or community and environment development fronts in HKH region.
  2. Review thoroughly and work upon the achievements from SUDEMMA (Sustainable Development of Mountain Areas of Asia Conference 1994) recommendation on knowledge sharing platform and SMD, and our achievements since Rio convention in 1991 on climate change and mountain biodiversity.
  3. Think radically and debate on the role of various scientific and research institutions, and universities in Himalayan region, which are over 200 in numbers. For example, in the Indian Himalayan region only there are 34 scientific institutions and 24 Universities.
  4. Discuss and analyze about our regional institutions and centers in terms of their actions and achievements! Therefore, look in to various concepts of partnerships and forums in Hindu Kush Himalayan region (and growing one) and learn from the glitches!
  5. Consider the practical recommendations of various task forces, commissions, working groups, expert groups, missions and declarations made in various countries of Hindu Kush Himalayan region about the commonality of advocating mountain perspective in national level plans. As these plans contains the perspectives of good governance, knowledge development and capacity building actions.
  6. Work upon methodical debates through various possible means and freeze the future course of our actions on mountain commonality.

We are aware that the Principle 10 of Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1992 mentions about appropriate actions in developing a mechanism for access to information on environmental aspects, and participation of all concerned citizens in decision making processes. And the upcoming Rio-20 conference will focus to secure renewed global commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress and gaps in the implementation of the outcomes.

Therefore, it is imperative that we look in to the ways and means to communicate our science, research and publications to help people to overcome from the mountain peculiarities.

Featured Image credit: Dr. Piyush Rautela, Dehradun, India

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First posted at Climate Himalaya’s Youth Speak Column.

I wrote this article for Climate Himalaya’ s Youth Leaders Speak column. At present I also work as Environment Specialist and  Convener at Climate Himalaya .