April 18, 2024, Thursday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

Preserving fragile mountain ecosystem: challenges and solutions in HKH

The Nepal Weekly
February 20, 2024

By Dharmendra Budthapa

Mountains comprises about 27% of the Earths land surfaces, and almost one half of the world’s population lives in mountainous region. The mountains are important to the environment all over the world. They support 12% of the world population while directly supporting 30% of the world land surface. Similarly, the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) region, renowned for its stunning landscapes and rich biodiversity, faces an alarming crisis. Over the last several decades, the area has witnessed a staggering loss of 70% of its biodiversity, driven primarily by pollution, overexploitation of the natural resources, invasive species, climate change, mass extinction of flora and fauna and land use alterations. These changes pose significant threats to both the environment and the communities who rely on this mountain ecosystem. In the context of Nepal, we are going to lose our water tower due to global threats in the 21st century if we forget to working on it more. Also, as we work in conservation sectors this would be big threat for conservationist and also for the country’s development process.

Yagma village (4200m) in Kanchenjunga conservation area: picture taken by author in 2020

As to the report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the average rate of glacier retreat in the area is between 0.5- and 1.5-meters year. Millions of people who depend on rivers supplied by glaciers for hydroelectricity generation, agriculture, and drinking water face serious risks from scarcity of water. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the HKH region is one of the richest biodiversity areas on the planet, as it is home to over 10,000 plant species and numerous endemic species that at risk due to climate change.

Kangchenjunga is very rich in biodiversity among the protected areas of Nepal specially in mountains regions whereas all of the villages (Olangchung Gola, Ghunsa and Yagma villages) are located right below the mountain’s peaks, various glacial lakes (Singema lake, samdo pokhari, Ghanglung pokhari). If the temperatures increase in this way in the period of 50 years it will destroy whole of the mountain ecosystem by disappearing significant flora and fauna from the mountain and our main sources of water tower will disappear forever. Resulting of this fragile mountain ecosystem it would hampers local community so badly by deteriorating soil productivity, loosing tourist in the area, loosing ice sheet of peaks and mountains, shrinking of grasslands and pasturelands which also reduces yaks rearing productivity, not only that it will expands the unemployment in the mountains. In addition of that mountain communities will face huge shortage of drinking water scarcity to irrigation water due to excessive condition of droughts and at the same time in rainy season it will face massive quantity of floods and glacial lake outburst floods which is big threats for the mountain’s environment. Threats in the HKH regions in the Himalayas are mass extinctions of flora and fauna, loosing beauty of landscapes, plastics in the mountains, scarcity of drinking water, degradation of rangelands and pastureland’s etc.

Besides that, there are number of (around more than dozen) hydropower under pipelines which are the major projects of the Governments but some of the hydropower projects don’t have intention to conserve the environment. They just want their successful projects without showing concern to local community and environmental assessment. Also, hydropower developers are not only confined outside of the area but also, they want to operate their projects in core protected areas like Ghunsa area and also Gola areas posing bigger threats to the environment and also to the local communities. Also, all we could say it is conflict of interest of businessmen from the country and they want natural resources for their own economic benefits however mountain ecosystem going to deteriorate day by day. If their projects will implement certainly it will help in disappearance of endemic plants and animals from the areas which is big threat for aquatic ecosystems to terrestrial’s floras and faunas. They are not sincere for the protection of ecosystem of mountain environment.

Therefore, Government of Nepal should focus on conservation of ecosystem by implementing policies, reforming them in line with environment protection. There is a need for pursuing climate diplomacy to coordinate with global communities to raise our voice in the international platforms to tackle climate crisis in the global scale. Without reforming policies from time to time and strong implementation of conservation and protection of such protected areas in the mountains we could not protect our environment exposing our communities to huge threat for humans of this planets. Hence, I strongly voice that there is no need of hydro – powers developments in the core protected areas.  We need to pursue climate diplomacy, mountain diplomacy for the conservation of the ecosystem and voice for environment protection in global forums. Otherwise, we will lose our strength to conserve mountain ecosystem and communities by reaching the tipping point of the climate change and rise in temperatures in the mountain region.

KEY POINTS

1.   Biodiversity loss and environmental challenges: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reports a surge in the frequency of floods and landslides, causing widespread devastation to infrastructure, homes, and livelihoods in mountain communities. The people of these regions are grappling with the repercussions of natural disasters such as glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) and water scarcity due to disappearing flora and fauna, exacerbating the impacts of the global climate crisis.

2.   Urgent need for global finance and action: The situation calls for immediate global attention and financial support to restore and conserve mountain ecosystems, particularly in vulnerable areas like the HKH. With the multifaceted impacts of climate change looming large, urgent adaptation and mitigation measures are essential to safeguard the livelihoods, ecosystems, and well-being of mountain communities.

3.   The threat to Kangchenjunga and local communities: The Kangchenjunga region, teeming with biodiversity, faces imminent peril. Villages nestled beneath its peaks, alongside various glacial lakes, are under threat from rising temperatures. The impending loss of flora and fauna poses dire consequences, including deteriorating soil productivity, loss of tourism, and increased unemployment. Moreover, mountain communities confront water scarcity, floods, and environmental degradation, further compounding their challenges.

4.   Challenges posed by hydropower projects: The region is not spared from man-made threats either. Hydropower projects, some encroaching into core conservation areas, pose significant environmental risks. Despite promises of economic development, the projects put into situation of danger of loss of endemic species and aquatic ecosystems, demonstrating a disregard for the fragile mountain environment.

5.   Solutions and way forward: Addressing these challenges requires a coordinated, holistic approach. Encouraging sustainable land use practices, investing in climate-resilient infrastructure, and promoting community-based conservation efforts are crucial steps. Strengthening regional institutions like the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and raising awareness about climate change impacts are vital to building resilience in mountain communities.

6. Call for action: Governments must prioritize conservation policies and engage in climate diplomacy to garner global support. Hydro-power projects within conservation areas must be halted, and efforts redirected towards sustainable development outside these sensitive zones.