Sustainable Mountain Development: Thinking beyond borders

nepal-mountains(Photo Source: Google)

Even though they have difficult terrain, adverse weather conditions and fragile living conditions, mountains are also great source of biodiversity, water, and ecosystems. Products and services from mountains travel far beyond their surrounding lowlands. Containing majority of the global biodiversity, nearly half of the world’s population depends on mountains for fresh water, clean energy, irrigation, minerals, forest products, recreation, and other resources.

In our part of the world, the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region extends around 2,100 miles over eight countries from Afghanistan to Myanmar, including Pakistan, India, Nepal, China, Bhutan and Bangladesh. HKH is the source of ten large Asian river systems providing water to nearly a fifth of the world’s population.

Lately, the HKH region has experienced great changes with rapid population growth, economic development activities and unplanned urbanization, posing substantial challenges to ecosystem, traditional livelihood and environment of the region.

It is undisputed fact that poverty remains one of the core challenges for sustainable mountain development, especially in developing countries such as ours. Research estimates show that over one-third of mountain population in developing countries live with food insecurity.

In the last couple of decades, glacier lake formation has been worrying for downstream communities of Nepal due to climate change and increased risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GOLFs). Due to difficult terrain and limited accessibility, mountain people are highly vulnerable to natural hazards such as, earthquake, avalanches and landslides.

After the Gorkha Earthquake 2015, the severity of impact due to probable natural disasters is even more evident in Nepal. From the disaster risk management perspective, identifying hazardous areas, developing early-warning systems, building resilient infrastructures, relocating vulnerable population, training local disaster response teams and integrating disaster mitigation measures into the national and local development plans are extremely important if the government envisions a long-term development of its mountains.

Mountains Nepal  (Photo Source: Google) 

Formulating suitable mountain development plans is difficult but implementing them is even harder due to often unfavorable conditions. While discussing sustainable mountain development, we must take mountain people and communities into account. Along with visionary policies and plan, we also need to think from the mountain perspective. Indigenous population and their age-old knowledge about their mountain environment are precious and must be included in designing a sustainable master plan.

Such visionary design may comprise socio-economic development activities of the region including, education, health care, provision of alternate energy sources as well as opportunities to earn livelihoods from them.

Another important aspect of sustainable mountain development strategy would be to promote and help local people to establish green economy though fisheries, environment friendly mining, plantation, cottage industry, growing medicinal plants and renewable products, etc.

To achieve sustainable mountain development goals, the governments of the region should promote environment friendly technologies, effective management of natural resources and substantial investments in the development of green economy.

Considering the biodiversity, scenic landscapes and the rich geographical inheritance, it is well-known fact that tourism development can play a pivotal role in achieving sustainable mountain development in Nepal.  

Attracting investments in mountain region has long been a major challenge for the governments and an understandable risk for private sectors. Pooling of resources from government institution, private sector as well as local investor and civil society could be one creative investment strategy to reduce the risks, inherent to the mountain region. Although, the return on investment would not be quick, the stake holders should understand the fact that their investment, in the long run, would bring ample opportunities not only to the mountain communities but also to the entire region.

Sustainable mountain development of a region, such as HKH, demands international cooperation of all the key stakeholders as well as seeks their collaborative attempts to develop adequate strategy and capacity at regional, national and local levels. Raising mountain issues thru border-less thinking is one good way to help develop a common voice for the development of the entire region, for the stakes are very high not only for the mountain people but also for the sustainability of environment as well as the entire planet.

* * * *