Nepali Times: ICIMOD will soon be marking its 40th anniversary, and at the same time many problems of the Himalayan region have got worse. How has ICIMOD’s role evolved over these last four decades?
Dr Pema Gyamtsho: Those days, 40 years ago, or in the 80s, the narrative used to be that the Himalaya is undergoing rapid deforestation, massive land erosion and landslides. These were mainly attributed to unsustainable agricultural practices, over-grazing and so on. Scientists used to describe the mountain areas as being inaccessible, fragile, marginal and vulnerable.
Now, 40 years down the road, I am still wondering whether we have addressed the fragility. In many ways, we have accelerated the damage through haphazard infrastructure.
Landslides are occurring mainly due to improper planning and execution. In fact, we have not respected the fragility of the mountains.
We have improved accessibility, there is now road access to every remote corner of this region. But has it improved the economic situation of these communities living there? Perhaps yes, in terms of availability of goods and services, we may have better education and health services, or access to markets, but the cultural wealth has gone down. There are pluses and minuses.
Read also: “Time to walk the talk on climate change in the Himalaya”, Nepali Times
Now, on top of that vulnerability, we have the climate emergency.
Yes, climate change has come into the picture. And this is something that every one of us has to take very seriously. It’s not something that is going to happen after 50 or 100 years. It is happening now. And that is why ICIMOD has recognised the urgency. The most important message from our Hindu-Kush Himalayan Assessment Report, 2019 is that we need to take urgent action, and six areas were identified. We have to act as a region because most of the issues, most of the impact of climate change are trans-boundary in nature. While countries on their own can do a lot, we can do much more together. That is why the call to action includes the need for countries in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region to work together.
You mentioned ICIMOD’s landmark 2019 report. It looked at how the climate emergency was affecting the mountains. But things we thought would happen in 2040 are happening now. Does this mean that we now need an updated assessment that actually makes it even more urgent?
I am sure you appreciate the fact that the process is very dynamic. It can change from year to year. But in order to give a clearer picture of the trends, we need to also have longer duration assessments.
The 2019 assessment gave a good picture of the situation as of 2019. But now, we also see that the climate change-induced disaster is increasing both in terms of frequency and intensity, and when least expected. Like Pakistan going through this massive catastrophe with one-third of the country affected by flood. These things keep on happening. In February, there were three, four days of unseasonal snowfall which also caused a lot of damage. Such weather extremes are now happeneing more often. Maybe two, three years down the line, we have to do another assessment. Because then we can get a better picture of how things are going and in which direction.
Read also: Climate change is a disaster in the Nepal Himalaya, Sonam Choekyi Lama