This week, reports came from remote mountainous district of Humla of China building several structures inside what Nepal claims is its territory. Chinese border guards sent back a Nepali patrol that went to inspect the site on Monday.
All this is affecting cross-border scientific cooperation in the Himalaya. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fourth assessment report, released as far back as 2007 identified the entire Himalaya as a ‘black hole’ for data, with no monitoring in a region that is warming much faster than the global average.
After that report, countries of the Himalaya committed to cooperate on research to quantify the impact of climate change. But after more than a decade, there has not been much action. By 2014, when the IPCC released its fifth assessment report, the Himalaya had the same problem despite warnings from the scientific community about the severe consequences of not having enough information to make collective decisions.
Scientists working in the region say things have improved slightly in recent years even though there are dire warnings about the impact of the climate emergency on the Himalaya, and what it will mean for water supply downstream.
“From my experience, most scientists from the region work well together and we have a common goal to understand how the atmosphere, the cryosphere and the hydrosphere interact and we all aim to quantify how climate change will impact the region’s water resources,” said Walter Immerzeel at Utrecht University in the Netherlands who has been researching the hydrology of the Himalaya. “There is of course the everlasting issue of data sharing between countries, but over the years things have improved, albeit slowly, and everyone respects each other’s constraints.”
Data sharing between countries in the Himalaya is weak and hampered by secrecy policies, and heightened military tension on the border has not helped. Researchers and activists have been demanding open data sharing, but governments concerned about national security are not willing to do so.
“To be frank, scientific culture doesn’t have deep roots in this region,” says Dipak Gyawali, Nepal’s former water resources minister. “Countries think somebody else will use the science that they are doing. That is wrong. Science ultimately benefits others beyond borders.”
The region is also one of the most militarised in the world. The Fund for Peace’s 2017 Fragile States Index gave five of the eight countries in the Himalayan region ‘alert’ status.
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