Imbalances need to be improved

Egbert Pelinck , director general, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu, spoke to Prakash Khanal on conservation programmes in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region

Published: Wednesday 15 July 1998

On the major threat to the environment in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region:
The major threat to the environment in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas is poverty and population growth. The need for more land for increasing population, expansion of agriculture and the growing demand for wood has taken a toll on the environment. For ages, there was a balance between population and resources. Improvement of health facilities has resulted in over-population. This has created an imbalance between the natural resources and the growing population.

On the major challenges of the ICIMOD:
The greatest challenge is to reach the 120 million people who live in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas ( hkh ). We don't know how the knowledge, that we have gained, can eventually benefit the people in the mountains. We are trying to set up mechanisms to interact with a number of institutions and organisations that have closer interaction with these 120 million people.

Our publications are being sent to about 5,000 institutions in the region. We are putting emphasis on producing training manuals that help the national and local institutions to carry out the training. The icimod does not claim to have solutions for the problems of the hkh . We are only providing information for others to find solutions.

On the role of environmental NGOs in the HKH region:
ngo s play an advocacy role to influence the policies of the government. They can change the policies of the donors who are focusing on people on the plains. Donors have also forgotten the mountains. Advocacy for highlighting the issues on the agenda of policy makers, governments and donors is also important.

On countries severely threatened by environmental problems:
Though Nepal is severely threatened, it has the opportunity and potential to solve these problems. There is sufficient rainfall in Nepal which helps in proper land use to maintain a reasonable forest and vegetation cover. Problems such as soil erosion are also prevalent in Pakistan but there rainfall is much less than in Nepal. Therefore, the problems are more related to the climate than to development activities. China has been successful in creating enough employment in the rural areas, so there is less pressure on the environment. In the higher altitudes, China has the problem of over-grazing. Traditionally, there were large numbers of yak and other livestock in this fragile environment. However, better transport facilities have fuelled the increase in livestock in the higher altitudes .

On those countries in the region which are serious about tackling environmental threats :
I have noticed an increase in awareness among all the countries about the problems of the mountain areas. Internationally, Nepal has been acknowledged as being the most successful in community forestry or socio-forestry.

How to involve local people in the management of their environment has been best depicted by the success-ful implementation of community forestry here. China has been more successful in addressing poverty alleviation in the mountain areas. India, Pakistan again have different approaches. Progress has been made by all countries, but much more needs to be done.

On countries benefiting from the ICIMOD:
It is difficult to generalise. Looking at our mailing list of 1,000 institutions and individuals in India and 1,500 in Nepal, we can say that India and Nepal benefit the most. If we look at where we have been very effective in implementing training courses it may well have been China. Nepal is benefiting a little more than other countries because the people in Nepal have access to the icimod and its knowledge base.

On the achievements of the ICIMOD in the last 15 years:
There are three or four types of impact that the icimod has had in the region. The first one is the impact on policies. The icimod has played an important role in the formulation of the 20-year Nepal Agriculture Perspective Plan ( app ).

Due to this we see a lot of mountain specific products and agriculture mentioned in the app . We have had similar kind of impact on policy related to small hydropower in India and on tourism in Himachal Pradesh, on mountain agriculture in Tibet.

The concept of using mountains not as areas of doom and gloom, but as areas that give hope for development has gained ground. The introduction of a number of technologies, such as risk engineering technology to deal with the fragile environment has given us immense satisfaction. The whole concept of engineering in this geologically fragile environment in an environmentally sustainable way is an important factor.

But what gives us satisfaction is that probably about 100 institutions in this region there is an increased capacity to tackle the problems of mountain development. Its not the icimod itself but it is these institutions in Pakistan, India, China Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan are much better equipped to deal with mountain specific problems than 15 years ago.

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