Hindu Kush Himalaya is a ‘biosphere on the brink’: ICIMOD

‘It is almost too late’ to stem losses in nature and habitat in the HKH region, says organisation at meeting in Kathmandu
The markhor is a large wild goat native to Central and South Asia, where it is mainly found on the heights of the Karakoram. It is the national animal of Pakistan. Photo: iStock
The markhor is a large wild goat native to Central and South Asia, where it is mainly found on the heights of the Karakoram. It is the national animal of Pakistan. Photo: iStock

Experts from The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) called for ‘bold action’ and ‘urgent finance’ to prevent collapse of nature in High Mountain Asia on February 5, 2024, in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, is a ‘biosphere on the brink’, the organisation said in a statement as 130 global experts arrived in Nepal for the Third Lead Authors meeting of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) nexus assessment.

ICIMOD is hosting the meeting at its headquarters in Kathmandu. The summit examines the linkages between food and water security, health, biodiversity, and climate change.

The researchers described the speed and scale of losses in nature and habitat in the HKH region as ‘catastrophic’. “It is almost too late,” Deputy Director General Izabella Koziell told delegates to the IPBES meeting.

She added:

Four of the world’s 36 global biodiversity hotspots are in this region. Two of the global 200 eco regions, 575 Protected Areas, 335 important bird areas, those figures speak for themselves. Yet we are in an accelerating crisis, despite the efforts of everyone here and many in the international community. Seventy per cent of the original biodiversity has been lost over the last century. And yet 85 per cent of mountain communities remain dependent on this biodiversity, for food, water, flood control and cultural identity.

“The declines in nature across this region,” said IPBES author and ICIMOD Ecosystems Specialist Sunita Chaudhary, “are so advanced and accelerating so fast they now pose a threat to the lives of not just animal and plant life, but also human societies.”   

‘Water tower’

High Mountain Asia comprises of mountain ranges such as the Tian Shan, Kunlun Shan, Pamir, Karakoram, Hindu Kush, and of course, the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas.

HKH, which stretches 3,500 kilometres and spans eight countries, is home to most of the snow and ice on Earth outside the poles. At least 12 rivers fan out in every direction across the Asian continent from it:

  1. Syr Darya and Amu Darya towards the now-dead Aral Sea
  2. The Tarim toward the Taklamakan
  3. The Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra towards the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal
  4. The Yellow river towards the Gulf of Bohai
  5. The Yangtze towards the East China Sea
  6. The Mekong towards the South China Sea
  7. The Chindwin, Salween and Irrawaddy towards the Andaman Sea

The ‘Water Tower of Asia’ provides essential ecosystem services such as clean water for a third of the world’s population. It is estimated to be warming at nearly two times the average rate of warming in the Northern Hemisphere.

The statement by ICIMOD noted that 241 million people live in the HKH region, of whom 31 per cent are “food-insecure” and “half of whom face some form of malnutrition”. 

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“This is a region that must be urgently prioritised for investment — to fund the fight to reverse nature loss and species extinction. Worldwide, we’re seeing a huge uptick in investments in ecosystem restoration and a growing recognition of the role that nature plays in human survival. We must ensure that funding to the HKH rises at an exponential rate before these fragile and crucial ecosystems collapse, by building nature into all investment and action. And we must accelerate policy, institutional and market reforms to make this happen. And also push for much more rapid increase in integrated global finance, especially for high value and vulnerable regions like the HKH,” said Chaudhary.

Mountains cover 22 per cent of Earth’s land surface but hold 50 per cent of the world’s global biodiversity hotspots. Given mountains’ acute vulnerability to climate change, ICIMOD researchers have called for IPBES to consider a dedicated Global Mountains assessment.

The ICIMOD statement noted that this was the first time an IPBES assessment meeting was being held in South Asia.

A meeting to advance a summary for policymakers will be held from February 10-11, after the e lead authors of the IPBES nexus assessment report have met from February 5-9.

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