Hindu Kush Himalayas: joining forces to combat the impact of climate change

Article, 11.12.2017

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region has been hit hard by the impact of climate change. To help the local people successfully adapt to this new reality, the SDC is supporting the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), based in Kathmandu, Nepal. The organisation provides eight countries in the region with a platform for creating and adopting new approaches to sustainable mountain development.

Landscape with village, fields and river at the foot of the mountains
The mountainous Trans-Himalayan region of Tibet is one of the world’s most vulnerable environments to climate change. © Jitendra Raj Bajracharya / ICIMOD

Receding glaciers, dried-up water sources, endangered flora and fauna, and heightened risk of environmental disasters: climate change has long since become reality for the inhabitants of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. However, these impacts also threaten the livelihood and well-being of billions of people who live along the lower reaches of the great river systems in South and East Asia. 

It therefore comes as no surprise that supporting the local population in adapting to the new realities is high on the SDC’s priority list. «The ecosystems and inhabitants of this mountainous terrain are highly vulnerable and, as you would expect, they react sensitively to the negative effects of climate change,» says Manfred Kaufmann, one of the SDC’s experts on climate change in mountain regions. «That makes it all the more important for the countries in the region to come together and join forces in tackling the issue.»

A key partner for the SDC

The instrument through which this is to be achieved is ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development). This international learning and knowledge-sharing hub based in Kathmandu (Nepal) serves eight of the region’s countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. The SDC, which has provided the centre with support ever since its foundation in 1983, decided in November 2017 to contribute a further CHF 1 million a year for the next five years, but to shift the focus more towards the impacts of climate change. «We view ICIMOD as a key partner in sustainable mountain development and climate change adaptation – at both the regional and global level,» says Kaufmann, explaining the decision.

The head office of ICIMOD, an international learning and knowledge-sharing hub
ICIMOD, an international learning and knowledge-sharing centre, is based in Kathmandu (Nepal). © Jitendra Raj Bajracharya / ICIMOD

ICIMOD is active on a number of fronts – from researching climate change and its impacts to knowledge sharing and developing brand new policy approaches that can be put into practice at the local, national or even international level. Concrete examples include efforts to promote new methods of water management and to develop and provide access to solar-powered irrigation pumps. ICIMOD also supports the marketing of agricultural produce and handicrafts, with the proceeds going directly towards the affected mountain population.

ICIMOD as a transnational platform

A particularly important aspect from the SDC's point of view is the fact that the centre functions as a transnational platform through which country representatives, subject-matter experts, planners and local residents can swap ideas on the sustainable development of mountain regions. «ICIMOD is the only institution in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region to systematically include scientific aspects of climate change in the policy dialogue and link them to everyday life in the mountain areas,» states Kaufmann. By supporting the organisation, the SDC aims to further consolidate ICIMOD’s already important role as a regional platform for policy dialogue on climate change. In future, ICIMOD projects dedicated specifically to improving livelihoods are to pay particular attention to marginalised women and ethnic minorities. 

Alongside its core contribution, the SDC also provides targeted support for the centre’s activities in a number of thematic areas, including:

  • Improved management of water resources in the catchment areas of the region’s great rivers to ensure that people living both upstream and downstream have sustainable access to water.

  • Conducting further research in the permafrost zone to create a better understanding among the countries in the region of how to handle the impact of climate change.

  • Strengthening the dialogue between scientists and policy-makers so that the outcomes of research into climate change can be more easily leveraged when formulating new strategies and recommendations. 

What may sound complicated ultimately all comes down to one thing, as Manfred Kaufmann explains: «We want to help people in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region to successfully adapt to the new realities around them.»