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Lack of cross-border cooperation limits climate readiness in S. Asia

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 19 Nov 2013 12:00 AM
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A farmer waters her vegetable field in Panityanki, a mountain village in Nepal's Kavrepalanchowk district, about 35 kilometers from Kathmandu. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Saleem Shaikh
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WARSAW (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Adequate technology and technical know-how exist in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya region to address climate change mitigation and adaptation, experts say.

But a lack of cross-border political collaboration in South Asia, scarce political will and lingering security  issues in the region are major roadblocks to the transfer of technology and know-how that would build climate resilience, according to climate and mountain community experts speaking on the sidelines of the U.N. climate negotiation in Warsaw.

They urged mountain countries to set aside their political and military differences and look at the roadblocks that hamper them from collaborating in tackling climate change as a serious regional issue. Learning from each other’s adaptation and mitigation experiences could promote sustainable development across South Asia’s mountain nations, said officials from the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

History, diverse languages and cultures, and military conflicts are behind the lack of collaboration, they said.

The Hindu Kush and Himalaya region provides water for one fifth of the world's population, including countries stretching from Pakistan to Myanmar, but its people and ecosystems are under pressure from climate change.

COOPERATION ‘ESSENTIAL’

“Well-designed trans-boundary cooperation approaches are essential to ensure the sustainability of ecosystem services that are received from the mountains," said Eklabya Sharma, director of programme operations for ICIMOD.

Sharma and colleagues urged negotiators from South Asian mountain countries at the U.N. climate talks to work at the talks toward figuring out how to benefit from each others’ knowledge and push for collaboration to protect vital mountain ecosystems that provide livelihood for billions of households and fuel mountain countries’ economies.

“The global climate forum can be used to push them to boost political collaboration,” said Nand Kishor Agrawal, coordinator for the Norwegian-funded Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP) at ICIMOD.

Rebecca Nadin, director of the Adapting to Climate Change in China project of the UK Department of International Development, said that the “adaptation without borders” approach should not be limited to just geographic or political borders.

“While these are essential, the complex nature of adaptation policy and planning means other borders between sectors, technical disciplines, and (regional and local) … levels must be crossed,” she said.

To deal with the problems that face them, mountain countries should press for more funding for mitigation and adaptation programmes dealing with forest, water and agriculture issues.

“This is particularly important as over 1.3 billion people live in mountain countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya region while more than half of humanity directly or indirectly depends on the mountains resources in different mountain regions and their downstream areas, Sharma stressed.

EARLY FLOOD WARNING

For instance, the Hindu Kush Himalayan region is flood prone, with floods accounting for over a third of the total natural disasters in the region.

In Nepal, the Bhote Koshi Power Company, a private entity, has installed an early flood warning system that benefits communities in Sindhupalchowk district, some 112 km (70 miles) northeast of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.    

The early warning system’s sensors give villagers 5-8 minutes’ notice of a flood – just enough time to save themselves. But such technology has not yet made its way to some other mountain countries in the region.

Sharma believes the mountain development agenda could still be included in a new global deal on climate change, due to be agreed in 2015, although mountain issues are relatively low profile at the ongoing U.N. climate talks in Poland.

Sharma said climate change is further marginalising already vulnerable communities living in fragile mountain ecosystems.

Although some mountain communities have a high level of self reliance and a rich tradition of risk-reducing practices, the rapid pace at which change is occurring compromises their capacity to effectively deal with it, he said.

Mountains have long been recognised as a separate and important environment for sustainable development work. But there is still a “need to hammer out specific policies and activities for mountain areas,” said Lawrence Hislop, head of the polar and cryosphere programme of the Grid Arendal, a centre collaborating with the United Nations Development Programme.

Mountains occupy 24 percent of the global land surface and are home to 12 percent of the world’s population. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s people indirectly depend on water, hydroelectricity, timber, and other resources from mountain areas, according to ICIMOD reports. 

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Islamabad.

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