The first comprehensive assessment of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), an integrated science-policy initiative coordinated by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) finds that the HKH region is undergoing rapid change driven by forces such as climate change, disasters, economic growth, globalization, infrastructure development, land use change, migration and urbanization. Changes on the roof of the world are having and will have major consequences not only for people living in the region but globally.
The HKH is one of the greatest mountain systems in the world covering 4.2 million square kilometer across eight countries like Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, China, India and Myanmar.
The study warns that actions at national, regional and international scales are urgently needed to sustain this global asset, focusing on more investment and robust regional cooperation for sustaining mountain environments and livelihood in the HKH and concerted action to keep global warming to less than 1.5 degree Celsius by 2100.
Director General, David Molden said, “Global change and global warming are going to impact the HKH region very severely. The evidence is clear and we have to act now. The report provides important insights on what we can do as community, as a region, as a nation and at a global stage to protect the global asset.”
“The massive size and the global significance of the HKH region is unquestionable, yet this is the first report to lay down in definitive detail the region’s critical importance to the well being of billion of people and its alarming vulnerability in the face of climate change”, Director General said.
The HKH monitoring and assessment programme is a platform for long term collaboration and coordination among a board and diverse group of more than 350 leading researchers, practitioners and policy specialists working in the HKH. Experts from the region have come together to develop the first comprehensive assessment of the HKH as the first in a series of monitoring and assessment reports.
The HKH region is home to the world’s highest peaks, unique cultures, diverse flora and fauna, and a vast reserve of natural resources. It is the source of 10 river basins and provides ecosystem services that directly sustain the livelihoods of 240 million people in the mountain and hill of HKH. Nearly 1.65 billion people living downstream benefit directly or indirectly from its resources and 3 billion people benefit from food produced in its river basins.
The study finds that even the ambitious Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degree by the end of the century would lead to a 2.1 spike in temperature and the melting of one third of the region’s glacier by 2100.
The report says, “According to a compilation of glacier mass and area change studies, glaciers in most regions are shrinking and losing mass. It is projected that glacier mass loss will accelerate through the 21st century.”
The report also finds that air pollution in the HKH is on rise and regional air quality has worsened in the past two decades, with the adjacent indo-Gangetic Plains now one of the most polluted regions in the world. Persistent winter fog and haze have increased across the Indo-Gangetic Plains leading to reduced visibility and elevated air pollution affecting air quality in HKH.
The HKH is sensitive to climate change, air pollutants originating within and near the HKH amplify the effects of greenhouse gases and accelerate melting of cryosphere through the deposition of black carbon and dust.
The report states, ‘more than one billion people are at risk of exposure to increasing frequency and intensity of natural hazards. These changes hit the poor hardest. Over 30 per cent of the population suffers from food insecurity and around 50 per cent face some form of malnutrition, with women and children suffering the most. Traditional mountain food systems are under threat from rapid socioeconomic and environmental changes.