Mountain and hill areas form a substantial part of The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) region – over 1.1 million square kilometres, or 23% of total land area. They are home to 140 million people, and a further 1.5 billion people downstream depend directly or indirectly on the mountains for a range of goods and services, including water, energy, food, and biodiversity. Most of the large rivers in the BIMSTEC region originate in the Himalaya and other mountains and hills. They are important sources of energy for the lowlands, containing most of the region’s existing and potential hydropower production sites. Mountains are therefore an important source of vital ecosystem services and play a significant role in economic development, environmental protection, ecological sustainability, and human wellbeing.
Although the BIMSTEC region has seen rapid economic and social development in recent decades, growth is not uniform across or within countries. Hill and mountain areas have generally lagged behind. These areas face challenges of poor physical connectivity, higher climate change vulnerability, inadequate facilities for regional tourism, and low investment to tap existing economic opportunities.
Economic growth and sustainability of both upland and lowland communities is only possible through better integration, improved connectivity, and sustainable natural resource use. Regional integration has the potential to contribute to sustained growth, poverty alleviation, and inclusive development. It opens up opportunities for leveraging economic growth and sustainable development within and across the BIMSTEC member countries and to address the challenges of managing the food-water-energy nexus. There is potential for shared benefits from regional trade, regional connectivity through waterways, clean energy through hydropower, biodiversity conservation, regional tourism, and mitigation of regional flood risks and damages.
In order to reap the full benefits of inter-regional cooperation, a coordinated response is needed that enhances the connectivity of mountain communities to national and regional markets and seaports and removes barriers to cross-border movement. It is important to identify concrete implementable projects in which multi-country cooperation would yield tangible benefits for mountain regions. The immediate priorities could be as follows:
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