Mountain Economies in BIMSTEC Countries: An Agenda for Regional Cooperation and Shared Prosperity.

Executive Summary

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:

  • Improving intra-regional and inter-regional connectivity by rail, road, air, and waterway to accelerate economic growth and alleviate poverty. Priority needs to be given to improving multimodal physical connectivity to landlocked countries and mountain areas. Water transportation offers potential pathways for enhancing connectivity.
  • Promoting trade by removing trade barriers, including removing transit restrictions for landlocked and mountain regions, and opening up port facilities for international trade.
  • Promoting energy trade particularly hydropower for improving regional economies. Cooperation and trade in energy could be mutually beneficial for both hydropower resource surplus and deficit countries and open up opportunities for increased use of clean energy and sustainable development.
  • Ensuring the long-term sustainability of mountain ecosystems. Benefits derived from mountain regions in terms of water, energy, biodiversity, and other ecosystem services are essential for sustainable development. It is important to prioritize actions to conserve mountain ecosystems and address the challenges of sustainable development in mountain regions and downstream.
  • Investing in infrastructure and human resource development and improving technical know-how including skill development for human mobility and intra-regional labour movement.
  • Promoting tourism among BIMSTEC countries through regional cooperation. Infrastructure and transport facilities need to be improved and travel procedures, particularly cross-border movement, simplified – without undermining security concerns.


For further information please contact

Dr. Golam Rasul, Chief Economist, ICIMOD

Bindu Bhandari, Media Unit, ICIMOD + 977-1-5275222 Ext 115

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