HKH post COVID-19 resilient recovery plans must consider mountain realities
As governments around the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region reel from the shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic immediate, medium- and long-term responses must be inclusive of mountain realities to be truly effective and meaningful and to concurrently address the region’s significant climate change challenges.
Climate change has left HKH mountain environments and communities vulnerable, and the pandemic has exacerbated these vulnerabilities. The dramatic economic decline and loss of livelihoods as a result of the pandemic has impacted mountain communities across the region particularly hard. Remittances and tourism-based income – economic lifelines for mountain people – have been severed. Agriculture and trade in high-value mountain products have been impacted by disruptions in transport and access to markets for trade and inputs. Since poverty and malnutrition rates are higher in the mountains than in other parts of the HKH countries, the pandemic threatens to exacerbate hunger and to push large numbers of mountain people into poverty. If environmental connections and ecosystem restoration are neglected, the likelihood of more zoonotic disease outbreaks and pandemics increases.
Resilience beyond the pandemic
To bring a clear focus to the mountain communities in the region, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has published a policy paper on COVID-19 impacts and policy responses in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. This policy paper addresses critical issues for the mountains including impacts across mountain economies; food and nutrition security; and social, gender, and environmental dimensions as well as climate actions and resilience, and regional and international cooperation. It argues for an inclusive and resilient recovery through scaled-up social protection systems, nature-based solutions, an inclusive and robust financial landscape, a resilient entrepreneurial ecosystem, resilient infrastructure development, and a sustainable and inclusive labour market. The recommendations are meant to guide HKH governments in planning their resilient recovery and to build back better for a more prosperous future.
This inclusive and resilient recovery will assist mountain communities to recover from the current shock of the pandemic while also addressing the imminent threats posed by climate change in the region. In an interview, Eklabya Sharma, ICIMOD’s Deputy Director General, pointed out, “It is clear that sooner or later we will have a vaccine for COVID-19, but there’s no vaccine for climate change.” Since the impacts of climate change on the environments and peoples of the HKH will remain even after the pandemic is over, it is important that post-pandemic recovery plans focus on climate action, resilience, and sustainable mountain development.
Collective response for a global resource
Healthy mountain ecosystems and economies are essential for the overall prosperity and well-being of the region and of the globe. The HKH region is the pulse of the planet. It provides water, biodiversity, and other ecosystems resources to nearly two billion people living in the mountains and downstream, and serves as a measure for the overall health of the planet, since what happens here impacts what happens across the globe.
Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, momentum had been built towards an HKH Call to Action based on the findings of the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment and this sort of regional cooperation around issues of common concern will only grow in importance. Working together, the HKH countries can more effectively address transboundary issues of labour migration and remittance, cross-border trade, disaster management, and protection of ecosystems while also harnessing international funds to address climate change.
Just as mountain and other marginalized communities must remain at the centre of responses to this pandemic, climate change must also remain at the centre of global, regional, and national responses. A more humane, inclusive, sustainable, and equitable global order is the need of the hour. We can together ensure a prosperous future for the HKH and when the pulse of the planet in the HKH beats strongly, we know that the planet is healthy.