Everybody lives upstream: the watershed approach for the changing climate of the Hindu Kush Himalaya

Everybody lives upstream: the watershed approach for the changing climate of the Hindu Kush Himalaya

Globally, the watershed approach has been proven as a way to bridge human and natural systems for the conservation, sustainable use, and renewal of natural resources, especially water.

Reforms and decentralization across the global South have elevated the need to build on participatory watershed development and management, particularly among major development organizations promoting investments and interventions in watersheds across the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH).

Given the suitability and perceptible impacts of watershed approach on sustainable natural resource management most of HKH countries now have national development strategies in place that expect to counter conservation and development challenges at scale posed by non-climatic as well as climatic factors. Diverse perspectives notwithstanding, project experience across the HKH demonstrates that the watershed management approach can, under the right mix of specific instruments and associated investments, create the synergies required both for sustainable soil and water conservation and for the optimisation of resource use that will improve the local livelihoods. The overall conclusion is that we need to follow the principle of partnership and collaboration and establish a viable working relationship with the participating governments since the proposed New Generation Watershed Management (NWGM) initiatives are going to be tested and applied in their territory for the benefit of their people. It is understood that NGWM will have to take on board both, climatic and non-climatic issues, which in combination have exacerbated the complexity in managing the watershed landscapes.

In other words, several key structural and reform processes (e.g., decentralization, water governance institutions) in HKH have been slow, and hence inherent issues of good governance, participatory management of natural resources, use of value-added technologies and productive involvement of private sector have not been resolved. Climate agenda has been added only off-late and hence a huge demand of innovating upon the current watershed management practices has emerged.

The new watershed initiatives in HKH need to network key institutions to collaborate on testing NGWM in critical RBs/Watersheds. While the ’Strategic Results Framework’ of ICIMOD provides a wider scope for testing NGWM through its transboundary landscape management and river basin management initiatives, the Mountain Partnership on the other hand offers an advocacy platform for its vertical and horizontal levels integration. The new concept can rely on the above 4 strategic pathways as aligned to regional and global demands for finding answers to: How should transboundary cooperation work?; How adaptive management can be practiced?; Can local financial mechanisms be the panacea for sustainability of impacts and financial investments made?; and How modern institutions for capacity building should look like?; and which are the promising capacity building packages for tackling regional challenges thrown by climatic and non-climatic factors? The adapted concept is designed to involve HKH countries, government interventions and range of institutions and communities. The concept, however, needs to integrate in existing institutional structures and thus avoid duplicity and needless complexity and confusion. Formal and informal local government structures can provide viable entry points for broad-sector collaboration. The concept is timely as transboundary cooperation in HKH – as realized by all nations - is the key to secure and sustain watershed based ecosystems for the benefit and welfare of massive populations across upstream-downstream boundaries having transnational character. More importantly, adoption of NGWM in the Himalayan context will help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, as it aligns generally with several goals such as # 1, 5, 6, 13 and more specifically with goal # 15 (4). This keeping in view that poverty in HKH is still higher than plains of South Asia, due to outmigration of men, women issues have become pertinent, climate change is fast emerging as a future challenge, other natural disasters and sustainable management of resources and good resource governance remain enigmatic themes. This publication is a product of a major workshop outputs held in 2011 by ICIMOD jointly with FAO and is complemented by learning of some key watershed development initiatives in HKH over the last decade.

The report was co-funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Nepal.

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