Building Resilience In Mountains

Aug 6th, 2011 | By | Category: Advocacy, Capacity Development, Climatic Changes in Himalayas, Livelihood, M-20 CAMPAIGN, Youth Speak

Anamika Barua: Liverman (1994), who is a Professor of Geography and Development, in University of Arizona, once stated that “The most vulnerable people may not be living in the most vulnerable places-poor people can live in productive biophysical environments and be vulnerable and wealthy people can live in fragile physical environment and live relatively well”

This statement highlights that poverty and vulnerability has an intrinsic link as it directly relates to the access to resources, which affects both baseline vulnerability and coping from extreme events. I somehow find it hard to accept that climate change is the only factor which has made the mountain communities vulnerable and threatened their livelihoods. From my experiences of closely working with mountain communities, I realize that these communities have long faced challenges from a range of social, economic, political and environmental factors, and the threats from these factors have further been intensified due to the current climate change scenario. I will get back to this argument later, but, first let me discuss why mountain communities are considered to be most vulnerable to climate change.

Although the impact of climate change is not country, region or community specific but, it is predicted that mountain ecosystems and its communities will be worst affected by climatic changes. One of reasons for that is, mountain ecosystems have a unique, complex and fragile geomorphology, and hence they are highly sensitive to very small changes in the climatic conditions.

Also, this is not the only reason why mountain communities are vulnerable in Himalayan Mountains. The mountain communities in this region have tended to be left far behind in comparison to other parts of the countries, in terms of social and economic development, so the poverty is also very high. The Himalayan Mountains are inhabited by a multitude of ethnic minorities, tribes and clans whose dependence on natural resources magnifies the risks they face due to climate change. The economic activities for these communities are mostly comprised of tourism, fisheries and rain-fed agriculture, which are very sensitive to changing climatic conditions.

Moreover, the livelihood options available to the mountain communities are so limited due to lack of employment opportunities that they continue to remain poor and have never been able to strengthen their financial resilience. Apart from that difficult physical terrain served by very poor infrastructure, seasonality of agriculture, poor technological access, low industrialization etc make them further vulnerable both socially and economically. Therefore, I argue that, climate change in fact accentuate or reinforce existing vulnerabilities of mountain communities by further threatening their limited sources of livelihood.

To me the best way to reduce the vulnerability of mountain communities is by strengthening their resilience (building capacity to prevent or withstand shock) to climate change through human development along side economic development. This will develop their capacity from their existing (baseline) vulnerability and prepare them to adapt to the vagaries of climatic changes. In my view, this definitely requires a broader approach in terms of promotion of better market access, agriculture intensification, diversification of livelihood, better infrastructure, social programs, spending on health, education and wellbeing. While the technical solutions to conserve and manage natural resources can go on, policy focus should be also on building resilience as an approach to enhance the adaptive capacity of the mountain communities, which can assist in reducing vulnerability and adapting to changing climate or /and other stressors in the region in the future.


Youth Leaders SpeakAuthor: Dr. Anamika Barua wrote this article for Climate Himalaya’s Youth Leaders Speak column. Anamika is Assistant Professor of Ecological Economics at IIT Guwahati (India)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya group.


Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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6 Comments to “Building Resilience In Mountains”

  1. Parth Sarathi Mahapatra says:

    Well mam, but don’t you think research has a greater role to play in this aspect. To quantify each parameter and understand the interplay and to find out the ground level problems and co-relate them all with planning in these areas!

  2. Pabitra says:

    Interesting post Dr. Barua. Resilience is certainly needed. But I wonder if it’s time for us to encourage innovation right from grass root level. I see community based solutions coming up in increasing numbers and they are jolly good and effective!

    I hope resilience is inclusive of innovation.

    • Anamika says:

      Thanks for your response. Ofcourse research is needed. I think already a lot of research is underway to understand the complex issue of climate change. In my post what I am trying to emphasize is that whether it is community initiative, research, govt action , the whole idea should be to reduce their vulnerability to any extreme event. You will see now a days the first thing that we talk about is adaptation/ adaptation strategies, without even understanding the existing vulnerability (vulnerable to what, who are vulnerable – as i am sure you will agree that vulnerability varies from person to person, place to place) how do we know whether people have the capacity to adapt to the strategies that we have suggested. Hence i believe that building resilience is one of the important strategies – and yes it involves innovation too.

  3. In a seminar, I was asked the same question by a young man: Who is vulnerable? I was taken aback by the raw sincerity of the question. I kept my answer veri brief and gave a list in order of priority.
    1. Kids
    2. Women
    3. The poor
    4. The less educated.
    As to what are the vulnerabilities, there is a striking gap between the perceptions of the intelligentia and 1 to 4. I hope Climate Himalaya will one day bridge that gap.

    I look forward to your opinions and further posts.

  4. […] Dr. Anamika Barua suggests that the best way to reduce the vulnerability of mountain communities is by strengthening their resilience in terms of building their capacities. Link […]

  5. I’m right with you that community resilience is key. Research is not sufficient, and Mountain communities can figure out their own response. But they could use some support. We can encourage them to share what works with each other. See The Constellation for inspiration and an approach.


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