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.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya group.
- Mountain Development Learning Alliance- A Must! (chimalaya.org)
- Climate Change; Moving from Problems to solutions (chimalaya.org)
- Beyond Climate Change Estimations (chimalaya.org)
- Impacts assessment and climate change adaptation: Strategies in Makawanpur District, Nepal (chimalaya.org)
- Kathmandu highly vulnerable to climate change impacts (chimalaya.org)
- Livestock, Livelihoods and Climate Change Interaction Project Launched (chimalaya.org)
- Institutional Arrangements for Climate Change in Pakistan (chimalaya.org)
- Building resilience in Mountains (chimalaya.org)
- Mountaineers see dramatic climate change in the Himalayan region (chimalaya.org)
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>>