Shalini Dhyani: Writes about the increasing pressure on the Himalayan ecosystem in Indian Himalayan region due to tourist influx, immigrants from neighboring country, environmental degradation and increasing population pressure. She suggests Payment for Environmental Services- PES a way forward through appropriate planning.
“The most striking feature of earth is the existence of life, and the most striking feature of life is its diversity” an statement made by Prof. Tilman a well-known face in the field of Evolution and Ecology.
The Indian Himalayan region (IHR) covers approximately 18% of the geographical area of India, but accounts for more than 50% of India’s forest cover. The sustainability of these forests depends greatly on their efficiency, flexibility and human activities. Biodiversity of all these forests is used for varied purposes by indigenous people and is the main life support system.
Traditionally the locals have been using and managing these resources in sustainable manner. However, harmony and delicate balance that existed during the past among users and resources has been severely disturbed as the needs were gradually replaced by demands and there is rapid increase in human population too. This has resulted in the intense and wide ranging land use activity and overexploitation of resources.
The Garhwal and Kumaon part of Himalaya (in Uttarakhand) have, recently witnessed a rather faster pace of modernization and development than what it’s ecosystem and cultural-could really absorb. Such signs of pressure and damage are now very much apparent in inhabitants of this region, in their lifestyle and also on many village ecosystems at at various levels.
For past few decades’ changes have been observed in the traditional land use practices also due to construction of roads, extension of agriculture in nearby forested land and of course influence of market forces and other environmental factors that have accelerated these changes. Besides, the influx of tourists (mainly pilgrimage to Hindu Shrines viz. Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri) has also increased including in many other parts of the Himalaya, which has not only mushroomed the growth of hotels and lodges but has also increased their resource dependency on surrounding forests.
Addition to this, the Nepali immigrants and Pack animals owners during April-September exert additional pressure during peak tourist season in all these pilgrimage areas. Due to lack of ample economic incentives for livelihood generation, increasing population pressure, conservation and imprudent exploitation of resources local people are suffering from acute poverty. Locals are finding it increasingly difficult to conserve forests and the biodiversity of the region and thus, it is dwindling fast.
Apart from these demands of subsistence living forest are under frequent threats due to fires, spread of invasive species and unregulated extraction of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) for various needs. The large-scale deforestation in many areas of Himalayas has resulted in several environmental problems. This degradation of forest is not only adversely affecting the local subsistence living and forest dependent livelihood sources, agriculture, agroforestry etc., but also impairing the flow of ecosystem services from mountain forest to the adjacent Indo-Gangetic plains.
The entire mountain system is an extensive watershed with a vast catchment area including so many mega and micro watersheds. Generally speaking as watershed is a geographical area that has the capacity to hold and discharge water and other beneficial ecosystem services like forests, riparian zones for regions in lower reaches and plains. The entire system of plains be it potable or irrigation is depends on the health and sustainability of these watersheds. These ecosystems produce not only goods such as fresh water and productive fertile soil, but they also a number of important functions or services that play crucial role or roles in supporting human, animal, and plant populations. A lot of landslides resulting from degradation of mountain forests and extreme rainfall occurrence throughout the region have been very visible for last couple of years.
The ecosystems are capital assets that provide a wide range of services and benefits. Ecosystem services derived from the forests of Uttarakhand were assessed by Prof. S.P. Singh in the year 2004 and were worth 2.4 billion dollars/yr. This may seem a very huge amount at one glance to many of the readers but believe me the worth of forests and Indian Himalayan Region can be even more in changing economic and climate change scenario. In order to appropriately assess environmental policy alternatives and the decisions that follows, it is essential to consider not only the value of the human activity and human pressure on natural forests, but also to consider the value of the ecosystem service that could be compromised. Despite, a growing recognition of the importance of ecosystem services, their value is often overlooked in decision-making, and, to date, that value has not been well quantified.
In the present Indian scenario, until the economic value of ecosystem goods and services is acknowledged in environmental decision-making, they will implicitly be assigned a value of zero in cost-benefit analyses, and policy choices will be biased against conservation. The National Research Council report, Valuing Ecosystem Services: Toward Better Environmental Decision-Making (Download:Valuing Ecosystem Services), supports for assigning economic value to ecosystem services-even intangible ones and discusses the need for greater collaboration between ecologists and economists in such efforts.
The Payment of Environmental Services (PES) is a very much discussed and relevant issue in current context and needs a serious consideration in Indian Himalayan context too when we talk about conservation, sustainable utilization and equitable sharing of benefits among all the basic idea behind Convention of Biological Diversity. Seeing the wide spread poverty and degrading forests of Himalayan states PES can be a very wise idea to support marginalised individuals dwelling in mountains and at the same time will also be giving them a reason to protect their surroundings and harvest the resources sustainably.
Though, most of the times a below poverty line family in mountains is not very much starving family unlike other parts of India, all thanks is to rich natural resources in their surrounding forests, forest led agriculture with least economic inputs, indigenous crops, sustainable cropping practices and supporting neighbours.
However, other benefits very much available in other parts of the country like medical health care system, transportation, communication system etc. are still seems to be distant dreams in Himalayas.
Therefore, the PES can be a good idea to use the fund for conservation of resources at one hand and betterment of facilities and lifestyle for inhabitants of hills. In this way somehow government can bridge the gap between rural poor and urban rich. Otherwise also we don`t have right to sit in our lavish homes well furnished with electricity and all and talk about conservation with trying to improve life and lifestyle of all those who dwell in toughest and most fragile geographical terrains of the world.
So, if PES can be considered it can be a very well thought, historical and wise decision for supporting livelihood demands and conservation needs of forests on these huge watersheds.
Recently, there have been some developments in applying economic thinking to the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The two points raised and to be considered are:
- Why prosperity and poverty reduction depends on maintaining the flow of benefits from the ecosystems? and
- Why successful environmental protection needs to be grounded on sound economics that includes explicit recognition, efficient allocation, and fair distribution of costs and benefits of conservation and sustainable use of natural resources?
The PES has the capacity to generate new funding options for biodiversity conservation and other ecosystem services that are beneficial for human beings. Natural systems in IHR have the capacity and opportunity to promote the new emerging idea of ‘Green Economy’. While, the awareness for PES and value of natural resources and ecosystem services in mountains is gaining popularity, there is also a very serious need to standardize the methodologies by which these assessments are made on values so that they are at-par throughout the globe.
More discussions are needed in this direction and off course opinions of locals residing in plains and hills are also very much desired to be considered before planning for or making any appropriate action plan in this context in Indian scenario. PES is a serious but can be a sensitive issue at the same time to be dealt before any decisions are made for Indian Himalayan Region, because, nobody can assure how many of urban citizens of India who are already burdened by so many taxes, inflation and rise in prices of common commodities will be willing to pay any more tax in the name of PES for conservation of forests, biodiversity, ecosystem services, natural resources, etc.
About Author: Shalini Dhyani has written this article for Climate Himalaya’s Youth Leaders Speak Column. Shalini’s research focus is on understanding the functioning of mountain ecosystem in context to livelihood and women.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s
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>>