The response to recent Uttarakhand disaster is seemingly inadequate, writes Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma. It has not only been a policy failure but institutional inadequacies lie exposed too. Mountain peculiarities have remained an exercise in academic deliberations. Often piecemeal and repetitive, several high level committees of the state have neither been able to foresee latent threats nor been visionary to suggest out-of-box actions to strengthen mountain resilience. It is high time the ‘solutionism’ perspective of predictable actions is laid to rest. The Himalayas can’t afford another ‘blunder’. Any takers?
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The worst disaster that struck Uttarakhand in June 2013 is already ‘history’! While the radical viewpoint has been that ”the disaster was waiting to happen’, tentative response is that ‘such disasters happen once in a century’. Between these two extreme viewpoints is, what is often called, the business-as-usual approach involving expert consultations, new initiatives and fresh collaborations engaging diverse stakeholders towards better emergency response and early forecasting of extreme events.
It must raise some degree of hope though accumulated evidences of the recent past indicate that far from ‘moving the mountains’ it is the mountains that have often moved men out of their slumber. No surprise, therefore, the mountain communities surviving on less than $2 a day remain vulnerable to growing climatic and environmental uncertainties. While the policy prescriptions have remained broadly inadequate, action research has rarely rose to the occasion to combat the mountain crises any bit.
If it sounds cynical so be it! Since 1982, more than a dozen task forces, working groups and high level expert panels have drafted and redrafted blueprints for addressing the mountain peculiarities. The last task force report, convened by India’s Planning Commission, was released in the year 2010. Suggestive in nature, the report had primarily stressed the need for the Himalayan states to regularly interact and share experiences for developing a common essential plan for the region.
No wonder, the mountain regions have become graveyard of failed policies and institutions. No claims to the contrary ever get made either! From forest research to crop improvement and from geological studies to remote sensing, the Himalayan region has been home to some 36 research institutions and over 24 universities spread across some 12 mountain states in the country. In addition, each of the states has its own institutional architecture to provide the necessary link for developments at the local level.
With an average of five public-funded research institutions and universities in each state, the region could not have asked for more. Ironically, however, the Rio+20 assessment of Sustainable Mountain Development has concluded that there has not been any significant change in environmental protection, economic growth and social improvement in the region. Clearly, the policy prescriptions and consequent institutional responses to the mountain issues have been found less-than-adequate.
The question that begs attention is: to what effect have these institutions and policies been in addressing the mountain concerns? It has been argued that despite huge financial investments across sectors the results have been deficient in making a difference to the life of people and the quality of their environments due to lack of coordination, planning, capacity and implementation. Yet, each of those dozen reports (and the related institutions) claim to have enlisted ‘solutions’ to diverse developmental challenges.
In the Himalayan context, the ‘solutionism’ perspective ought to be laid to rest because the problems have neither been fully understood nor been properly diagnosed. It has also been observed that there is missing or disconnected leadership among multiple stakeholders on various socio-environment development fronts. While the policy planners and subject specialists need to do some soul searching, the civil society has to get together in rising above its narrow confines.
While civil society initiatives need to address the challenge of ‘scale’ for their wider adoption and spread, the pan-Himalayan multi-stakeholder platform(s) aimed at amplifying mountain concerns need to raise questions on failed policies and institutions and create new frameworks for creative engagement with the state. Unless the bar gets raised and a challenge is thrown before the state, it is quite unlikely if men would be able to move the mountains!
————–Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma wrote this article for Climate Himalaya’s Expert Speak Column. Dr. Sharma is a development analyst based in New Delhi, India.
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>>