The Himalaya region, a habitat for diverse flora and fauna is undergoing dramatic environmental degradation and social transformation. Major drivers of these phenomena are improper land use trend, unplanned infrastructure development, demographic pressure, increasing deforestation, improper policies for natural resource usage, and so on. More recently, climate change is also posing an extensive threat to the Himalayan environment and people’s livelihood in the region. Some of the most significant and recent predictions of changes are frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, such as intense rainfalls leading to flash floods, landslides, and debris flows and increasing global temperature that has led to frequent droughts, scarce drinking water, and accelerated glacier melt in the high Himalayan region. The Himalayan glaciers will continue to melt in all global warming scenarios making the region most prone to glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs).
Degradation of the environmental resource base on which much of the Himalayan population depends has been a prime subject of extensive analysis. In Nepal’s context, there is increasing evidence that the natural resource exploitation and subsequent environmental degradation are the results of political and institutional weaknesses of last 50 years. In order to reverse these processes and ensure a conserved environment, there is a strong need of implementing environmental conservation measures, and this can be achieved by acting in an integrated approach linking forestry, agriculture, livestock, water and land use with the objectives of helping the communities to conserve and manage land and water, and also to protect other vulnerable natural regimes. Much can be done at local levels to overcome the problems of environmental degradation, but this will be ineffective if it is not appropriately supported by national- and global-level policy makers. In this context, Himalaya Conservation Group (HCG) has been established by a highly experienced and environmentally motivated group of people from political, social, and technical backgrounds to work towards conservation of the Himalaya from local to regional level.
Disaster – a prime issue for the Himalaya conservation
Nepal lies in an active seismicity zone of the Himalaya region, and it probably is seismically the most vulnerable place in the region. The main reason why Nepal is vulnerable to earthquake disasters is poorly constructed public buildings and houses, especially in densely populated urban areas. Landslides, land subsidence, and floods are also frequent as a result of extreme weather events. Glacial lake outburst floods triggered by a wide range of hydrological and seismic factors are also common in the Himalaya. All this indicates that natural disasters are recurrent in nature and changes are an ongoing natural process. So, enhancing people’s disaster adaptation capacity is one of the most important challenges to all stakeholders today.
Deteriorating beauty of the Himalayan mountains
Primarily due to climate change effects and somewhat due to human activities such as littering, dumping of the climbing equipment and accessories and improper solid waste management, there have been growing concerns in recent years that the Himalayan mountains are undergoing deterioration of environment as well as their beauty. As a large part of the economy of Nepal and a few other Himalayan nations depends on mountaineering and tourism in the Himalayas, it can be expected that the economy of these nations will be affected largely should this problem continue to grown in the days ahead. Although precise investigations on the rate of reduction in the snow cover of the Himalayan mountains are yet to be carried out, about 60 years of photographic comparison indicates that some parts of the Himalaya that used have snow cover even in the summers have now turned into ugly black rock masses. This has led to uglier view of the Himalayan mountains, and it is attributed not only to melting of the snow covers due to increased global temperatures but probably also to climate change-caused decreased amount of snowfall. All these have led to deteriorated beauty and environment of the Himalaya.
Conservation of natural/cultural heritages
There are several natural and cultural heritage sites in the Himalaya region. Heritage sites are important because they display a region’s or nation’s natural, historic, and artistic achievements. However, the essence of these heritage sites in Nepal as well as the Himalaya region is being heavily threatened by natural disasters, air and water pollutions, uncontrolled haphazard urbanization, and unchecked tourism development. More recently, because of social transformation, ethnic groups and ethnic cultures are also in danger of extinction. Many of the ties binding diverse groups of people within the villages have now become much weaker. This takes place mainly because the development process reduces number of tasks and frequency of interaction required within the narrowly defined village groups. Communities continue to exist but they are more individualistic and less defined than they traditionally were. Protecting characteristic culture of the communities also comes under the responsibility of HCG.