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
The Himalaya region is exposed to almost all types of major natural disasters including earthquakes, floods, landslides, droughts, storms, and avalanches. A wide range of physiological, geological, ecological, meteorological, and demographic factors contribute to occurrence of these disasters, but more prominent in the Himalaya are rapid population growth, slow economic development, high degree of environmental degradation, fragility of the land mass, and high elevation steep mountain slopes. At the same time, global warming and climate change have not only adversely impacted the environment and people’s livelihood but have also led to increased severity and frequency of natural disasters in the Himalaya.
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.