Scientists say Hindu Kush Himalaya a biosphere on brink of 'collapse'

Around 241 million people live in the region, of whom 31 per cent are food insecure, say researchers

Representative image (photo: National Herald archives)
Representative image (photo: National Herald archives)


Scientists on Monday declared the Hindu Kush Himalaya region a biosphere on the brink of collapse, and called for bold action and urgent finance to prevent the loss of one of the most biodiverse areas on earth at a key meeting of global biodiversity experts.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) issued the call as more than 130 global experts convened in Kathmandu, Nepal, for the Third Lead Authors meeting of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) nexus assessment to examine the linkages between food and water security, health, biodiversity and climate change.

The meeting got underway on Monday and will continue until 9 February, with a summary for policymakers scheduled for 10-11 February. This is the first time an IPBES assessment meeting is being held in South Asia.

Established in 2012 with 145 member-states, the IPBES functions similarly to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with an aim to strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The nexus assessment seeks to enhance understanding of the intricate relationships between biodiversity, water, food and health in the context of climate change. The goal is to identify options for improved policies and foster collaboration across related sectors.

Researchers at ICIMOD, which is hosting the meeting, describe the speed and scale of losses in nature and habitat in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, which stretches 3,500 km and spans eight countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan — as catastrophic.

"It is almost too late," ICIMOD deputy director general Izabella Koziell told delegates to the IPBES meeting. "Four of the world's 36 global biodiversity hotspots are in this region. Twelve of the global 200 ecoregions, 575 protected areas, 335 important bird areas — those figures speak for themselves. Yet we are in an accelerating crisis, despite the efforts of everyone here and many in the international community. Seventy per cent of the original biodiversity has been lost over the last century," she said.

"The declines in nature across this region are so advanced, and accelerating so fast, that they now pose a threat to the lives of not just animal and plant life, but also human societies," said IPBES author and ICIMOD ecosystems specialist Sunita Chaudhary.

Around 241 million people live in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, of whom 31 per cent are food insecure.

"This is a region that must be urgently prioritised for investment — to fund the fight to reverse nature loss and species extinction. Worldwide, we are seeing a huge uptick in investments in ecosystem restoration and a growing recognition of the role that nature plays in human survival. We must ensure that funding to the Hindu Kush Himalaya (region) rises at an exponential rate before these fragile and crucial ecosystems collapse," she said.

Chaudhary and ICIMOD colleagues Abid Hussein and Nakul Chettri are among the experts contributing to the nexus assessment report.

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