Dr David Molden, Director General, ICIMOD (International Center for Integrated Mountain Development), Nepal, Intergovernmental Organisation working for the betterment of people living in Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region. Dr. Molden, has been instrumental for the development of the “Himalayan University Consortium” to promote academic learning and exchange in HKH.
Prior to joining ICIMOD, Dr. Molden was DDG, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) based in Sri Lanka and was awarded with prestigious “Crystal Drop Award & Stockholm Water Price” awards for his contribution in this domain. In a candid chat with Dr Anil Jaggi, Editor-in –Chief, CompanyCSR (leading CSR News & Views Portal), Dr. Molden spoke about the journey of ICIMOD under his visionary leadership and future roadmap to support UN-SDGs in HKH region.
Q: Please do share the vision and philosophy of ICIMOD, tasks undertaken, accomplishments,and challenges in the past decade.
ICIMOD is an intergovernmental knowledge and learning centrethat develops and shares research, information, and innovations to empower people in the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. Our focus is on mountain environments and mountain livelihoods. Our vision is that people of the HK Hindu Kush Himalaya enjoy improved well-being in a healthy mountain environment. So all of our activities are aligned with that.
In the last decade, we have been addressing issues of change in the HKH. We have issues of outmigration, climate change, and change brought about by globalization processes. This is also a region challenged by poverty and malnutrition. So it is a very complex environment. ICIMOD’s role is to develop solutions, backed by research and science, to help mountain people respond, build resilience, and adapt to change.
Q: How do you define the role and responsibilities of ICIMOD in the 21st century in filling gaps and engaging concerned stakeholders, especially policymakers at the top?
One of the big challenges in the region is that mountain voices often go unheard. So we are working with people in remote areas, often impoverished communities, who are perhaps not as politically active as others. So, our job is to find out what is happening in the mountains to develop solutions. Then, we convey these messages to a broader public and to policy makers in our HKH region and beyond.
Q: How important is it to conserve the fragile biodiversity and ecology of the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) for the rest the world?
HKH is a critically important area for biodiversity. If we lose that battle, the world will suffer a great loss. We have very rich biodiversity in the HKH region. We have parts or all of four global biodiversity hotspots, 30 Ramsar sites, and 330 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). An estimated 39 percent of the landmass in the HKH is under some form of protection. Yet, we also see a lot of ecosystem degradation and habitat loss.So,a primary task is to protect the biodiversity and ecology of the HKH while at the same time supporting livelihoods depending on these ecosystems. If we take agricultural biodiversity, the HKH has great diversity of crops, fruits, medicine and livestock. It is these genetic resources that will help us deal with climate change in the long run. It is also this diversity that offers keys to enhance livelihoods of mountain women and men.
Q: How do you see the relevance of the UNSDGs for mountain communities in general and HKH communities in particular?
The HKH is the hotspot for meeting the SDGs as they deal with global challenges related to poverty, nutrition, gender inequality, environment, and water. If we can figure it out here, we have hope for the world as well. So, SDGs are incredibly relevant for the HKH. Yet, at the same time, global attention on the issue of SDGs in the mountains is not as strong as it should be. We have 240 million mountain people in the HKH; 30 percent of them live below the poverty line and 50 percent experience some form of malnutrition.
Q: The Himalaya is a major source of natural resources—water, fresh air, flora and fauna,minerals and timber. What are your suggestions for the world community to compensate for these resources as responsible consumers?
If we just look at the HKH, it may seem important for the 240 million mountain people who live in the hills and mountains. But if we think of water, biodiversity and energy the HKH is important for 1.9 billion people who live in the river basins downstream. Over 3 billion people benefit from the food produced in the river basins that originate here. If something goes wrong in the mountains, there will be knock-on effects for the rest of the world. So it is really a global resource. This global resource is now threatened by climate change. So, we urgently need more funds from the global community for conservation and adaptation. We also need a lot more effort to spend that money wisely in the mountains.
Q: ICIMOD works in eight countries. How do you differentiate development practices taking place here with other mountain ranges, especially for women and youth of the region(s)?
One of the advantages that ICIMOD has is being able to learn from diverse experiences in these eight countries. We can also share experiences and get ideas from other mountain regions like the Alps and Andes. There are fantastic solutions already being tested and implemented in the mountains. What we need to do is learn more about them, tell others, and get them to adopt and adapt these solutions.
Other areas that are of special concern in the region are gender equality and out-migration. Social barriers are being broken and more and more women are taking up leadership roles. So, there has been progress. But we also see male-dominated institutions that don’t necessarily accept or give that space to women to progress. That is something we have to work on more.
Q: The search for better employment opportunities is the major cause of migration in the HKH. What are your observations and suggestions to address such issues?Would you like to share a success story?
We have to focus on youth in the mountains. There are many highvalue mountain products. If we can value add and find markets for them, they could be important for income generation and employment for mountain communities. There is a possibility to decrease out-migration if we can create exciting jobs for the youth around these value chains. Sustainable tourism is another solution.
ICIMOD worked with government of Myanmar to develop a strategy for ecotourism. We also worked with the local community of Ruma in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh to setup homestays. Now they have more tourists visiting there. We have been promoting homestays in various locations to ensure that the benefits of tourism are spread to remote locations and communities. There are several such examples of work with local communities across the eight countries.
Q: What are your suggestions to and expectations from the private sector, especially under their strategic CSR, in terms of supporting this mission?
CSR has an important role in identifying opportunities and working with youth. We need an active and responsible private sector working for sustainable mountain development.
Q: Can you share the roadmap of ICIMOD for the next decade? How do you see ICIMOD fulfilling the expectations of the UN SDGs?
The next decade is absolutely critical for climate change and achieving the SDGs. We have until 2030 to meet the SDG targets so if we don’t start working at it fast and hard, we will be far away from reaching those goals. ICIMOD has an important role to speedup the pace of development in the HKH region. ICIMOD has also developed nine mountain priorities and six urgent actions for the HKH that are in line with the SDGs. The next step is to get member countries and the global community to act on these recommendations and priority areas.