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Synopsis: To save biodiversity-rich places the governments of Uttarakhand and the entire Himalayan region must preserve their forests and reflect on their infrastructure model.
The latest floods in Uttarakhand caused terrible damage to life and property are a warning about the climate tragedy that is building up in the Himalayas.
If the mountain range’s rich natural wealth is to be saved for the future, govt will have to respect the landscape.
Why Himalayas need to be preserved?
The Himalayas are home to many rare and endemic species of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects. The Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau are also the water tower of South Asia.
Moreover, much of the region’s population, cutting across political boundaries is poor.Hence, steps need to be taken to preserve the region.
What steps can be taken to preserve Himalayan biodiversity of India?
Key to protecting Himalayan biodiversity, climate mitigation as well as livelihood generation are:
‘Forests’ and ‘infrastructure’.
i). Forest conservation is the only way to protect the rare species, for slope stabilisation as well as climate mitigation and providing better livelihoods to people.
The first step should be to focus on forest restoration in both Himachal and Uttarakhand. The forest cover should be of hardwood mixed deciduous type. Because chir pine are not capable of stabilising the slopes. Pines are very shallow rooted. They are also more prone to fire.
ii). Infrastructure: The second important step to prevent a climate catastrophe in the Himalayas was to focus on infrastructure. The planning of infrastructure has to be much more sensitive to the fragility of these slopes. Even before the Uttarakhand floods, there were huge landslides along the Char Dham route. It was an old historic route which was just doing fine. But the doubling of its width without paying attention to geological and technical considerations has caused havoc.
Lessons from Bhutan: The Bhutanese have recognised that their future wellbeing depends on healthy forests. They have a specific land use plan in which areas have been demarcated for forests which are not to be used for tourism or construction. India needs to take similar steps. States such as Uttarakhand needed to have a very strict and scientifically-designed land use plan too,
What is the way forward?
Himalayas span political boundaries, so India needs to take the lead and set an example towards developing a more sustainable Himalayan landscape.
India is a leader in south Asia having the money and technical expertise that poorer countries such as Nepal and Bhutan do not.
Source: This post is based on the article “Uttarakhand Floods: Respect Himalayan landscape if you want to preserve it, say experts” published in Down to Earth on 21st Oct 2021.