Saving the Roof of the World

10 Feb, 2019

 .. by Fateh-ul-Mulk Ali Nasir

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is an organization that not many in Pakistan have heard about, yet it has a vital role to play for the communities and ecosystems of the far north of our country. Most who have heard of it think it is an INGO but its actual status is different and more rooted in international law, yet at the same time a bit limited. An analysis of this organization shows that it is a highly competent one in its very specialized field but that it has plenty of room to grow both at an organizational level and especially with regards to the role that individual member states can and should play in the future.

ICIMOD is an intergovernmental organization. It was conceived during a meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Kathmandu, Nepal in 1979. Since its inception the Secretariat of ICIMOD has been located in Kathmandu and its mission statement is:

“To enable sustainable and resilient mountain development for improved and equitable livelihoods through knowledge and regional cooperation”.

It is an organization that is highly scientific in its subject area and outlook but at the same time also functions as a forum for inter governmental cooperation for countries in what it defines as the Hindukush-Himalayan region. The current member states of ICIMOD are Nepal, India, China, Pakistan, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Other than these core members Tajikistan also plays a role in its recently launched Hindu Kush Karakoram Pamir Landscape Initiative (HKPL) and Bam-e-Dunya Network. The actual day to day functioning of the organization though does not involve the individual member states governments and is run in the manner of a Non Governmental Organization with a Board of Governance and a Director General. If an actual ICIMOD charter were drawn up and signed by all of the existing members and Tajikistan it would go a long way towards strengthening the organization and furthering the cause of regional cooperation.

The natural world is not divided by manmade borders but these divides do play a role in how the resources of a region are managed/exploited

ICIMOD is divided into several different subcategories and has a complex organogram. These are divided along the basis of specialization and geographic region but there is usually an overlap between them. Two areas where ICIMOD excels in are water resource management and transboundary landscapes. Both of these issues are in essence to do with ecological science but have a complex geopolitical element to them. The fact that the Himalayan region contains Asia’s largest water reserves, in the form of the Himalayan glaciers and the rivers which flow from them, means that ICIMOD has to take many political issues into consideration when designing programs that are meant to protect these important natural resources. The main reason why Bangladesh is included in ICIMOD, despite not being in the Himalayan region, is because it forms the delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra, two of the largest Himalayan river systems and thus as the lower riparian will be affected by whatever alters the flow of these rivers, whether it be due to environmental degradation or political conflict. This brings us to the subject of transboundary issues. The natural world is not divided by manmade borders but these borders do play a role in how the resources of a region are managed/exploited so once more the area of ecological science and geopolitics converge while taking into consideration how programs are to be developed. The HKPL and Bam-e-Dunya Network are two such transboundary initiatives that ICIMOD implemented which affect three member states, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China alongside the non member partner state of Tajikistan. Other transboundary projects overseen by ICIMOD include the Kailash Sacred Landscape Initiative between China, Nepal and India and the Cherrapunjee-Chittagong Initiative between India and Bangladesh. Thus the administrative divisions between nation states and matters of legal jurisdiction are taken into consideration and managed by ICIMOD when it comes to protecting these extremely sensitive ecological treasures.

ICIMOD Secretariat at Kathmandu, Nepal

The staff at ICIMOD is diverse and it employs people from all of the member states and further abroad. Pakistanis are especially well represented and I personally became aware of this organization because of a Chitrali gentleman who has been working in ICIMOD for almost a decade. Through him I once had the honour of hosting the Board of Directors in Chitral when they visited Pakistan as part of a yearly study tour which the ICIMOD Secretariat undertakes to one of their member states. The Director General of ICIMOD, Dr. David Molden, is particularly dedicated to his work and one can see the level of respect and love he has for not just the physical landscape of our mountainous region but also for our people and culture.

As the future of Asia relies on the prevention of conflict, especially with regards to the members of ICIMOD, and the availability of water resources along with the issue of food security which is directly connected to it, ICIMOD has an important role to play for the region.

ICIMOD must expand and enhance its scope. For this to happen, the first thing is to take the member states into confidence and give them a larger part to play. ICIMOD must become the international regional grouping that it was designed to be and not merely an NGO with a prestigious resume. ICIMOD itself must take the initiative and call for a conference, much like the UNESCO one that gave birth to it, and progress from a corporation like entity run by a board, to a multilateral international grouping where individual sovereign states cooperate to forward their mutual goals. An International grouping which includes the world’s two most populous nations would be a powerful and influential one. Regardless of what direction ICIMOD takes in the future, hopefully they will continue the good work they do. Not only for the flora, fauna, waters and mountains of South and Central Asia, and the communities that reside therein, but also for all of the people who rely upon the waters which flow from their icy heights, which is more than a quarter of mankind.

The author is the ceremonial Mehtar of Chitral and can be contacted on Twitter at @FatehMulk

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