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Harking to the call of the mountains  

Photo: Forest Dept., Manipur

In Manipur, the concern is on the watershed depletion in the uplands from extensive deforestation, primarily influenced by anthropogenic activities. Unregulated timber logging had depleted old growth forests in most of the interior areas, with high grade timber smuggled out to neighbouring States through uncharted routes.

 By Salam Rajesh

 The concerns on climate issues have brought the world community to rethink on many related issues including going back to the roots to find nature-based solutions. As part of the effort, policy planners and thinkers are suggesting what has been there all this while – the grassroots activism of the indigenous peoples and local communities who have been duly acknowledged by global forums as one of the best custodians of the natural systems.

The global agenda on adaptation gaps now focuses on some of the needs at global scale to meet climate targets set at Kyoto, Aichi, Paris, Glasgow, and in many other forums. These needs basically look at how the world community can tackle issues on ground vis-à-vis the call to safeguard the forests, peat lands, wetlands, mountains, coasts, grasslands, and many more so that the future of humankind can be secured in the best time possible and to avert climate catastrophe.

In line with this thinking process, the United Nations General Assembly took the decision to designate the current year 2022 as the ‘International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development’. The decision was adopted by consensus on 16 December 2021 after Kyrgyzstan submitted a proposal for the world community to focus on mountain ecosystem to tackle climate emergency.

Glacial retreats as in the mighty Himalayas and the Andes had since worried climate scientists working to understand how massive ice melts is going to impact the planet. Ice melts in the polar region is already a major concern with climate scientists, with the foregone conclusion that large scale ice melts is certainly going to impact low lying countries in the near future.

Several countries in Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region are in the process of feeling the brunt of ice melts. Many are in the red data of threatened regions (so much like threatened species by extinction as in the IUCN Red Data list), with the Indonesian capital Jakarta leading the headlines. Maldives had received its ‘death warrant’ long time back, a foregone warning that the island nation will go under water soon.

In tune with the focus on the International Year theme for 2022, UN Member States have duly acknowledged that ‘mountain regions, especially in developing countries, are experiencing increasing poverty, food insecurity, social exclusion, environmental degradation and exposure to the risk of disasters, and access to basic services is limited. These include safe and affordable drinking water, basic sanitation, and sustainable modern energy services’.

Keeping track on the call for international partnership for ‘sustainable mountain development’ with taps on the 2030 Agenda for Mountains, the UN official call states that, ‘Mountain ecosystems are under threat from climate change, land degradation and natural disasters, with potentially devastating and far-reaching consequences for mountain communities and the rest of the world. Mountains are essential to the survival of the global ecosystem as vital sources of water, energy, biodiversity, and agricultural products’.

Targets 6.6, 15.1 and 15.4 of the 2030 Agenda emphasizes that by the years 2020 and 2030, the urgency is to ensure that the ‘conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and dry lands’ is achieved.

The 2030 Agenda further re-emphasizes that by the target year 2030 the world community has to ensure the achievement of ‘the conservation of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity, in order to enhance their capacity to provide benefits that are essential for sustainable development’. The focus is on the protection and restoration of water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.

The IUCN World Conservation Congress held at Marseille in France during September 2021 had specifically focused on Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and Ecosystem Restoration as key to achieving the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). During the Congress, IUCN member nations committed to the Bonn Challenge pledges with promise to cover over 213 million hectares worldwide by the target year 2030.

The Forest Survey of India in its report “India State of Forest Report 2021” while indicating a net increase in forest cover at country level by 2,261 square kilometer on a total count of 8,09,537, however, projected losses in all of the eight sister States in the Northeast. Manipur’s forest cover loss was estimated at 249, which is certainly large enough considering the limited land statistics.

The focus on mountain ecosystem this year seeks to address multiple issues, ranging from concerns on glacial ice melts, glacial lake outburst leading to unprecedented flooding, impacts on the ecology and livelihoods of humans dependent on mountain ecosystems for their living and sustenance, losses in species diversity, and many more.

In Manipur, the concern is on the watershed depletion in the uplands from extensive deforestation, primarily influenced by anthropogenic activities. Unregulated timber logging had depleted old growth forests in most of the interior areas, with high grade timber smuggled out to neighbouring States through uncharted routes.

The extension of the traditional shifting agriculture towards commercialized mono crop plantation, such as marijuana and poppy, is another reason for depleting the tree cover. Most of the hill districts have hill ranges that are barren to the core, stripped down to the roots for timber, firewood, and charcoal, and now illegal plantations.

Yet, despite the negative trend in forest depletion, there are enough examples to indicate that local communities are aware of and involved in protection and conservation of community managed forest lands to achieve multiple ecosystem benefits. The primary need is, of course, sourcing of water which is a fundamental necessity for life to continue. Village communities tap spring water for their drinking needs.

The instance of local community in Dailong village, Tamenglong District, coming forward to protect and conserve their Longku forest, of more than 11, is a good example where open-ended conservation can secure water and food security for the villagers while achieving biodiversity conservation. Community-led forest management and conservation is seen as more positive than the conventional ‘fortress’ conservation model of the State.

The stress laid by the UN is on the proactive participation of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) in achieving the targets set in the 2030 Agenda. The global body has been vocal on the need to hear out and consider the IPLCs’ voice in bottom-up policy planning and in the implementation of projects on ground.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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