Multi-dimensional approaches in multi-dimensional environments

The Himalayas represent a collection of ecologically rich but fragile ecosystems, and provide livelihoods to the more than 50 million people living in the Himalayan states. Himalayan ecosystems are vital to downstream communities of the Indo-Gangetic-Brahmaputra plains. They provide "ecological security" to the Indian landmass by providing forest resources, feeding perennial rivers that are the source of drinking water, irrigation and hydropower, conserving biodiversity, maintaining a rich base for high-value agriculture, and by providing spectacular landscapes for sustainable tourism.

However, Himalayan states represent a unique set of topographies, geologies and land use patterns that are distinct from lowland areas. Himalayan ecosystems are especially vulnerable to the consequences of a) changes on account of natural causes, b) climate change resulting from anthropogenic emissions and c) developmental paradigms of modern society. In the last 100 years alone, the Indian Himalayas have witnessed distress, conflict, degradation, demographic dynamism, political restructuring and the regional and local impacts of various global revolutions. Hence, it is extremely important to adopt a comprehensive multi-dimensional approach for developing solutions to maintain the ecological balance of the Himalayas and to ensure sustainable development for its communities.

Recognizing the multi-disciplinary approach required for mountains, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi is focusing its initiatives on five specific themes, namely:

1.Energy poverty and energy accessibility in Himalayan states

2.Sustainable practices for hill agriculture and horticulture

3.Hill water resources management

4.Sustainable habitat for Himalayas

5.Sustainable remediation technologies for clean environment

TERI has undertaken several research and development projects in Himalayan states, ranging from understanding forestry and biodiversity conservation in the Himalayas to identifying decentralized electricity solutions, conducting biotechnological research for improvements in horticultural crops and identifying water and sanitation solutions within the specific context of the Himalayan environment. Keeping present and future climate change scenarios in mind, TERI is engaged in research for identifying adaptation measures for the hill community in terms of adjustments and diversification required for livelihood sustainability.

Through its regional centres in Guwahati and Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand, TERI is conducting research to improve the overall quality and quantity of agricultural produce in the area using various conventional and biotechnological means. Initiatives like cardamom curing chambers, citrus tissue culture, improved varieties of bamboo plantations, etc. are playing a significant role in improving the livelihoods of local communities.

Seasonal and pilgrimage tourism in the Himalayas puts excessive stress on local ecosystems and infrastructure during specific months of the year. The installation of biogas plants, rainwater harvesting structures etc. are an integral part of our approach for solid waste, water, and wastewater management in the Himalayan states. Also, solar energy instruments are being promoted in areas like Leh and Ladakh districts in Kashmir.

In order to bridge the knowledge gap for Himalayan cryosphere, Glacier Monitoring Observatories have been set up at East Rathong Glacier, at Sikkim in the Eastern Himalaya and at Kolahoi Glacier, Kashmir in the Western Himalaya. These observatories are equipped with instruments to record meteorological parameters and the selected glaciers are being studied for their mass balance, energy balance and water balance. These Glacier Monitoring Observatories are continuously being upgraded in order to get a better understanding of climate change impacts on high altitude catchments.

building and information dissemination is extremely important for building resilience within local communities. To enable better communication and flow of information among the local communities, a community radio station – 'Kumaon Vani' – has been established. Training programs demonstrating the cultivation of high-value plantation crops are organized regularly to empower the local agrarian population.

Through a multi-disciplinary approach, TERI contributes to increasing the climate resilience and adaptive capacities of the poor and vulnerable communities of the Indian Himalayan region.