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No region of the world excites the imagination and calls up visions of the exotic more than the Himalaya. Their soaring peaks and fertile valleys have nourished some of the world's most ancient cultures and religions. But recently, there have been disturbing signs of trouble in Shangri La - alarming reports of widespread environmental degradation which is said to be producing dire and imminent threats to the future of the region and the contiguous lowland areas.
This book challenges the assumptions arising from these alarmist reports that the Himalayan region is in an advanced stage of irreversible environmental destruction. The authors, Jack Ives and Bruno Messerli, bring to this subject the insights and experience of two of the world's leading experts on mountain environments and have an intimate knowledge of the Himalayan region. They have analysed its problems with the disciplined objectivity of science and demonstrated that their roots are basically socio-economic and political rather than narrowly environmental.
Their analysis and the conclusions to which it points, have profoundly important implications for the future of this region and, indeed, for our understanding of the stresses and risks to which other major ecological systems are being subjected as a result of the rapid growth of population and the intensity of human activity. Ives and Messerli make clear the systemic nature of the cause and effect relationships which determine the nature and direction of the changes taking place in the region and the intrinsic complexity of these relationships. They point to no quick or easy solutions for the Himalayan dilemma and argue persuasively for a long-term approach, based on defining multiple solutions in which uncertainty is likely to be a continuing reality. This, they argue, will require fundamentally new and different thinking about the development of the region and the critical role of the indigenous subsistence farmer. They argue cogently for the kinds of policies and programmes that are sensitively attuned to, and supportive of, these people who are the prime actors at the interface of the man-nature relationship on which the region's future depends.
This book represents one of the finest examples I know of science with a human face. The authors clearly have a deep affinity for the region and its people. Their excellence as scientists lends to this book an authority and credibility that is unique in its field. Its value is multiplied immeasurably by the thoughtful and incisive manner in which the authors have translated their findings into a set of guidelines for the politicians, officials and practitioners on which the future of the region so largely depends.
All those who love the Himalayan region and are concerned about its future owe a great debt of gratitude to Jack Ives and Bruno Messerli. Not only have they produced a book that is thoroughly engaging, brilliantly written and enjoyable to read, but in it they present the most up to date, comprehensive and thoroughly researched analysis available today of the complex forces that are shaping the future of the Himalaya. The conclusions and recommendations that result from this provide the basis for the new attitudes, policies and practices which can produce a new era of hope for that unique, beautiful and imperiled region, and its wonderful people.
Maurice F. Strong
President, World Federation of United Nations Associations
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