Contents - Previous - Next
This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at http://unu.edu
Some crisis indicators from the wider region
Much of the foregoing discussion on Nepal is applicable, in part, to the problems that impose on the wider region, although some major differences must be borne in mind. Perhaps the single most important difference is the allpervading presence of foreign and international aid agencies in Kathmandu and their correspondingly greater, and sometimes confusing, impacts on central government policy definition (along the lines that policy may follow aid availability rather than the reverse). China and India stand at the other extreme and, relative to Nepal, are able to exert much greater, if not total, control over developmental policy. Nevertheless, the Himalayan sectors of the Indian states find themselves in the same, or a very similar, situation of periphery with rather modest political clout and inability to control their own destinies, as is true of Nepal. In terms of the pressure of production on resources and agricultural decline, the Indian Planning Commission has pointed out that population densities in relation to arable land for the Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh Himalaya are four times that of the neighbouring plains, while productivity is very much lower; subholdings are divided into non-viable fragments with a single family working up to twenty-five individual scraps of land, and up to 60 percent of the family income being derived from the remittances of male members working on the plains. It is contended that once out-migration is initiated, often on a temporary or seasonal basis, rural productivity declines still further. It can be argued that the Himalayan states of northern India, or the mountain sections of northern Indian states (such as Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal) are subject to'internal colonization' on the part of the federal and/or state governments. This is analogous to the neo-colonialism effected by 'outside' countries. Development in Nepal can be characterized as being under the influence of neo colonialism at the hands of India; that of Himachal Pradesh and northern Uttar Pradesh, as under the influence of 'internal colonialism.' These processes, at least in part, are responsible for some of the political unrest and activism, as exemplified by the Chipko Movement on the one hand, and by various levels of pressure for local autonomy or independent statehood, ranging from the Kumaun Himalaya to the Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
Similar conditions can be cited for the Pakistan Northern Territory and Hindu Kush in general, but exacerbated by the influx of the world's largest single group of war-torn refugees, perhaps as much as one-third of the entire population of Afghanistan. This constitutes a very special circumstance and warrants further emphasis.
Massive migration into northern Pakistan
This topic has been dealt with extensively by Allan (1987). The flow of refugees from Afghanistan into northern Pakistan constitutes one of the largest migrations in recent times. Approximately three and a half million refugees now reside in Pakistan (another million are believed to have entered Iran). Most of the refugees in Pakistan live today in the North-West Frontier Province. It is contiguous with Afghanistan and contains Pakistan's most extensive forests and mountain pastures. Allan (1987) has demonstrated that the impacts of this vast number of refugees vary greatly in accordance with the type of environment from which the widely different groups have originated and the types into which they have settled. The far-travelled refugees, from north of the Hindu Kush mountains, have caused the most extensive environmental damage. And the maximum disturbance has occurred where refugees have been settled into forest land as distinct from sparsely vegetated arid land. Allan relates this tendency, in part, to the fact that the severest impacts are perpetrated by refugees originating from arid to semi-arid homelands where forest depletion had occurred over the past several centuries, implying a total absence of local, indigenous institutions for the proper management of forest lands. Figure 9.1 shows the principal refugee travel routes and the areas of most extensive deforestation (Allen, 1987:201). This treatment does not take into account that area of northern Pakistan called 'Tribal Territory,' as distinct from the 'settled areas'; the small forest resources have virtually disappeared in the districts between Peshawar and Quetta. The Tribal Territory is an autonomous administrative area and is closed to foreigners and non-resident Pakistanis. Thus no attempt was made by Allan to establish ground verification of what appears as almost total elimination of forests as determined from inspection of satellite images.
In addition to the environmental impacts of the refugees, however, it appears that Pakistan nationals have taken advantage of the ensuing confusion to indulge in illegal logging. Quite apart from the social, political, and humanitarian issues, this largest of recent migrations has caused extensive depletion of northern Pakistan's natural resources. Allan believes that much of this loss is probably irreversible. Certainly, the human costs are much greater, but much of the environmental damage could have been avoided had refugee camps been located further south near the Grand Trunk Roadą.
Figure 9.1 Northern Pakistan showing the routes and impact areas of refugees from Afghanistan (after Allan, 1987: 201, Figure 1).
Eco-politics and indicators in the India Himalaya
The degree of similarity between the status of Nepal and that of the other sectors of the Himalaya may be much closer than may appear at first glance. The second report on 'The State of India's Environment, 1984-85,' produced by the Centre for Science and Environment (1985), contains a wealth of material comparable to much of that introduced for Nepal. One small section on mountain forest problems is worth quoting, if only to emphasize again the political nature of the problem - the apparent perceived need to exploit the poor, along with the environment.
Under the heading 'Ban the People' the 'Citizens' Report' cites a government document submitted in 1984 to the Union Ministry of Agriculture by Dr. M. S. Chaudhary, former chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh, which recommends the curtailing of the rights of the rural people in virtually every area vital for their survival es 'in the national interest' (e prime example of would-be 'infernal colonialism. chapter concludes:
To stop people using forest resources, the ridiculous recommendation has been made that wooden implements should be replaced by steel, and monetary assistance given to transport cement to the mountains, so people stop making wooden houses. The report does not calculate the energy and environmental costs of steel and cement production and the subsidies that would be required to get these high-cost and high-energy materials to the poor.
The report is suggesting a transformation in the use of forests but without any understanding of the socio-economic context in which the forest resources are used in India, or any quantification of people's present and future needs, and of energy and environmental management issues. No report makes foresters" biases more evident than this one.
While this document is a report and not a policy, it is useful as an indicator that western expatriate experts do not have a monopoly on lack of understanding of the rural poor and their needs. It is worth quoting, however, the introductory statements to the chapter on 'Dams' in the Citizens' Report (1985)
Large dams are today lndia's most controversial environmental issue. Silent Valley dam has already been given up [a success for the pro-environment forces]. Groups are protesting against another half dozen.
The key issue is not nature but people. Energy and water planners are stressing hydro-power and canal irrigation but have made no study of how many people will be displaced.
Government officials argue that 'someone has to suffer for progress.' Usually these 'someones' are tribals, the poorest and the most powerless.
The colossal Narmada Basin Development Programme, which will involve the building of 329 large dams, may end up costing Rs 25,000 crore. It will also displace a million people.
Experience has shown that people, for the moment, are prepared to move but they want new land for old. Except in Maharashtra, this principal is not accepted by any state government.
The cost of forests lost is also high. Large dams have drowned half a million hectares of forest - about a tenth of the area that has benefitted from canal irrigation.
With 176 major and 447 medium irrigation projects under construction, most behind schedule, some experts argue: 'No new projects now; consolidate and learn to get good crops from what we already have.'
Small earthen dams for water harvesting are both ecologically sound and economically profitable. Three small reservoirs have transformed the economy of a village in Chandigarh. There is no soil erosion, no deforestation, no desertification, and no one has been displaced. The lesson: water conservation, yes; big dams, no.
While the above-quoted remarks refer to India as a whole, they are especially apposite to the Himalaya and the Ganges and Brahmaputra Plains. In the same vein, the Indian sectors of the Himalaya have felt the impacts of large-scale mineral resource extraction far more than have Nepal or Bhutan, if only because of the vastly larger industrial sector that has developed in post-1947 India. Shiva and Bandyopadhyay (1985) provide a graphic description of the devastation wrought in the Doon Valley and along the Mussoorie ridge of the Lesser Himalaya. The recklessness of uncontrolled and irresponsible development of limestone quarrying and cement-works construction was apparent to one of us (JDI) during a short visit in August 1984. Perhaps the most shattering impression was the systematic avoidance of responsibility by the large industries for damage to property and even death. In this instance truck drivers, ferrying limestone from the quarries to the cement works in Doon Valley below sign a contract for each round trip. Thus they are contractors, so that when a truck overturns on the curve of an appallingly constructed road and crashes through a house killing its occupants, the driver (usually poor) is legally responsible rather than the industry. The exploitation of the environment, the truck drivers, the workers, and the neighbouring people, as well as schools, colleges, agriculture, tourist industry and once profitable horticulture, as well as the originally pure air of Doon Valley is complete - for short-term financial gain for the few.
And yet, as indicated in some of the comments from 'Dams' an Indian environmental movement is beginning to achieve successes. In the case of Doon Valley, Shiva and Bandyopadhyay (1985) reported a benchmark success in the form of a Supreme Court of India judgment allowing quarrying to be continued in only seven of the sixty limestone quarries along the Mussoorie ridge, so that rehabilitation becomes a possibility. Furthermore, the Doon Valley citizens' environmental action groups have filed a public interest litigation in the local court against the limestone-based industries that are polluting the 'closed valley with foul dust transforming the serene Doon Valley into a"gas chamber."'
Western Sichuan and Yunnan, People's Republic of China
Somewhat comparable to the worst aspects of virtually uncontrolled commercial interests in India is the apparently uncontrolled and unco-ordinated industrial interests in northwestern Yunnan and Sichuan. Most depressing of all are the wide areas of forest on the interfluve between the Jinsha Jiang and Lancang Jiang (Mekong) that have been clear-cut. In 1985 the large area of felled logs was a scene of waste and decay because the transport and logging sectors were not able to co-ordinate and the timber was left to rot on the ground (Figure 9.2). The foregoing comment relates to state and central government needs for the timber resources of the Hengduan Mountains and the difficulties of co-ordination. At the local scale (rather, the scale of the innumerable local villages) heavy site-specific forest exploitation is also an important factor. This results both from the increased extraction of forest resources by rapidly increasing local populations, and from an increase in living standards of those same populations. For instance, and in regard to the latter point, local Naxi officials (Lijiang autonomous county), as well as villagers, indicated that their living standards had doubled between 1979 and 1985. This was accredited as a direct response to the agricultural reforms initiated by the central government in 1979 ('responsibility systems in rural areas,). It was stated that about a third of all houses in the area had been built since 1979. The impacts of this, albeit humanely necessary, process on the immediately accessible forests were graphically apparent (see Figure 3.2 p. 54). These impacts, however, were exacerbated by the very wasteful and primitive methods of logging (Ives, 1985). On a very minor scale one of us (JDI) observed the relentless hunting of the endangered endemic pheasants (especially Crossoptilon c. Iichiangense) by the subsistence farmers in the Yulongxue Shan of northwestern Yunnan, and the sale of a skin and plumage for about US $1.00 when, if properly organized, the western photographerornithologist would pay the equivalent of a fortune in local currency to photograph such a bird. But also these tales of woe must be tempered by an encouraging growth of awareness and a determination to effect a better balanced utilization of natural resources.
Bhutan: A study in contrasts?
Several passing references have already been made, indicating that Bhutan is an exception amongst the Himalayan states and territories: its being dropped off the World Bank bottom position of Least Developed Countries; the much more healthy state of its forest resources, to the extent of being heavily in surplus; and the more stringent internal control of affairs by His Majesty's Government, seen especially in the refusal to allow tourism to run rampant.
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a very small and rather isolated state; the total population is a little over one million and its area is 46,500 km˛. Karan (1987a) has drawn a useful comparison between Bhutan and Sikkim in terms of contrasts in remaining forest cover, population totals and annual growth rates, and in environmental stress (cf. also Chapter 3, pp. 53-7). The following brief account of the country's involvement with 'development' is extracted from a report by UNU Fellow D. N. S. Dhakal (1987). He explains that it was as recently as 1961 that Bhutan launched a planned process of economic development. The first Five Year Plan (1961-66) primarily concentrated on development of infrastructures. Of all the government departmental outlay, the construction of roads topped the priority list, accounting for 66 percent of the total US $10.7 million budget. Some of the contract funds for the construction projects went to local contractors who made rapid profits and formed the core of today's affluent group.
Another major thrust of both the first and the second Five Year Plans was on education. In this way the government established a number of primary and secondary schools, and also provided scholarships for brighter children to study abroad. This supplied the government, both at home and abroad, with educated school graduates who, by the early 1970s, were able to shoulder government responsibilities. Thereafter, the white-collar sector found public popularity and created momentum to form today's educated elites.
Thus, the dawn of development broke the Kingdom's traditional homogeneous society into classes and ushered the people into a new era - an era of business opportunities, free education, free medical care, and job prospects outside the traditional sphere.
'Perpetual aid syndrome.' The total outlay of the second Plan was 90 percent larger than the first (US $20.2 million), and the third was 139 percent larger than the second (US $47.5 million). All three Five Year Plans were developed entirely by foreign expertise; and, in fact, the total outlay of the first and the second Plans came as grants from the Government of India. As a result the people knew little about what these early development investments would mean to them in future. Furthermore, the continual aid assurance of the Government of India, the availability of the United Nations' development assistance when Bhutan joined the UN in 1971, and the kind gestures of other friendly nations (such as Switzerland, Japan, and Australia) to participate in development work escalated the confidence of the people in external aid.
Assured of the bilateral and international aid, the government continued to add development projects, rehabilitate settlements, reduce taxes, and subsidize prices on essential commodities, fertilizers, agricultural implements, and cement. This made the general public heavily dependent on the government: dependent on jobs, education, and health care. From the dawn of 'development' to the third Five Year Plan the 'Perpetual Aid Syndrome' preoccupied most Bhutanese.
The transition phase. This phase began once the newly ordained Planning Commission took responsibility for preparation of the fourth Five Year Plan (1976-81). Until then, no single responsible government body had existed to co-ordinate development plans for review and planning; most tasks had been undertaken on an ad hoc basis. The Planning Commission established statistical units, channelled information from audit and central account units to generate at least the basic data deemed necessary for checking on progress toward its goals. Having routed most information through its administrative units, the Planning Commission launched a US $101.6 million fourth Five Year Plan in 1976.
Although the format of the fourth Plan differed little from that of the earlier plans, emphasis this time shifted to agriculture, which was allocated 29 percent of the total budget. The government hoped to boost agricultural yields, and thereby reduce the already staggering dependence of the people on the government. Simultaneously, large investments, outside the plan outlay, were made in a 336 megawatt hydroelectric project, various industries, and major irrigation works, in order to establish the revenue-generating base for increasing the internal contribution in the fifth Plan outlay. The capital investment came from the Government of India both in grants and loans. But upon evaluating the feedback from the fourth Plan in 1982, the government noted a record food deficit of 25,000 tonnes, unbalanced regional development, and a huge overhead cost due to the burgeoning bureaucracy which consumed most of the revenue from capital investment. This convinced the government that there was a basic flaw in the system, and it was decided thereafter to lead the people slowly away from 'The Perpetual Aid Syndrome' toward 'self-reliance.'
The change to self-reliance. The self-reliance policy of the fifth Plan (198187) required a structural change in the bureaucracy. As the first step, the government decentralized the development administration into districts (dzongkhags). In the dzongkhags, Dzongdhas (district commissioners) were entrusted to constitute district planning committees (Dzongkhag Yargye Tshokchungs) to decide upon the nature and quantity of aid required by the people in each district.
Every development proposal was to be submitted through the people. The government officials would help the people to understand the feasibility and cost of specific projects. Also, it was made mandatory for the public to contribute labour, cash, or materials. Only upon meeting these conditions can the Dzongdha forward plan proposals to the National Planning Commission for final approval.
Another obligation requires that the district plan must conform with the general guidelines stipulated in the National Plan document. Also, once the plan has been initiated no interim alteration is permitted without the prior approval of an appropriate authority. In addition, the progress of the plan would be periodically monitored and evaluated by an expert team deputed by the National Planning Commission. The Dzongdha is accountable for mismanagement or slow progress.
This work format was intended to streamline responsibility and bring a general awareness to the people of the amount of money the government had been committing to the dzongkhag. Also, the villagers would become costconscious and be encouraged to use the free development-support facilities in agriculture, animal husbandry, education, and health. In addition, the dzongkhag's elites would become familiar with the recurring expenditures from the development infrastructure, and would comprehend the necessity that some day the people should be left alone to manage their own affairs.
Other reforms in the fifth Plan were concerned with reorganizing the bureaucracy, cutting down on unnecessary staff, and commercialization of public enterprises. These reforms helped the government reduce overhead expenditure and increase working efficiency, and they produced significant annual revenues. It is expected that the revenue-generating sources, such as tourism, industry, power, and forestry would continue to improve in efficiency and would provide a significant internal contribution to the budget of the sixth Five Year Plan (1987-92). The government estimates total revenue at US $94.2 million during the fifth Plan period.
Problems to overcome. It seems that everything that can be accomplished by the bureaucrats has been done. But there are remaining tasks of a scientific nature if Bhutan is to pursue a sustained, holistic approach to the development of a complex mountain system. Of the many important issues, the following require immediate attention:
- To investigate scientifically whether or not a subsistence community with an average of about I ha of land per family can become self-sufficient within a certain time period.
- To suggest an alternative approach to tackling the household problems of self-sufficiency if the present milieu inhibits the society from moving toward this goal.
- To determine the present status of soil erosion, and integrate a new villagewide soil-management system based on agro-climatic data.
- To assess the present status of environmental degradation due to road cuttings, commercial leggings, industrial development, hydroelectric dams, and mining, and then to establish a regular monitoring body to record the environmental changes within a certain time period.
- To create facilities for recording time-series data on rainfall, temperature, and wind and also on stream-flow and sediment transfer. This information is important for deciding whether or not a cycle of catastrophic events would effect developmental or capital projects in the specified time period.
The development process, which invariably creates disturbance in a selfcontained, subsistence farming community, is difficult to reconcile with native values and goals. As more developmental programmes are initiated, they create disturbances that require more attention. Whether or not a developing country such as Bhutan can some day succeed in overcoming these problems, it is still necessary to make an honest effort. Is there not something of critical importance to be learned from the Bhutanese that is highly relevant to the entire 'Himalayan Problem?'
The Xizang Autonomous Region (Tibet) People's Republic of China
The northern flank of the Greater Himalayan range and the adjacent southern sections of the Tibetan Plateau, while warranting comparisons with northwestern Nepal and Ladakh, are in a very different category to most of our region. Characterized by extreme altitudes and a mountain desert or semi-arid climate, and sparse population density dependent traditionally on a combination of pastoral nomadism and trade, even the more densely populated southern sections of Tibet have remained remote from the mainstreams of international economy for over a thousand years. Much emotional writing has led to a strangely biased western perception such that Tibet and the Tibetans are as much caught up in 'uncertainly' es any part of the Himalaya. Tibet maintained full independence from or only nominal suzerainty to China throughout the past thousand years until 1950-59. It has even been difficult to estimate total population and to account for its population growth rate between the fifteenth century and 1950. In a profound analysis of these issues Goldstein (1981) discusses the social and demographic implications of Buddhist Lamaism and fraternal polyandry within the context of Tibet as en 'encapsulated environment.' By 'encapsulated' Goldstein means that all available arable niches must have been fully occupied several centuries ago with maximum intensification within the available technological limits, and concludes that by 1950-59 the population was of the order of three million.
We do not intend here a detailed discussion of the military and political issues that colour the present-day situation in Tibet. As indicated earlier, there is some reason for hypothesizing that Tibet had much more extensive forest cover in the more distant past than is usually assumed, and that this was progressively lost over a period of several centuries. About 100,000 Tibetans are believed to have fled with the Dalai Lama in 1959, not an insignificant number, but by no means influential from a purely demographic point of view. There are conflicting figures on loss of life during the Chinese military confrontations and the subsequent Cultural Revolution. Our Chinese and Tibetan hosts in 1980, when we travelled extensively between Lhasa and Kathmandu as guests of the Central and Tibetan autonomous governments, indicated that there were 300,000 members of the People's Liberation Army stationed in Tibet and about 125,000 Han Chinese settlers had been encouraged to take up residence through financial inducements. The western news media have claimed, from time to time, that Chinese settlers number as high as seven million (or as low as 150,000). The high figure appears absurd in view of the 'encapsulated environment,' the cost of maintaining such a large population in the face of extremely long, tortuous, and uncertain supply routes, and the openly admitted (by Chinese authorities) high incidence of infant pulmonary oedema in children born to Chinese settlers. Similarly chronic altitude sickness in civilian adults and military personnel alike constitutes a severe problem.
Introduced new technologies, including a revised forestry and agricultural programme, and light industries, are undoubtedly effecting changes. The rapid opening of Tibet to tourism, especially in recent years when it became possible for travellers to cross directly from Nepal into Chinese territory at many points without central government control and enforced entry via Beijing, is startling. The 1987 October riots in Lhasa brought a temporary halt to this openness (unmatched almost anywhere in the Himalayan region except for parts of Nepal).
Some of the results of post-1959 events in Tibet, however, must be mentioned, both positive and negative, even if only in a speculative manner. Early lack of central government integration of its new forestry and agricultural policies led to accelerated soil erosion (Sun Honglie, 1983). There appear to have been widespread losses in wildlife and this appears not yet to have been matched by adequate appreciation by the Tibetan authorities of the need for thorough-going conservationist policies. The admittedly widespread destruction of monasteries and temples after 1959 and during the Cultural Revolution is being repaired, and the major elements that did survive effectively maintained. The Potala, of course, is a notable example (Figure 9.3). Tibetan ways of life have changed dramatically, although recent years have witnessed a liberalization process that has evoked a religious resurgence. On the other hand, the desperate poverty of a majority under serfdom, maintaining a very large theocratic and aristocratic elite, together with the constraints of the 'encapsulated environment' that seems to have maintained a rate of population growth at the incredibly low figure of 0.21 percent per annum (Goldstein, 1981:11) (with all its implications), have disappeared. While the existing living standard of the average Tibetan is undoubtedly low, given the difficulty of even approaching any meaningful statistics, it is probably comparable to that of the Himalayan people as a whole. There is no available and reliable information that would lead to a conclusion that it is necessarily lower. One of the especially unfortunate aspects of the Tibetan brand of uncertainty, however, is the persistence of heavily biased reporting by the western news media.
Militarism and regional politics
The issue of militarism and regional politics has been raised already, if obliquely, but especially in the foregoing section on Tibet. We cannot handle such an issue exhaustively, or completely, within the context of this book. But nor can we ignore it, since politico-military eruption must be regarded as one of the possible triggers that could prove to be the torch that would set the fires of supercrisis.
The international frontiers throughout the Himalayan region are extensively under challenge and confrontation. The Indo-Chinese borders, now that the convenient Tibetan buffer of the British Raj is gone, are a matter of grave differences. Equally so, the Kashmir Question remains in a state of constant tension. Reports of serious military exchanges between India and Pakistan (even above 6,000 m) in the Karakorum, and the embroilment of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan represent major disruptions on any standard.
There are, of course, severe environmental and socio-economic repercussions that derive from the politico-military situation, even as it stands today and without considering the possible consequences of much more widespread military activity. Recent reports (October 1987) from Kashmir and Pakistan's Northern Territories, while not authenticated for obvious reasons, suggest that there may be as many as 700,000 Indian troops facing about half that number of Pakistan troops in the general region of the Karakorum, or northern Kashmir. The probable environmental impacts of such a concentration (even if the numbers quoted are substantially inflated), in terms of supply, loss of forest and wildlife, and water pollution, together with the support infrastructure, is alarming. Against this we must rank the construction by India of some 40,000-60,000 km of generally badly engineered roads in the Himalaya as a direct response of the 1962 border war with China. This has already been discussed in Chapter 5 in terms of landslide inducement and changed access to hitherto remote regions. Similarly, the environmental impacts in northern Pakistan of three and a half million Afghan refugees has already been emphasized. But the situation in Afghanistan itself is far worse, of course, even though not demonstrable in detail.
Grave concern over these politico-military problems was expressed by all participants of the Mohonk Mountain Conference of April 1986 (Ives and Ives, 1987). And this prompted one of the more important resolutions of the Conference, unanimously approved:
Realizing that nature recognizes no international boundaries and that many of the issues and challenges facing development and conservation cannot be dealt with adequately without co-operation between the countries of the Himalayan region, the Mohonk Mountain Conference strongly urges the governments of the Himalayan region to take steps to establish international parks in border areas (Parks for Peace) to promote peace, friendship, and cooperation in research and management, for the optimal sustainable use of the natural and human resources, and to improve the quality of life of all the peoples of the region. (Ives and Ives, 1987: 185)
It is gratifying to learn that during 1987 China and Nepal took a first major step in this direction. Nepal has agreed in principle to more than double the area of Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park, while China and the Tibetan autonomous authorities are in the process of establishing a very large national park (Qomolangma Nature Reserve) on the northern flank of the Himalayan crest which will be contiguous with the Nepalese park, but extend much further westward to include Mt. Xishapangma (Figure 9.4) (Garrett, 1987). This again is another 'virtuous circlet of the Himalayan Problem.
Figure 9.4 Proposed enlargement for Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park, Nepal and creation of the contiguous Qomolangma Nature Reserve China.
In this chapter we have raised the question of crisis, pseudo-crisis, or supercrisis in the Himalayan region and have introduced the main group of indicators that we consider relevant to answering the major question so posed. While continuing to side-step the fundamental question about the cause of poverty and the relationship between poverty and rapid population growth, it nevertheless appears to us that a population growth rate of close to 3 percent per annum, with declining agricultural productivity and increasing pressures on land, water, and forest constitutes a very serious threat to regional stability. When reckless development of resources and, for whatever reason, exploitation of the poor, and lack of understanding, or unwillingness to understand, the role of women and the subsistence sector as a whole, is added, together with continuing decline despite large financial inputs, then we feel justified in claiming a state of rapidly developing emergency. The political friction along the mountain frontiers, in the recent past especially between India and Pakistan and India and China, at present between India and Pakistan, and Pakistan and Afghanistan, together with the neo-colonial status of Nepal and the unenviable downstream position of chronically impoverished Bangladesh, provides further stresses. Within India itself the continuing demand for home rule or independence by the Sikhs, if anything, serves to divert foreign attention from the plethora of smaller, but potentially very serious ethnic, religious, and nationalist conflicts that affect much of the mountain perimeter. These include the demands by the majority of the hill people of the Darjeeling area (originally Nepalese migrants) for an independent state, similar but less clearly articulated demands in the Kumaun districts, in Himachal, and in Arunachal and Assam. There is also the plains peoples' perception that the alternation of floods and dry-season low water that besets them is due to the reckless landscape changes brought about by subsistence farmers in the mountains.
In comparison with the actual African supercrisis, however, the Himalayan region does not and is not likely to face the supercrisis-triggering mechanism of a region-wide drought. It may be argued, therefore, that without an effective triggering mechanism in the wings, a supercrisis is not imminent and the scene is set rather for a deepening of a series of chronic problems. This somewhat optimistic statement, however, could be rudely negated by any significant escalation of the extremely fragile politico-military situation. Yet we can also see progress: the growing strength and successes of movements such as Chipko and the Citizens' Report in India, the growth in understanding of the need to improve the welfare of the poorest people and to integrate them into policy initiation, development, and monitoring - and this by local government, UN agency, and bilateral aid agency alike.
Despite this, we believe that real progress will depend upon the region's ability to initiate macro-scale watershed management, reduction or neutralization of border conflicts, massive realignment of access to natural resources, including fundamental changes in land tenure and taxation systems, and effective peoples' participation in each of these processes. Thus, we feel that it is not necessary for us to stipulate a preference between imminent supercrisis or the gradual development of numerous sub-regional crises, in order to justify a recommendation for an immediate, urgent, and supra-national response. In this sense it is not necessary to argue whether the perceived environmental degradation is cause or effect; if the socio-political elements of the problem are not soon taken in hand we believe that environmental collapse could rapidly ensue. We will then have supercrisis enough for all.
Contents - Previous - Next