Hands Across Everest book (executive summary)

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By Gabriel Campbell,  director,  TMI Himalayas Program

Ecosystems existed long before national jurisdictions, and species and communities of plants and animals are not limited by political boundaries and landscapes. Hence, many countries share biological and natural resources across their borders that to be managed properly require cooperation. One very important transboundary ecosystem is that of the Mt. Everest Himalayas along the border between Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. This region encompasses an enormous variation in altitude within a short distance and contains an incredible range of landscape types and a rich diversity of plant and animal species. Furthermore, as the location of the head waters of Asia, the Himalayas both link the two countries and take on major significance for many people downstream.

Efforts towards transboundary cooperation for conservation in the Mount Everest region started nearly twenty years ago and progress since then has been slow but steady. This publication summarises activities in an innovative programme started in 1994/1995 by The Mountain Institute (TMI), the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), and the Governments of Nepal and China, under TMI’s ‘Transboundary Biodiversity Conservation in the Eastern Himalayas Programme’ and ICIMOD’s ‘Programme on Regional Collaboration for Biodiversity Management in the Eastern Himalayas’, both funded by the MacArthur Foundation. These programmes, separately and together, have supported a series of discussions and exchange activities among protected area managers, scientists, and local people involving four contiguous protected areas around Mt. Everest

– Qomolangma Nature Preserve in TAR, China, and Sagarmatha, Makalu-Barun, and Langtang National Parks in Nepal – and the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area in Nepal. The focus in this book is on the four areas around Mt. Everest, which together conserve a large, continuous ecosystem and rich cultural and natural heritages on both sides of the Himalayas. They cover nearly 40,000 sq. km, an area large enough to maintain species, communities, and ecological processes.

The isolated villages in these protected areas are home to more than 110,000 people who share a common cultural heritage. Reconciling the needs of these local communities with conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity has become a major challenge facing the managers of these protected areas. The protected area managers feel that effective biodiversity conservation requires active support from the local people, who can be motivated by improving their livelihoods. Though villagers claim that there has been a general improvement in the local economy, more emphasis is needed on opening tourism opportunities and cross-border trade, and on providing education and training for local people.

Park managers identified four key issues on which cooperation was needed: poaching and smuggling of wildlife products, cross-border spread of livestock disease, cross-border spread of forest fires, and livelihoods of people near the border. These four issues were endorsed by a meeting of ministry level and line agency representatives, who formalised the transboundary cooperation efforts and also agreed five specific areas of cooperation. In 1999, a joint study team from Nepal and TAR travelled to five selected villages located along the border and conducted participatory meetings with local villagers on transboundary issues. They presented the outcomes of the village meetings to representatives of relevant government agencies. In general, the concept of transboundary cooperation across the border received strong local support and interest, despite several logistical challenges.

Subsequent transboundary exchanges have strengthened relationships among professionals from both sides of the border and have started to address specific livelihood issues identified in village meetings. The expertise of TMI in ecotourism led to a focus on conservation and ecotourism in some of the exchanges. Follow-up programmes were suggested to strengthen linkages and to address the four main cross-border issues.

This document gives a brief background of the transboundary region and a history of relationships and joint activities between Nepal and TAR, China, related to this area. The various exchanges that have taken place are summarised, and the major characteristics of the villages included in the survey are described, together with the aspirations of the villagers. The situation and progress made on the four key issues are discussed in detail, with sections on problems and possible solutions, and suggestions for future action. The document ends with a discussion of achievements and constraints in cross-border development, and sections giving recommendations for the future and suggestions for immediate action.

The main recommendation was to consolidate and expand transboundary activities: specifically by consolidating and regularising the interaction and communication of protected area professionals and managers; following up on the recommendations for activities at the community level, especially by using existing forums such as annual herders’ meetings; promoting joint World Heritage Site designation for QNP; expanding the transboundary activities to contiguous valleys that are not included in protected areas; and expanding transboundary cooperation beyond QNP to include other protected areas of TAR.

Immediate activities that were suggested included offering incentives for information on poaching activities; training in the identification of species that are traded illegally; providing veterinary services for livestock in two villages; conducting a workshop on forest fire management; and preparing a proposal for joint World Heritage Status for QNP.