51_G15_Arena

Global Issue 15

ice cap on earth, after the North and South poles. It conditions their very existence. Besides being the Third Pole, the Himalayas are also Asia’s water tower: the mountains serve as the watershed of the continent’s eight largest rivers. More than 1.3 billion people – a fifth of the world’s population – living in the basins of these rivers rely on their waters for sustenance. These ecosystems provide food, fibre, fodder, fuel wood, medicinal plants, wild pollinators, climate and water regulation, and carbon sequestration. Biodiversity also has irreplaceable religious, spiritual and aesthetic value. Agriculture in the Himalayas is intertwined with, and relies on, surrounding biodiversity. Yet, even before all its riches have been uncovered, this great natural life support system is under serious threat. The tremendous biodiversity of the Himalayas – a product of millions of years of evolution – is being rapidly lost, due to the economic demands of population growth and the effects of climate change. Natural ecosystems are being converted for other uses, such as by deforestation or putting land to the plough. Biodiversity is gradually being degraded by extraction of species for trade, or disruption of ecological processes due to habitat fragmentation, pollution, spread of alien invasive species, and diseases – all induced by humans. Thus, the one-horned rhinoceros, hunted for its purported medicinal properties, is on the verge of extinction. The Bengal tiger, sought for its skin, is threatened. As its forest habitats recede, the red panda – the size of a domestic cat, and a distant cousin of the giant panda – is now regarded as a living fossil, classified as vulnerable. The newly identified Arunachal macaque is already listed as endangered, along with the golden langur, one of the world’s rarest colobine monkeys, itself discovered only in 1955. The danger list is endless. Fast-growing populations with increasing levels of consumption can overload natural ecosystems. Economic growth to meet the increasing demands inflates energy needs. China and India envisage building about 400 dams on either side of the massive Himalayan watershed – four times the current number. These displace the biodiversity, as well as people, erode rare river life and run risks associated with earthquakes in a seismic hotspot. Then there are the side effects of unregulated tourism, antiquated policies and centralised governance of natural resources. At the same time, the Roof of the World is leaking. The Himalayas are melting; glaciers are receding. Climate change is Arena Himalayas Threatened by water pollution: the Himalayan, or red knobby, newt Spectacular: the wreathed hornbill Vulnerable: the red panda, a living fossil  global thi rd quar ter 2013 www.global -br ief ing.org l 51


Global Issue 15
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