Eastern Himalayas on the global conservation agenda, plans to raise $1 billion
Assam Chief Minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma lauded the initiative of the Balipara Foundation of Assam to plant 1 billion trees.

Guwahati: The Eastern Himalayas are home to some of the most densely-populated areas on Earth, with over 1 billion people relying directly on its land and water for livelihood and survival. However, its status as an environmental and societal asset of global importance has not been matched by international awareness of its significance, nor investment in its protection and restoration.

But all this is changing with the launch of the Great People’s Forest of the Eastern Himalayas, one of the most extensive restoration and conservation efforts in the history of South Asia, a partnership between Conservation International of Washington DC, USA and the Balipara Foundation of Assam. 

This initiative seeks to raise US$1 billion, plant 1 billion trees and restore and protect 1 million hectares of land across the Eastern Himalayas from the mountains to the mangroves, indirectly benefiting around 1 billion people who depend on this connected ecosystem.

An unprecedented network of local organisations will work together to deliver this project, born out of over a decade of cooperation and knowledge sharing through the Eastern Himalayas Naturenomics™ Forum.

The Eastern Himalayan region spans the mountains, valleys, plains and delta of Northeast India, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. It is a massive single connected ecosystem, with its two major rivers – the Ganges and Brahmaputra – fed by the glaciers of the world’s tallest mountains. These rivers meet to form the world’s largest delta in Bangladesh, which is in turn guarded by the world’s largest mangrove forest in the Sundarbans.

Despite this, the region’s status as an environmental and societal asset of global importance has not been matched by international awareness of its significance, nor investment in its protection and restoration. But there is an urgent need for greater awareness. Every year, 100,000 hectares of tree cover is lost in the region. Just last year, 1.5 million people in the region were displaced by extreme weather events. By 2050, a third of its glaciers could be lost as a result of climate change, with devastating consequences for those living in the valleys and along the rivers below.

The initial implementing partners of the project will be The Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment, The Balipara Foundation, The Energy and Resources Institute, Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation, Bhutan Ecological Society, Green Hub and Friendship NGO.

Assam Chief Minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma lauded the initiative of the Balipara Foundation of Assam to plant 1 billion trees in the northeastern part of India and in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.

Taking part in the launching of the ‘Great People’s Forest of Eastern Himalayas’ organised jointly by the Balipara Foundation of Assam and Conservation International at Bikaner House in the national capital on Monday evening, the Chief Minister interacted with the leaders, conservationists, supporters and other stakeholders and extended his unstinted support to boost the green canopy.

Ranjit Barthakur, President of the Balipara Foundation, said this historic effort will put the Eastern Himalayas and the 1 billion people who rely directly on it, on the international conservation agenda. The Great People’s Forest is our movement to protect the region we call home. “India’s G20 presidency has encouraged us to design this ambitious, creative initiative and we hope to better the lives of the people who rely on the land and water of this beautiful region,” he said.

Dr Richard Jeo, Senior Vice President of Conservation International-Asia Pacific, said: “People have rightly highlighted the urgent plight of the Amazon and the Congo Basin. But we don’t speak with anywhere near the urgency we should about the Eastern Himalayas and its vast ecological significance for the planet. The people of the Eastern Himalayas are some of the most climate-vulnerable on our planet, threatened by melting glaciers, rising sea levels and ever more frequent and more violent storms. And they have contributed only the tiniest fraction of the historic emissions that have caused the climate crisis that they are now on the frontlines of.

“The Great People’s Forest is their response to this crisis and its historic ambition and scale should rightly bring international attention to the ecological importance of this region. We are excited to partner with the Balipara Foundation, regional partners and India’s G20 presidency to design and deliver this historic initiative,” he said.

Anita Arjundas, Executive Director of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment (ATREE) said Northeast India is not fully explored as a bio-resources-rich region. Over 350 new species were discovered in the Eastern Himalayas alone between 1998 and 2008, equating to 35 new species found every year, and many species are still unknown. This mega-biodiversity region with high endemic species is under great threat. “The Great People’s Forest initiative is best poised to generate knowledge, conserve and restore much of the threatened biodiversity for future generations and for enhancing ecosystem services benefiting over a billion people,” he said.

Dr. Vibha Dhawan, Director General of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), said urgently restoring a million hectares of land across India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal, addresses both climate challenges and the well-being of over a billion people dependent on this region.

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Rita Banerji, Founder and Project Director of Green Hub said to scale up work for a sustainable future, especially in the eastern Himalayas, collaboration is core. “The Great People’s Forest initiative is a great step in this direction, keeping restoration and youth at the centre of it,” she said.

Dr Karma Tshering, Managing Director of Bhutan Trust for Environmental Conservation, said he is keen to be a part of the Great People’s Forest initiative and through it, support the scale, expansion and growth of restoration efforts in Bhutan and protect its rich, biodiverse forests for the country’s future.

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