Climate change adding layer of vulnerability to fragile Himalayas: Experts
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Guwahati: Hindu Kush Himalaya which spans eight countries, including India, holds potential for more World Heritage Sites.

A new IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) report has listed seven broad areas in the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush and the Karakoram mountain ranges where new natural World Heritage sites could be found.

Natural world heritage sites are globally recognised for their unique natural values. It also identifies possible extensions of existing World Heritage Sites, for instance, the area north of Mount Everest, situated in China, which could complete the already-listed Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal, to the south.

The report  Leveraging the World Heritage Convention for conservation in the Hindu Kush Himalaya, released recently was produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Wild Heritage and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), and supported by the National Geographic Society.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya, as defined by ICIMOD, spans Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. Covering some 3.5 million square kilometres in total, it includes all of the world’s 14 peaks above ,8000 metres of altitude. Four biodiversity hotspots converge there: the Himalayas, the Mountains of Central Asia, the Mountains of Southwest China and the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot.

Many of the areas identified as having World Heritage potential cross borders or complement adjacent World Heritage-listed sites in neighbouring countries. For instance, the world’s highest peak – known as Everest, Sagarmatha, Chomolungma or Zhumulangma, among other names – was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979, but only on its Nepalese side. For the entire mountain to gain this status and benefit from intergovernmental protection, a process for inscribing the area on China’s side could be envisaged, according to the new report.

“The Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) is exceptionally significant in terms of natural and cultural features of the region. While several World Heritage Sites have been inscribed in the HKH, and some have been identified as promising candidate sites, but no comprehensive and up-to-date situation analysis is currently available for the mountains in the region. It was considered high time to address this information gap by taking stock of the past use and future potential of the World Heritage Convention in the region,” Ecosystems Services Specialist at ICIMOD Dr Sunita Chaudhary told EastMojo.

“The HKH region is a globally unique meeting point of four biodiversity hotspots, which to this day is still to reveal many of its biological secrets. Between 1998 and 2008, for example, at least 353 species new to science were discovered in the Eastern Himalayas alone, including an impressive 50 vertebrates. It is clear that such an exceptional region is rich in “outstanding universal values (OUVs)” and is of significant relevance to leverage WHC,” she said.

“All the eight regional member countries of the HKH can apply for the nomination,” she said.  

Today, 17 World Heritage sites are listed in the region, including 10 for their natural values. The report considers seven broad areas for possible new inscriptions on the World Heritage List.

“IUCN Asia accords high priority to the conservation and sustainable development of the Hindu Kush Himalaya. This unique and remarkable region, shared by eight Asian countries, is globally famous for its mountains and its iconic wildlife, such as the snow leopard, it also plays a vital role in ensuring water supplies for hundreds of millions of people. The Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Yangtze and Yellow rivers all originate from this region,” Dindo Campilan, IUCN’s Regional Director for Asia, said in a statement.

Other broad areas where World Heritage sites could be envisaged include the Meghalaya subtropical forests ecoregion in north-eastern India, both the eastern and western Himalayan broadleaf and conifer forests, the eastern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows, and parts of the “northern triangle” forests of northern Myanmar.

 Further possible new sites identified in the report are the Shey Phoksundo National Park and Upper Dolpo in Nepal; Sanjiangyuan and the Yaluzangbudaxiagu Nature Reserve in China; Central Karakoram and Hunza Valley in Pakistan; and Band-E-Amir in Afghanistan.

The report also highlights the importance of rivers originating in the Hindu Kush Himalaya, a region that hosts the largest permanent ice cover in the world outside the polar region.

Opportunities also exist for extending already-listed World Heritage sites to adjacent areas that belong together ecologically, according to the report. In addition to the north side of Mount Everest, the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan was identified as a possible extension to the existing World Heritage site of Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in India, which was inscribed in 1985.

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