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Research on climate change and sustainable livelihoods in the Hindu Kush Himalayas

Anthropologist Erik de Maaker has received a grant from the Himalayan Universities Consortium worth USD 37.000, along with researchers from Yunnan Minzu University (Kunming, China), Sikkim University (India), the Royal University of Bhutan (Thimpu, Bhutan). The grant, to be used in 2018/2019, is meant to initiate research on the societal impact of climate change across the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush mountains in South and Central Asia, a region that is divided between China, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya region will be severely affected by climate change, resulting in an increased glacial melt, and a growing unpredictability of the course of rivers, and of rains and groundwater levels (Xu et al, 2009). Its effects on the ecosystems of the Hindu Kush Himalayas forces people to change their livelihoods and use land-based resources differently, encouraging new cultivation techniques and new crops. Previous livelihood strategies also lose viability due to the gradual reduction of the remoteness and isolation of the Hindu Kush Himalayas, as road and air infrastructures improve, primary education expands, and increasingly dense trade networks create new opportunities for consumers and producers (Smyer YĆ¼ and Michaud 2017). Combined, the changes in ecology and society alter gendered distributions of labor, usually in favor of men and at the cost of women (Agarwal 1998). In addition, these developments lead to a growing inequality and weaken inter-communal solidarities.

The researchers will, together with graduate students, research local livelihood practices, as well as government policies, development interventions and the scientific assessments of these. The research will be carried out in China, Bhutan, and India, and involve ecological settings that are similarly exposed to climate change. For instance, we intend to compare livelihoods based on hill agriculture around Thimpu (Bhutan) with those in Meghalaya (India) and Southern Yunnan (China), as well as high altitude animal husbandry in Tibet (China) with (if feasible) Bhutan or otherwise Sikkim (India). Since these comparisons will be transnational, they are expected to reveal the premises that underlie national discourses that define the dynamics between local actors and policymakers.

Female Nepali migrant labourers work on the improvement of a road in the eastern Himalayas (India) with a local contractor overseeing their work (photo: Erik de Maaker).
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