Sustainability Problems in the Himalayas


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Himalayas are mountain ranges in Asia that comprise of 30 mountains and 9 out of 10 of highest peaks in the world (Himalaya, 2001). The Himalayan ranges cover an area of 612, 021sq km and passes through the nations of India, Pakistan, China, Bhutan and Nepal. The Himalayas forms one of the world most important and unique ecosystems. These ranges are renowned for rich and diverse flora and fauna, dense rain forests, large glaciers, placid lake and untamed rivers (Baker, 2010). It also controls the weather pattern of the surrounding areas and form origin of river systems including two important river systems; the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin and Indus basin.

Himalayas also form an important cultural resource for community living in and around this ecosystem. Over thousands of years indigenous communities in the Himalayas have developed a peaceful coexistence with the natural forces prevailing in this ecosystem through their ways of lives which were compatible to the ecosystem. However, the coming of the era of industrialization and modernization has threatened this peaceful coexistence between the communities and the Himalayan ecosystem.

Rapid increase in human population and need for economic development has led to sustainability challenges in the Himalayas. Recent times have seen human population living in the Himalaya ecosystem rapidly expand and to respond to these need various economic developments were initiated. Food production, timber harvesting, cash crop production and tourism were some of the economic activities that were introduced in order to improve the livelihoods of communities.

However, introduction of these activities did not put into consideration their sustainability aspects leading to the establishment of a sustainability problem. Though these activities were aimed at providing benefits to the local communities, they have turned out to be potential threats to the existence of the rich biodiversity of the Himalayas.

The human population inhabiting the Himalayan region has rapidly expanded over the years. Currently over 40 million people inhabit the Himalayas region (Himalaya 2001). This phenomenon has led to increased demand for natural resources such as water, food and building materials leading to overexploitation of such resources. Increased population has also led to increased demand for land leading to further encroachment into the Himalayan ecosystem.

One visible effect caused by this increase in human population is deforestation.  Forests in the Himalayas are being cut down unscrupulously in order to meet demand for fuel and building materials for the expanding human population (Roy, 2008). Many communities living in the Himalayan region still depend on fire wood for fuel and in almost all their entire energy needs. Demand for food and space has also contributed to deforestation as people are cutting down tree in order to gain access to more land for growing food crops.

The communities style of cultivation has also aggravated the deforestation problem. This people cultivate a piece of land for several consecutive years until it losses its fertility and then they move on to clear another new patch of forest land. This negative farming system has led loss of thousands of hectors of native forest in the Himalayan ecosystem. Loss of forest cover as a result of deforestation has led to rippling adverse effects such as soil erosion, silting and drying of rivers and changing climatic patterns for the surrounding areas.

Another problem caused by the increased human population in the Himalayan ecosystem is pollution. Increased human activities such as farming in the Himalayan ecosystem have led to pollution (Spaltenberger, 2007). The once clear waters of Himalayan rivers and lake are now polluted with silt and chemicals from farm lands located with the Himalayas.

In the effort to meet their basic needs and to earn a living the Himalayan communities have established small cottage industry within the lower levels of the Himalayan ranges which also contribute to pollution of the Himalayan ecosystem. The rapid increase in population has made the Himalayan communities to move away from traditional land use that were compatible to the environment such as herding to environmentally incompatible land use such as cultivation and logging.

Changes in economic systems have also presented threats to the existence of the Himalayan ecosystem. New economic systems have brought about projects that have compromised the sanctity of the Himalayan environment. Huge chunks of the mountain ranges are being blown off and tracks of forest land cleared to give way for the construction of roads (Himalaya, 2001). Intricate networks of roads have been built through the mountain areas not only degrading the environment through their construction but also making the interior parts of the Himalayas easily accessible for development of other human activities.

The constructed roads have opened up the remote parts for Himalayas ranges making them accessible to various forms of economic activities. One economic activity that is now thriving in the Himalayas is tourism (Spaltenberger, 2007). Millions of tourists visit the Himalayas mountain region to experience the unique atmosphere provided by the natural and physical landscape of the area. Though it generates revenues to the communities and investors, tourism also presents some ecological challenges in the areas.

One of them involves littering of the environment. Tons of garbage and refuse are usually left behind by tourist on adventure and expeditions. This not only degrade the scenic beauty but also posses a threat to wild animals and plant species. Tourists also interfere with the flora and fauna species in the ecosystem by trampling on plants and disturbing the animals’ ways of life. Tourist vehicles also cause air pollution from exhaust fumes and effluent from tourism establishment find way into rivers and streams. Not only has tourism affected the ecology of Himalayas but it has also affected the cultures of the local communities through culture erosion and demonstration effect.

Economic drive have also seen the Himalayas region being opened up for cash crop production particularly tea. Large trucks of the native Himalayan forests and other indigenous vegetation have been cleared to allow room for tea production. Currently two countries sharing the Himalayas ranges, India and China, are the world largest tea producers (Roy, 2008). Tea production in these countries especially in India is concentrated in the Himalayan ecosystem. This has had negative environment effects including pollution and deforestations.

Another popular economic driver in the Himalayan ecosystem that has proved to be detrimental to the environment is timber harvesting (Roy, 2008). Trees are cuts down at the foot of the Himalayan ranges in order to meet the demand for timber and to earn profits through the sale of timber and timber products. Harvesting of timber in the Himalayas increases year in year out in order to meet local and international demand for timber.

The above economic and social development activities present a sustainability challenge for the Himalaya ecosystem. Sustainable economic development should be able to ensure long term benefits for the community. However, the above discussed activities seem to threaten the existence of the same resources that sustain them.

By tea production, timber harvesting and tourism causing deforestation in the Himalaya they put the future of these industry in jeopardy and hence their approach is not sustainable. These economic developments are not only referred to as unsustainable because of threatening the ecological aspect of the Himalayas but for also interfering with the unique culture that existed prior to the onset of these developments.

To manage and reverse this situation, a lot needs to be done. First of all policies need to be put in place that will ensure further development of these economic activities is monitored so as it does not cause more harm to the ecosystem. There also need to be a shift in economic development policies. Instead of encouraging economic activities that are incompatible to the environment, more environmental activities need to be established. A good example is embracing the concept of ecotourism instead of the existing concept of mass tourism. Tea and food production should also be restricted to the areas currently underproduction and further clearing of the forest halted.

New sources of energy and timber should be established instead of relying on the natural forest from the Himalayas for the entire energy requirements of the community.  If this recommendation are put in place the Indians, Tibet, Nepali and other Himalayan communities will be able to enjoy significant and long term economic benefits that will run down to future generations. The tea factories, tourism establishments and timber processors also stand to benefit from the implementation of these recommendations.



Anonymous (2001), Himalaya, retrieved on February 8, 2011, from


Baker (2010), Cultural Ecology in Action, retrieved on February 7, 2011, from


Roy (2008), Demography of Darjeeling Hills, retrieved February 8, 2011, from


Roy (2008), India: Largest Tea Producer and Consumer, retrieved on February 8, 2011, from


Spaltenberger (2007), Tourism in the Himalayas, retrieved on February 8, 2011, from


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