Objective no. 15 on the list of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) urges humanity to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”.
According to the UN SDG, “two billion hectares of land on earth are degraded, affecting 3.2 billion people (approx.), driving species to extinction and intensifying climate change”.
Mountain habitats and the abundant biodiversity they hold are being threatened by increased deforestation, to make way for unplanned urban development in areas where only towns, not cities (let alone metros) have existed, which makes it imperative that we take all necessary steps to save these habitats.
The Himalayas is one such ecosystem, under which many other ecosystems flourish. But the equilibrium between humankind and Mother Nature has been disturbed, due to glacial melt (brought on by climate change) and increase of human activity on the slopes. Such activity shows scant regard to the precariousness of life at altitude, or to the flora and fauna for which these millennia-old hills have been home.
The Himalayas hosts a variety and richness of biodiversity because it is a mix of diverse climatic systems, including tropical, subtropical, temperate and alpine. As global warming gathers pace, it becomes ever more urgent for governments, civil society and business houses to support the custodians of these hills — and the work of the NGOs devotedly raising awareness — so that the natural treasure that is the Himalayan range can be saved from further harm.
Because, local communities are daily being confronted by challenges that are directly linked with untrammelled urbanisation. Among these challenges are growing depletion of forest cover, soil erosion and degradation of natural wealth, besides loss of habitats and biodiversity, which is why any conservation programme must start from the grassroots.
For, it is the mountain communities, members of which possess vital traditional knowledge that has been handed down to them from their ancestors, who can come up with the solutions to the thorny but not intractable ecological questions of our time. It is their knowhow that we must tap, and it is they who we must involve in conservation initiatives, to find a way back from the brink.
Non-profits and environmental activists can offer support but ultimately it is the natives of the Himalayas who live with the impacts of climate change every day, who can relate to the peculiar vulnerabilities of the region. It is they who must be empowered to rescue their mountain homeland from more damage.
Still, for all the efforts that are required to conserve the Himalayas in all their beauty and wonder, this is critical work that cannot be done without money. This is where Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) comes in; unlocking CSR funds for this vital endeavour will go a long way to supporting the hard work and commitment of the mountain communities, and contributing to improving the overall quality of their lives.
By chipping in with funds, corporate organisations can help in further spreading awareness on the multiple problems being faced by the Himalayan communities, from micro, hyperlocal dilemmas to macro challenges. Ultimately, corporates should focus on a plan of action that is not only grounded on but also prioritises, the natural resources and biodiversity of the region.
Besides the forests and water bodies, plants and trees, and wildlife and birdlife, these resources also include organic and speciality foods that can be sourced locally and non-invasively. Moreover, they incorporate a form of nature tourism that is based on empathy and that respects every habitat, whether on the land or in the water.
But, corporates don’t have to include each of the above mentioned fields in their CSR activity. They can specialise on a particular focus area and dedicate all their energies towards that. For example, ensuring the long-term health of the flora (so that the fauna can not only survive but thrive in these ecosystems). Or promoting local organic agriculture and its harvest as a speciality, a nutritious option for the many looking to return to a healthy diet, and a produce that is both valuable and premium.
The ecology up here may be fragile and under serious threat but, remarkably, it can still boast of a cornucopia of natural marvels. While the locals who call the land home will always have its well-being at the forefront of their minds — concerned that it may disappear with them but also hopeful that it can be saved for their children’s generation and beyond — their endeavour and devotion requires the financial assistance of corporate organisations.
If we don’t act now, soon we may have very little to salvage. By contributing generously to preserving and extending the life of natural assets, CSR can play a key role in safeguarding the Himalayas. And if every top corporate does its bit, a substantial difference can be made. India Inc. can take the initiative in ensuring that our descendants can enjoy these majestic mountains as much as our forefathers once did.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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