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Koshi DRR knowledge hub to strengthen transboundary collaboration

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Nabin /ICIMOD : The Koshi River basin is home to 40 million people who rely on the basin’s ecosystems services for their livelihoods.

The Koshi basin shared by China, India and Nepal, is characterized by numerous natural disasters putting at risk its 40 million inhabitants.

An inception workshop on disaster risk reduction (DRR) at ICIMOD in Kathmandu looks to increase resilience of these communities through the formation of a DRR focused knowledge hub.

At the launch of the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for greater collaboration to fight climate change impacts through networked multilateralism.

The business community seemed to have been listening, as a large group of institutional investors handed over a signed “Global Investor Statement” to the UNFCCC to explore transitions from carbon-focused to low-carbon transition pathways.

It is an indication that the global discourse on adaptation may be shifting to that of collaboration, or at least to a space where collaboration can be nurtured. In addition to climate negotiations at a global scale, collaborative efforts are needed to address disaster risk at the regional level.

For the Koshi river basin, events such as the disastrous 2008 floods that affected 45,000 people in Nepal and close to 3 million people in India, serve as a dire reminder of the need for greater cooperation in disaster risk reduction (DRR). As noted by H.E. Pete Budd, Australian Ambassador to Nepal, “Natural disasters have transboundary effects. There is no other time than the time to act now.” Although there have been efforts to improve DRR in the basin, related policies and practices need to be strengthened using a multi-disciplinary approach.

To address this gap, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in collaboration with the Bihar State Disaster Management Authority and Sichuan University – Institute of Disaster Management and Reconstruction hosted an inception workshop on the Koshi basin Disaster Risk Reduction Knowledge Hub. The event, held in Kathmandu on 11–12 December, saw over 60 participants from the three basin countries, i.e. China, India and Nepal take part in several discussions and brainstorming sessions to chart out a collaborative roadmap for a basin-wide knowledge hub.

This workshop was a culmination of consultations organized by ICIMOD in the past to focus attention on the vulnerabilities of communities within the basin. For example, between 2000–2011 women headed households in some parts of the basin have increased by as much as 110% due to out migration of men.

The lack of formal credit institutions coupled with climate change impacts have impacted traditional livelihoods. In addition to that, there are 42 potentially dangerous glacial lakes in the basin and in the past one single Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) event caused an estimated damage of USD 150 million. A common refrain through the presentations was the need for researchers to come together to view GLOFs, landslides, floods and other hazards as linked events, which eventually have cascading effects further downstream.

Speaking during a panel discussion on challenges and opportunities in the Koshi basin, Ram Gopal Kharbuja, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, Government of Nepal gave examples of real-time flood forecasting measures that have been established in the Koshi to facilitate information sharing with various stakeholders in Nepal and across the border in India. He said that such knowledge sharing mechanisms would strengthen cooperation between countries in the basin.

Another topic of discussion was on young professionals working in the realm of transboundary collaboration. Participants in the panel discussion suggested that early career capacity development could be a key area of focus for the DRR hub. Elaborating on this possibility, Gretchen Kalonji, Dean, Sichuan University, China said that a network of young professionals could work to the advantage of those looking to conduct further work within the basin.

Referring to the existing limitations on data and information sharing, Liu Rongkun, visiting researcher at ICIMOD remarked “We need to be realistic in achieving our goals – whether its research or information sharing.” For this, strategic investments in information resources could be a way to overcome regional limitations. Online resources, such as ICIMOD’s Koshi Basin Information System (KBIS), can provide decision makers with timely and easily accessible information on biophysical and socio-economic indicators.

However, the success of the hub will depend on transboundary collaboration. “Hazards have upstream and downstream linkages…transboundary cooperation is essential for developing common understanding as well as working towards cooperation,” reminded Vyas ji, Vice-Chairman, Bihar State Disaster Management Authority. The inception workshop debated these multi-faceted challenges and developed a preliminary roadmap for the hub, including working areas such as floods, landslides and sedimentation. The group also discussed cross cutting themes such as knowledge and data sharing, gender, and capacity building and the sustainability of the hub.

Arun Bhakta Shrestha, Regional Programme Manager, River Basins and Cryosphere, ICIMOD noted that sustaining the hub will require careful consideration, patience and planning. “The hub is meant to be used as a platform for collaborative partnership that explores these issues such that ultimately decisions that are made consider the ramifications on communities that live in the upstream and downstream areas of the basin.”

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