Among the peaks of the Chinese Tibetan Autonomous Region highland lies one of the most venerated sites in the world—Mount Kailash
Located in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, this sacred mountain has held a status of utmost importance for many different religious groups for thousands of years. Every year, a pilgrimage to this remote mountain inspires over thousands of people of Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Bon faiths to journey long distances into Mount Kailash’s heights and surrounding areas.
A landscape of invaluable significance for nature and mankind
In addition to its religious significance, the Mount Kailash region holds high ecological importance. Four of South Asia’s major river systems originate here, including the Indus, the Karnali/Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Sutlej. These rivers are the life source for the ecosystems and large human population downstream. The combined watersheds provide irrigation and hydropower generation, and are a source of drinking water for millions of households in the joining parts of Nepal and India, where many of them are poor. Biomes ranging from subtropical forests to high altitude rangelands and deserts hinge on the viability of the watershed.
National governments of the three surrounding countries, namely China, India and Nepal, as well as local communities, are aware of the rich and diverse ecology and culture of the region. They are also aware of the future challenges linked to climate change, illegal trade, the interface of upstream-downstream relations, like flood outbursts, hydropower installations and knowledge gaps on long term climate, ecological degradation and other data.
As the larger geographic area includes parts of southwestern Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, the northwestern part of Nepal and northeastern part of Uttarakhand State of India, the region’s sustainable management of ecosystem services necessitated the collaboration of these countries. Their different interests and capacities had for a long time, hindered such a collaboration.
Turning the tide of ecosystem threats through regional collaboration
With the commencement of preparatory phase in 2007 a turnaround in the management of the Kailash Sacred Landscape was triggered. With the encouragement of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the three countries agreed to take an integrated holistic approach towards the different conservation and development issues within this unique landscape.
ICIMOD serves as a trans-national coordinator and facilitator of the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative with the respective national nodal ministries and institutes as implementers. The initiative receives financial contributions from the Department of International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom and since 2012, is also being supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
The initial years of the project preparation consisted of creating an environment conducive to consistent engagement in finding common ground and collaboration based on the strengths of each country. Partners worked to develop a common approach to transboundary landscape management that considered the interests of the various stakeholders, diverse national policies and capacities of the partner institutions in each country. Several frameworks and strategies were developed in an iterative consultative process to guide long term cooperation and clear modes of collaboration on methodologies and project implementation.
The partners agreed on five overarching objectives for the Kailash Sacred Landscape during the collaborative planning process:
- The development of innovative livelihood systems;
- The improvement of eco-system management for sustainable services;
- The development of access and benefit protocols conforming to Nagoya Declaration in 2010
- Establishment of long term socio-ecological monitoring, and regional cooperation;
- Creation of enabling policies and knowledge management systems.
Partners worked to ensure that project plans were matched and leveraged to national plans in each country. Furthermore, the engagement of communities was ensured through participatory assessments and planning processes in each country. The pilot of this management approach was launched in 2012, and will conclude in 2017.
The transboundary landscape approach delivers social, cultural and environmental benefits across countries
Despite the challenges faced, the project has already achieved significant positive impacts in terms of improving regional cooperation and collaboration between the various stakeholders in the field (for example in relation to tourism development through the approval of guidelines for pilgrims in the Mount Kailash site by relevant tourism stakeholders). The nomination of the Kailash Sacred Landscape as a trans-national World Heritage Site by UNESCO is under discussion, and if successful, will help to cement future cooperation at the landscape scale between the three states.
For information, visit the ICIMOD Kailash Initiative website or contact Mr. Rajan Kotru (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Corinna Wallrapp has worked since 2010 as an advisor for GIZ and has been based the past two years in Kathmandu, Nepal to support the Kailash Initiative together with ICIMOD.