Tuesday 4 October 2011

What is the financial cost to the services provided Uttarakhand/Himalayan ecosystem?

Written by Anil Singh

A very important question is raised by the experts gathered under the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) yesterday. The important question raised is:

“Should there be a financial cost to the services provided by mountain ecosystems?”

In simple, the question means:

Should any “financial valuation” of the enormous contributions made by mountain communities in areas of water, forestry, mining and generation of hydro and wind-power be made, so that the 200 million or 20 crore mountain people living in the region (the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region) receive the benefit?

The experts appear to be unanimous on the need of such a financial cost calculation.

An attempt to estimate the value of global ecosystem services, estimated the value of global ecosystem services at $33 trillion per year (approx. Rs 14,85,00,000 crore) in 1997, almost double of the world’s GDP.

Based on this calculation, an annual value of forest ecosystem services in Uttarakhand was calculated at $2.4 billion per year (approx. Rs. 10800 crore). That apart, the Green India Trust 2008 study placed the per hectare ecological value of soil nutrient conservation, flood-control and water recharge in dense forests of Himachal Pradesh at `5,85 per hectare and `6,255 in Uttarakhand.

But even after contributing that big to the other regions, Mountain ecosystems are not receiving even a little recognition at the national economic decision making levels, including resource allocation, emphasizes Dr L.M.S. Paini, director, G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development.

Stressing further on the need for financial cost calculation of Himalayan/Uttarakhand ecosystem, so that the mountain people receive the money benefits, Mr. Paini informed that -- while the low-agricultural productivity in the region is forcing people to move out of the Himalayas in search of livelihoods elsewhere, more than ever; the markets emerging for carbon, watershed services and biodiversity, have made these mountain-based products more saleable resources than ever. Hence, if the Governments start acknowledging the money value of the resources, then that can stop the migration from these hilly regions as well.

Dr Gopla Kadekodi, honorary professor at the Centre for Multi-disciplinary Development Research in Dharwad, seemed to disagree with Dr. Paini’s viewpoint. Expressing his apprehensions at this monetizing demand, Mr. Kadekodi said that any valuation will see the local people losing out. He believes that such a cost appraisal will snatch the traditional rights of people on these resources and put them in Government hands. So in essence, while the outsiders will keep getting the resources for free or at prices which are seldom profitable for the mountain people; losing the traditional rights will give a double blow to the mountain people living in the region.

For instance, if the cost valuation of medicinal plants in Uttarakhand/Himalayas, which are in growing demand in the country, is done, then although the government tenders will start more exploitation of medicinal plants than ever, the locals will not be able to demand profitable price for the resource, even when they will be the one collecting the plants at the forest level.

In the same way, while such cost valuation will ignore the water rights of these hill people, People downstream, including farmers, will keep getting the water resource for free, for political and other reasons.

In an attempt to set aside any such concerns and to pacify any extreme views in this context, the B.M.S. Rathore, joint secretary Ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) maintained that the Green India Mission (GIM) aimed to “increase and improve forest cover in the Himalayan range up to 41 per cent. Adding further that the GIM also aimed to increase forest based income of three million households and also tap carbon sequestration of 50 million tonnes from these forests.

[carbon sequestration: The process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and depositing it in a reservoir. When carried out deliberately, this may also be referred to as carbon dioxide removal, which is a form of geoengineering]

What are your views on this matter?

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