Towards One Health: Making our mountains resilient
20 November 2021 | Darjeeling- Kalimpong
The Mountain Legislators Meet 2021 will deliberate on the outcomes of the Sustainable Mountain Development Summit 2021 and focus on key policy interventions necessary for the advancement of the recommendations discussed during the Summit towards making our mountains resilient through the One Health approach. This Mountain Legislators’ Meet will have a special focus on addressing the waste crisis in the IHR, especially plastic pollution. MLM 2021 will deliberate on the need for a mountain lens in waste management policies that will reduce plastic pollution in the mountains, especially in the Ganga Basin. The findings from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and IMI’s project CounterMeasuresII will inform the deliberations.
SMDS X will be organised at Kalimpong-Darjeeling from 18th to 20th November 2021 by Integrated Mountain Initiative (IMI) and Darjeeling Himalaya Initiative (DHI), IMI’s Darjeeling chapter.
The theme of SMDS X is “Towards One Health: Making our mountains resilient.” One Health, that binds together the health of humans, animals and the environment. It provides a framework for addressing, promoting and implementing collaboration, with overall health as an important indicator of community resilience. Sub topics for discussion will include One Health response to zoonosis, sustainable food systems, biodiversity and ecosystems for human health, and governance that promotes one health. SMDSX will seek to deliberate on solutions towards making our mountains resilient, in the backdrop of Covid-19, through the framework of One Health. SMDSX will also inform the National One Health Mission and deliberations.
The project aims at informing and influencing national policies, institutions and alliances through the generation and dissemination of scientific knowledge on plastic pollution in rivers and the documentation of best practices demonstrated along the river Ganga. Learnings from the interventions in hill states like Uttarakhand will be taken up at the national and regional levels for policy recommendation and advocacy, capacity building and awareness creation. UNEP-IMI Counter Measures II will work towards a mountain lens policy recommendation that will reduce plastic pollution in the IHR that eventually flows through the mighty rivers to the ocean.
IHR, one of the 34 global biodiversity hotspots that supports 50 million people living in the region and generating a host of other ecosystem services for the well-being of many more living downstream, is increasingly under threat from climate change, land degradation and natural disasters. This fragile and important socio-ecology is further threatened by the waste crisis, especially plastic pollution. The waste crisis is largely due to the changing production and consumption patterns, rapid unplanned urbanization, and increase in tourist footfalls coupled with weak solid waste management (SWM) systems. The characteristics of the IHR region such as remoteness and relative inaccessibility make waste management all the more challenging and an expensive affair.
Open dumping (as opposed to engineered landfills) of unsegregated and untreated waste, and burning of waste are common practices across the IHR. These practices lead to the release of toxins that contaminate the air, soil and waterways which threaten human and planetary health and accentuate climate change for mountain ecosystems. A total of 228 open dumpsites are reportedly present across the IHR, which, along with domestic sources, contribute to river water pollution causing detrimental downstream impact.1 As of 2018, Central Pollution Control Board (CPBP) identified 66 stretches of polluted rivers in the IHR states based on biological oxygen demand.2
The Himalayan Clean-Up (THC - 2018 to 2021) across 200+ sites that engaged 15,000 volunteers across 12 IHR states, indicated that 97% of the thrash collected was plastic. THC 2021 revealed that 85% of waste audited to be plastic and 71.8% non-recyclable, mostly multilayered plastic. Thus the already weak waste management systems of the IHR are increasingly burgeoning with a material that has no solution once trashed. This reveals the gravity of plastic pollution in the region and the health risks it poses not to humans and the biodiversity of the region. It also shows the need for systemic changes in the long run that is not just the end of the pipeline solutions. It requires the need for designing out plastic pollution in the long run and companies taking responsibility for their waste.
Tourism is an additional contributor to the Himalayan waste crisis. The IHR receives about 100 million tourists yearly and is projected to increase to 240 million by 2025.3 Tourism-related activities including mass tourism, religious tourism, reportedly generate about 8.395 million tonnes per year (MT/Y) of solid waste and also expands the spread of waste to remote locations.4
In the face of plastic proliferation, its dominant single use nature and increasing use of material that has no solutions, and its impact on entire mountain ecosystems, it is crucial to undertake a systematic overview of the problems and causes, and deliberate on ways to develop upstream policies and solutions that can prevent plastic waste and pollution. A multi-pronged strategy that not just works towards sound management of waste but one that considers the whole lifecycle of plastic and designing out waste from the system must be considered. Integrated management plans to reduce waste through effective policies and promotion of knowledge, capacities and skills suited to local conditions are needed.
In this context, there is a need to contextualise waste management rules including plastic waste management with a mountain lens wherein the waste management policies (Solid Waste, Plastic Waste, E-Waste, Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules 2016 GOI) are sensitive and acknowledge the specific issues and challenges of the mountains. This calls for an appropriate resource allocation and support that is considerate of and reflective of the rich biodiversity, ecological sensitivity and fragility of the Indian Himalayan Region besides specific geographical challenges of mountain waste management. Recent promulgations like the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) within the plastic waste management rules must be made feasible to the mountain states. In its existing state EPR is not viable to the mountain states.
The MLM will delve deep into the Himalayan waste crisis, analyse existing policies, its gaps and suggest policy recommendations. This will contribute to the mitigation of the waste crisis, especially plastic pollution in general and the Ganges and other rivers in particular. There is a need to involve more stakeholders such as the forest, tourism, education, water, education and health departments as well as defence. This will bring focus on current actors and will also shed light on building concrete pathways for a more effective strategy to tackle the issue of plastic pollution and waste management in the IHR.