Dr David James Molden, Director General of International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), is a development specialist with more than 30 years of experience in designing, planning, executing and monitoring programs on water management, livelihoods, environment, and ecosystem services. The ICIMOD chief has been in Bangladesh to participate in a number of programs jointly organized by ICIMOD and Bangladesh Government's Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs. Dr Molden has spoken with The Asian Age on various issues including ICIMOD's mission, vision, and its collaboration with the Bangladesh Government to face climate change challenges in the Chittagong Hill Tracts area.
Interviewed by Muhammad Imran on behalf of The Asian Age
Asian Age (AA): People of Bangladesh are not very familiar with this very important organization. Could you please tell us briefly what ICIMOD is and what are its mission and vision?
David James Molden (DJM) : ICIMOD is the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. We're based in Kathmandu Nepal. It has eight member countries and Bangladesh in one of them. The others are Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. The vision of ICIMOD is to help the men, women and children of the Hindukush Himalayan region enjoy improved well being and a healthy mountain environment. So our organization is about mountain environments but also very much about livelihoods of mountain people. And then our mission is to enable sustainable mountain development for resilient and equitable livelihoods through knowledge and regional cooperation. The knowledge sharing part is very important for us.
AA: Bangladesh is not known for mountains. Why is ICIMOD in Bangladesh?
DJM: There are two big reasons behind the presence of ICIMOD in Bangladesh. One is the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), because the issues of hills here are very similar to the hills in other countries in this region. And other is that, Bangladesh is very dependent on the water that comes down the Himalayan Mountains. So what I found is people of Bangladesh are very curious about what happens in mountains and how that affects this country.
AA: You have been with ICIMOD for last five years. In terms of climate change, what are the most conspicuous changes that you have noticed in South Asia during your tenure?
DJM: I have been in this region for many years. I was in Nepal in the 90's. The climate change is very evident in the mountains; the melting glaciers and the changes in river flows. But the other big change that I have seen is the out migration of people. People are migrating from villages into cities, so the cities are growing. People are even migrating out of the countries, for example, to The Middle East or Malaysia which has tremendously changed the countryside. The scenario is same almost all over South Asia. So Because of the adverse effects of climate change people are losing their livelihoods at home and migrating to other places. I would not say climate change is the sole reason of people's migration in this region but it's playing a significant role.
AA: How do you find the Bangladesh government's political willingness to face the challenges of climate change?
DJM: I think Bangladesh has been a leader in this regard. Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the face of climate change for being a low lying area. Hills and mountains are vulnerable as well to climate change. I think Bangladesh has led the way both in the voice of climate change as well as the actions and adaptations that have been taken.
AA: What is the big challenge, in your view, of implementing Paris Climate Agreement?
DJM: I think the real challenge is to move faster than we're moving. We really have to take some urgent actions firstly, on mitigation front to reduce the emissions of green house gases. Secondly to move on adaptation because people in all those countries I have mentioned are really facing serious challenges from climate change.
AA: You have a number of programs this time in Bangladesh. Could you tell us a little bit about those?
DJM: After Sunday's seminar on 'Sustainable Development in Chittagong Hill Tracts: Inclusive Growth and a Prosperous Society in Hills and Mountains' we have a very special event in Cox's Bazaar. It is the 47th Board of Governors meeting of ICIMOD. And this year we're being hosted by the Bangladesh government. It's really an honor to be here. So we have people from seven other countries. Actually we have our Board of Governors from around the world. It's very important for ICIMOD because we're doing our strategic planning in this meeting. And we're very lucky to have as our board chair the secretary of the Ministry of CHT Affairs Mr. Nabo Bikram Tripura. He has been a wonderful supporter of ICIMOD. And it's very special because sometimes you don't associate mountains with Bangladesh. But the secretary is very aware of the challenges hill and mountain people are facing. So we are very thankful to him and the government of Bangladesh for being huge supporters of ICIMOD.
AA: Considering the land dispute and history of conflict in CHT, do you think it's especially challenging to work in the CHT area? If so, how do you address these challenges?
DJM: We are very much led by the government that has taken a keen interest in CHT. So we are taking a lead from the priorities of the government and doing our best to support in those efforts in the hill tracts.
AA: What are ICIMOD's focus areas in CHT?
DJM: Our big focus in CHT is livelihood? improving the livelihoods of the people of CHT. We call it alternative livelihood strategy. Basically asking the question, how people can get more income from really the niche products that hill tracts has to offer. So, part of that is looking for agricultural products; let's say fruits, vegetables and honeybees as example. We also feel there's great potential for eco-tourism. So, one of our big activities in the area is supporting to set up eco-tourism. In addition to that we look at issues of how people manage land. Shifting cultivation has been a tradition in hill tracts. So we're looking at ways to make this transition from shifting cultivation to say, agro forestry or high values crops for the people of hill tracts.
I do want to say, in addition to what we're doing in CHT, ICIMOD also has been working on the big river systems of Bangladesh; looking at hydrology and looking at flood warning systems and training in remote sensing and GIS. Another very special event that we've held together with the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs is the celebration Mountain day; bringing awareness and issues of hills and mountains to the rest of Bangladesh.
AA: Does ICIMOD directly work with local people and do you have any plan to collaborate with Bangladeshi researchers and academicians?
DJM: So when we're working in CHT then we're working with local organizations in that area. But in terms of collaboration with Bangladeshi researchers and academicians, we have this initiative called Himalayan University Consortium where we have 50 universities from these eight countries and beyond, including Bangladesh, working on issues of mountain and building a dynamic mountain knowledge partnership among universities, ICIMOD, and regional member country partners to promote research and learning.
AA: The media has a critical role in changing the public's perception on climate change. Do you have any suggestion to Bangladeshi media to address the climate change issues and CHT?
DJM: The request I would have for Bangladeshi media is to look closely at the challenge of hill tracts because it's a very different climate change challenge. The Adaptation challenges of the hills are going to be different than the plains. So because we know people there are facing very special challenge the media should give it a special attention. I always think the media has a very important role to play to making sure these messages reach to the people of Bangladesh.
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