IUCN Balkila Himalayan Watershed Project supported by Nokia

29 April 2011 | News story

IUCN and Nokia have signed a project partnership agreement which aims to identify opportunities to address climate change and natural resource loss in the Balkila Watershed of Uttarakhand State, India.

Nokia has a history in supporting projects in partnership with expert organisations to put into action our commitment to addressing the needs of communities we serve, as part of our work in social responsibility as a leading global brand”, said Outi Mikkonen, Director NGO partnerships, Nokia Corporate Relations and Responsibility. “Support for this project is part of our overall frame agreement with IUCN and part of Nokia’s water support programme in general”.

The funding will be used by IUCN to establish watershed restoration and livelihood improvements, in particular through improving community resilience in the Indian Himalayas.

The project site, the Balkila watershed, lies in the hills below the towering peaks of the Himalayas, source of the Ganges river. The watershed descends from 4000mts and is home to small farming communities whose way of life is rapidly changing. The economic engine of the north Indian plains is pulling people to the large cities, just as the effects of decades of natural resource overuse are becoming apparent. Added to this is the unfolding impact of climate change.

Mark Smith, IUCN Water Programme Director outlined the expected results from the project which “will include the rehabilitation of springs, that are vital to community life in the watershed, as part of community-based restoration of the watershed. For example, nurseries will propagate indigenous plant species of economic value for reforestation. Overall the project will aim to improve livelihoods through better water management practices, with a particular focus on accessibility of water supplies for women and girls.”

Ganesh Pangare, in charge of the IUCN Asia Water and Wetlands Programme, will coordinate the overall management of the Balkila project. He will lead the implementation of integrated solutions for meeting local energy, food and water needs in the region. Roundtables will be organised on water and resilience in the Indian Himalayas, in order to establish a dialogue with outputs used to influence planning and action on development and climate change adaptation.

Across the Himalayan region in India, people are noticing drying springs. For hillside communities, this is a silent catastrophe. Where will people find the water they need? Women and girls end up walking long distances to fetch water, up and down steep slopes, with heavy loads, taking hours out of every day,” explained Pangare.

Just why the springs are drying up is not a simple matter. Changes in precipitation patterns may be one factor, but locals also point a finger at the decline of the watershed’s forests. The Forest Department of the Uttarakhand State has responded by promoting soil and water conservation with local farmers, and communities have organized to replant local broad-leaved species, like the deodar (cedar) and oak lost in decades past.

All this is happening while communities are facing social and economic change too. “Coping with change will mean that communities in the Balkila, as in all high mountain regions around the world, will have to ensure they organize themselves to adapt,” said Mark Smith. “New kinds of cooperation are needed, to manage watersheds and solve local water problems, but also to make sure people have livelihoods that are resilient, and can cope with new social, economic and environmental realities.”

To find out what it will take, IUCN and Nokia are partnering in the Balkila project with the aim of helping communities in the region learn how water management can be used to build climate resilience, and to then use these lessons to help other mountain regions cope and adapt.

Nokia and IUCN are also partnering on the Save our Species (SOS) Project. More information on SOS can be found here.

Please contact water@iucn.org for any further details.