The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), together with the Lanzhou University in Gansu, China, organized an international workshop titled “Harmonizing conservation and development along the Silk Road,” from Sept. 3 to 17 in Lanzhou, China. This article is a reflection on the workshop and presents its major outcomes.
By Cora van Oosten, learning coordinator, Global Landscapes Forum (GLF); Rajan Kotru; Ghulam Ali; Yi Shaoliang; Srijana Joshi; Muhammad Ismail; Long Ruijun; Philip Bubb; Shang Zhanghuan; Ding Luming; Huang Xiaodan
Bam-e-Dunya is a Persian word meaning “Roof of the World.” This word was unanimously adopted by all workshop participants as the name for a new transboundary network, with the tagline Connecting Landscapes along the Silk Route. The word represents the shared identity of the people as well as the special biodiversity of the Hindu Kush Karakoram Pamir landscape, which is strategically located between China, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. This landscape forms the heart of the ancient Silk Route, an ancient network of trade routes representing centuries of cultural, scientific and economic exchange between the East and the West. For centuries, the route connected Asia and Europe as a foundation for cultural, scientific and economic exchange.
The newly established Bam-e-Dunya Network will provide a platform for organizations across the Hindu Kush Karakoram Pamir Landscape, with the main purpose to foster exchange and sharing of knowledge, applied methodologies, best practices, and successful policy influence. It will also help to identify common opportunities such as joining international fora on regional cooperation and transboundary landscape management.
The Hindu Kush Karakoram Pamir landscape is the home of about 1 million people of nine indigenous ethnic groups, each having a rich cultural tradition and sharing their transboundary space. Moreover, the landscape is the source to the three major Asian rivers of Amu Darya, Tarim and Indus. It harbors six national protected areas as well as numerous community conserved areas spread across the four countries. Until recently, the landscape has been successful in conserving nature, increasing wildlife populations and enhancing community benefits by maintaining seasonal transboundary movement of people and animals (the iconic snow leopard and Marco Polo sheep among others). However, with growing challenges of climate change, globalization and increasing infrastructure projects, the maintenance of its fragile alpine ecosystem would require truly transboundary management. Currently, the landscape is managed as a series of “conservation islands,” separated by a hardening of national borders, divergent national policies and increasingly fragmented infrastructural works. The newly formed network will be important in this context.
Although the ancient Silk Route has lost its influence due to geopolitical complexity, colonial legacy and the Cold War (1947-1991), it is currently being revived under the banner of the Belt-and-Road initiative, popularly called the New Silk Road. The primary aim of the Belt-and-Road initiative is to (re)connect the Eurasian economic space, by enhancing connectivity, infrastructural development, transboundary trade and intra-regional economic growth. It is clear that this ambitious large-scale development program will bring new economic dynamics to the region. But it may also bring challenges on its adjacent landscapes, in both ecological and social terms. One of the more advanced parts of the initiative is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which has its gateway in the Hindu Kush Karakoram Pamir landscape. While CPEC (and Belt-and-Road as a whole) intends to increase connectivity, the risk is that it may lead to the opposite instead, resulting in marginalization of local people, environmental degradation and fragmentation of biodiversity habitat. Alternatively, CPEC and Belt-and-Road could be a force for strengthening livelihoods and economic opportunities for local people, if designed in a more environmentally conscious and socially inclusive manner. More participation and networking among local actors, strategic environmental impact assessments and appropriate mitigation measures is needed to ensure maximizing the economic opportunities while minimizing the ecological and social threats.
It is within this context that the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, together with Lanzhou University, brought together a wide range of government and non-governmental organizations and agencies active in the area. Together, these organizations and agencies expressed their concerns, and assessed the feasibility of creating a regional network of protected areas to harmonize conservation and development along the Silk Route. All workshop participants said that together they will be stronger and more unified in enhancing ecological and social resilience of their respective areas by fostering transboundary collaboration and balancing conservation and development from an integrated landscape perspective.
By joining hands, the network believes that sustainable and inclusive regional integration should be and can be achieved by sharing knowledge, information and by developing joint management plans to face the challenge of rapid infrastructural development. As a network, partners will be better positioned to contribute to a more ecologically sustainable and socially inclusive planning process. After three days of intensive deliberation, exchange of experiences, joint assessments and priority setting, the delegates formulated and signed a resolution to formally declare their willingness to bundle their forces and collectively influence regional policies. In this way, the just formed Bam-e-Dunya network will contribute to balancing conservation and development, and set an example for other (transboundary) transboundary landscapes along the new Silk Route.
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