Keeping the Himalayas healthy

Posted on April, 11 2011

We’re battling to protect the “water towers of Asia”
We’re battling to protect the “water towers of Asia”

Imagine if you turned on the tap and nothing came out.

We take water for granted. But in many parts of the world, water supplies are anything but secure.

A massive one in five people on Earth depend on the fresh water that flows from the eastern Himalayas. But it’s a fragile area. Climate change and environmental damage could put the water supplies of more than a billion people under severe strain.

It’s one reason why protecting the world’s largest mountain range is so important.

What’s at stake?

Water isn’t the only important thing found in the Himalayas. The area is also a treasure trove of biodiversity, home to:
  • over 10,000 types of plant
  • about 300 mammals
  • 977 birds
  • 176 reptiles
  • 105 amphibians 
  • 269 freshwater fish
  • large number of invertebrates.

Charismatic endangered species including the tiger, Asian elephant, greater one-horned rhino, red panda and snow leopard call it home. The landscape also carries important spiritual and cultural significance for the region’s people.

If we don’t head off the threats facing the Himalayas, the consequences will be catastrophic – for humans and biodiversity.

Those threats are many. The continued impact of climate change will lead to major changes in freshwater flows, unpredictable rainfall and increasingly severe floods, droughts and other extreme events – with dramatic impacts on biodiversity, people and their livelihoods. Human populations are growing, putting pressure on water and forests for food, timber, fuel and medicines. Deforestation is causing soil erosion, which silts the rivers. And poaching threatens vulnerable wildlife.

The story so far

Since creation of the Sagarmatha National Park in the mid-1970s, WWF has been active in this area, especially in helping local communities develop within the limits of their environment. In the 1980s, the Annapurna Conservation Area Programme was set up to support local people with education and income-generating activities. This helped reduce poaching, illegal plant harvesting and deforestation. In 2006, a key development saw the government of Nepal hand over management  of  the  Kangchenjunga  Conservation  area  to  a  local  council,  which  bodes  well  for the future, as communities take on responsibility for managing their local environment

Did you know?

The Himalayas is the highest mountain range in the world. It’s home to 9 out of 10 of the world’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest.

Facts and stats

  • 7 – great rivers of Asia (Tsangpo-Brahmaputra, Ganges, Yangtze, Indus, Mekong, Salaween and Irravadi) which have the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau as their source
  • 10,000 – plant species found in the Himalayas
  • 350+ – new species described in the Himalayas between 1998 and 2008
  • 163 -- globally threatened species found in the Himalayas, including Asia’s three largest herbivores – the Asian elephant, the greater one-horned rhinoceros and the wild water buffalo – and its largest carnivore, the tiger
  • 1 in 5 – people on the planet dependent on the Himalayas for their water

What next?

Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the Himalayan freshwater systems – and the rivers they feed.

We’re working with the governments of Bhutan, India and Nepal – as well as local communities – to protect forests, animal habitats and freshwater sources from the impacts of climate change.

In 2011, the three governments are expected to pledge to create a 70,000 sq km mosaic of conservation areas across the top of world. Almost half the area is already formally protected, but the plan is to join these areas together so wildlife can move safely between them.

Stretching 1,500 km from Nepal across Bhutan to Arunachal in northeast India, the complex will help beleaguered freshwater sources and forest habitats to heal and provide a haven for wildlife. It will also help the region withstand the impacts of climate change.

By 2020, we want to see all river systems in the region managed in a way that allows them to adapt to climate change. We are working toward this through projects like our HSBC Climate Partnership in the Ganges and the Yangtze river basins.

What you can do

Join the myWWF Action Center
Be part of a global community of activists ready to take simple online actions that can help save wildlife and people. Sign up today!


Red Panda (Allurus fulgens).
© David Lawson / WWF-UK
Local Woman on the road from Dengboche to Tuckla Pass, Nepal.
© WWF / Steve Morgan