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The Changing Himalayas
The landmark Qinghai-Tibet Railway, built at a huge cost the rural livelihoods of mountain people. Efforts to reduce
and associated with important development objectives, is vulnerability and enhance the adaptive capacity of at-risk
partly built on permafrost. Projected widespread permafrost groups need to take a proactive approach that address the
melting on the Tibetan Plateau can threaten future railway social processes leading to vulnerability and the structural
services (Xu et al. 2005; Chen et al. 2005). Likewise, the inequalities that are often at the root of social-environmental
Yangtze River, China’s largest river and a crucial supplier vulnerabilities.
of water to industry, agriculture, and 500 million domestic
users, experienced its lowest upper reaches flow since the
Adaptation to climate change is both related to vulnerability,
1920s in 2006. With upstream dryland expansion, melting
which can be defined as the “degree to which individuals
glaciers, and aggravated sediment deposits that affect
and systems are susceptible to or unable to cope with the
downstream flood discharge capacity (Wang et al. 2005),
adverse effects of climate change” (Smit and Pilifosova
the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric
2001), and to future potential impacts, either avoidable
installation, is also at risk.
or unavoidable. Effective adaptation includes both the
establishment of adaptive capacity (awareness, governance,
and knowledge) and the adaptation itself (change of
Livelihoods, Vulnerability and Adaptation
behaviour, practices, and livelihoods according to new
The term ‘livelihood’ comprises the capabilities, assets
conditions) (Mirza 2007). Adaptation consists of a multitude
(material and social resources), and activities required for
of options depending on the scale, context, and approach.
a means of living (Carney 1998). Sustainable livelihood
The scale of adaption may be local, national, or regional;
includes the idea of coping with and recovering from
the context of the adaptation will determine the type of
stresses and shocks, and maintaining or enhancing existing
adaptation (e.g., new farming practices in a rural context
capabilities and assets. Climate change has made the future
or water demand management in an urban context); and
of mountain indigenous people and their livelihoods more
the approach to adaptation may focus on general poverty
vulnerable and uncertain. The available scientific evidence
alleviation, enhanced transparency in decision making, or
suggests that climate change will place significant stress on
the empowerment of women, among other things.
Living with risk: Floods and flash floods are frequent during the monsoon and kill thousands of people every year in the Asian mountain regions.
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