Kumaon – an overview

Ashim is a doctoral researcher at the International Centre of Urbanism at KU Leuven, Belgium. His research analyses the overlaps of rapid urbanization, receding ecological resilience, and climate impacts in Garhwal Himalayas. He is an experienced urban infrastructure and landscape planning expert, with multi-disciplinary experience, trained in spatial planning from KU Leuven, Urban Design from CEPT University, Ahmedabad, and a Bachelor of Architecture from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, where he has also taught at the Faculty of Architecture. He is a founding principal at Ekatra, a collaborative design-research practice.

Kumaon cows grazing in Mukteshwar Forest

Kumaon, Uttarakhand, is a region experiencing ongoing environmental degradation due to various factors, including urban and infrastructural developments, the impact of climate change on forests, agriculture, and water resources, and the lack of community action in creating more resilience within its landscape. 

Kumaon, the eastern part of Uttarakhand, is well known for its rich and diverse environmental landscape. Its rugged mountains, dense forests, and extensive riverine systems form part of the larger Ganga water catchment. Settled within the numerous villages, Kumaon is home to a vibrant culture of ‘living within the Himalayas,’ having developed a close relationship with the environment, relying on its natural resources for their livelihoods over several centuries. Home to a diverse range of forest ecosystems, Kumaon is home to a wide range of flora and fauna, including several endangered bird and animal species. Kumaon’s forests are crucial in carbon sequestration, water regulation, and soil conservation. Kumaon is also known for its extensive water systems, essential for the region’s agriculture and livelihoods. The region is home to several rivers, including the Kali, Gori, and Ramganga, which flow through the region’s valleys and provide water for irrigation and drinking purposes. 

Kumaon Deodar, oak, mixed forests

Rural communities in Kumaon traditionally had a close relationship with the environment, relying on its natural resources for their livelihoods. The region’s rural communities were involved in agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry, and their traditional practices promote sustainability and conservation. 

The construction of roads, buildings, and dams has led to deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution. The rising temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns have led to the drying up of water resources, resulting in a water crisis in the region. Additionally, the impact of climate change on the region’s forests and agriculture has led to a decline in crop yields and forest cover, further contributing to the environmental degradation, due to induced outmigration and abandoned villages and farmlands. 

While the region faces multiple and multi-scalar challenges, we need to examine the role of community action that can be crucial in mitigating environmental degradation’s effects and creating a more resilient future for the region. The ongoing environmental threats that threaten the region’s ecological balance and the survival of various species of flora and fauna are of deep concern. Engaging in sustainable practices and conservation efforts can ensure a more sustainable future for Kumaon and its inhabitants. 

It is imperative to develop a greater role for local community action towards a more resilient future. The stake holders need to participate in this process, through a process of further learning and engagement and concerted action corresponding to current challenges, if we are to mitigate the effects of environmental degradation.

Photo Credit: Rajiv Butalia

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