Indigenous peoples are the holders of unique cultures, traditions, and knowledge systems, have a special relationship with their lands and are often dependent on natural resources. Many of these communities are forest or fringe forest dwellers, impoverished and dependent on natural resources for sustenance.
India is home to about 700 indigenous groups which is the second only to the number of tribal communities inhabiting the entire continent of Africa. Our country is also one of the mega-diverse countries in terms of biodiversity, harboring nearly 7-8% of the recorded species of the world, and a vast repository of traditional knowledge associated with these natural resources.
Indigenous communities are found to hold diverse concepts of development based on their own worldviews and priorities and face discrimination due to conflict of interests, and are often victims of stigma, land grabbing and encroachment on their lands. They also face numerous societal challenges, such as inadequate health facilities, poor sanitation, and political and economic marginalization. The consequences of warming have exacerbated the difficulties already faced by vulnerable indigenous populations in many regions. Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) around the world are often found at the frontlines of climate change and they are among the first to face the direct impacts of warming and rapid changes in the living environment. Loss of forest cover, invasive vegetation and loss of indigenous food sources have emerged as direct threats to the food security of millions. The impact of climate change on native biodiversity used as food and medicine by indigenous communities is an unknown but expected consequence. Across the Himalayan region, the lives of indigenous communities are threatened by glacial meltdown. In the short term accelerated melting of glaciers increases the volume of water flow, with floods and erosions downstream. In the long term, water scarcity has been predicted by several studies, as glaciers and snow cover shrink. The short term and long-term impacts will affect millions of montane and riparian communities across the Himalayan region. In the 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) cited evidence that around 70% of the world’s terrestrial wild and domesticated biodiversity lies in areas traditionally managed, owned, used or occupied by IPLCs. The IPBES also found that that despite pressures, IPLCs have often managed their landscapes and seascapes in ways that remain compatible with, or actively support, biodiversity conservation.
The IPBES assessment concluded that IPLCs are key for biodiversity conservation, declaring that “goals for conserving and sustainably using nature cannot be met by current trajectories,” and called for “recognizing the knowledge, innovations, practices, institutions and values of IPLCs, and ensuring their inclusion and participation in environmental governance, often enhances their quality of life and the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of nature, which is relevant to broader society.” In fact, the indigenous people of the world hold the key in every serious effort to restore balance to our planet.
[First published on Medium by The Climate Reality Project India ]