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In Historic Move, Himalayan Development Organization Appoints New Leader from Bhutan

Glaciers in the Afghan and Pakistani regions of the Hindu Kush Himalaya. From

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which focuses on development and sustainability issues within the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, has announced the historic decision to appoint Bhutanese politician Dr. Pema Gyamtsho as its next director general. The decision marks the first time that a citizen of the region has headed the influential organization.

Headquartered in Kathmandu, ICIMOD is an intergovernmental learning- and knowledge-sharing organization that operates within the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH): Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. Leveraging specialized knowledge and expertise and regional cooperation, ICIMOD works with member countries, partner institutions, and donors toward a sustainable future for the communities and environments of the extended Himalayan region, stating:

We work to improve the lives and livelihoods of men, women, and children of the HKH and protect mountain environments and cultures. The knowledge we create and share helps the people of the HKH become more resilient, make the most of new opportunities, and prepare for change. Our work strengthens regional cooperation for conservation and sustainable mountain development. (ICIMOD)

Although its working within and for the HKH region, ICIMOD has been headed exclusively by American and European directors since it was established in Paris in 1983, with founding sponsorship from Switzerland, Germany, and UNESCO. Gyamtsho is due to replace the outgoing director general David Molden, an American, on 15 October.

“ICIMOD is the key institution in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region to accelerate action to address the region’s shared concerns,” said Gyamtsho on his appointment. “I am delighted to be selected for this very important position that would give me an opportunity to pursue my passion to work for the HKH community.” (Weekly Technology Times)

Gyamtsho, who holds a PhD in natural science from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and a master’s degree in agriculture science from New Zealand, is a veteran politician in Bhutan and has resigned his role as Bhutan’s parliamentary opposition leader in order to head the ICIMOD. Gyamtsho has previously worked with the ICIMOD as a watershed specialist.

Pema Gyamtsho. From kuenselonline
Pema Gyamtsho. From kuenselonline

“I speak for other members of the Selection Committee and the Board of Governors in saying that we have been honored to review the deeply impressive range of candidates for the position and are delighted to welcome Dr Gyamtsho as ICIMOD’s new Director General,” said Dr. Zhang Yaping, vice-president at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and chairperson of ICIMOD’s Board of Governors. “During these tumultuous times, we are confident that Dr. Gyamtsho will bring to bear his keen acumen, gracious leadership style, and ambitious vision for ICIMOD’s growth into the future.” (Weekly Technology Times)

The Hindu Kush Himalaya form a major part of a region known as the Earth’s “third pole” because its glaciers and permafrost contain the largest reserves of freshwater outside of Antarctica and the Arctic, feeding the 10 largest river systems in Asia. Combined, these rivers support the drinking water, irrigation, energy, industry, and sanitation needs of  some 1.3 billion people living in the mountains and further downstream in South and Southeast Asia.


Along with rapid population growth placing greater demands on limited water resources, climate change is also impacting water availability throughout the HKH, which are warming about three times faster than the global average. Many human activities—significantly agriculture—are synchronized with seasonal flows of water and precipitation patterns, however warming temperatures have made hydrological cycles increasingly unpredictable, causing periods of extreme drought and flooding, with potentially devastating impacts on people, communities, and ecosystems.

In addition to promoting and sharing scientific research among HKH member countries, ICIMOD’s role is significant in creating a neutral space in which the region’s policymakers can discuss environmental challenges. This means that in addition to Gyamtsho’s background and expertise, his  appointment is also likely to help ICIMOD work in an atmosphere of political neutrality amid escalating political and territorial tensions in the region. 

“Recently, we’ve put a lot of effort in finding common grounds for countries to work together,” said ICIMOD’s outgoing director general David Molden. “In this region, there are contentious issues when working across boundaries, like security and trade. Climate change, disasters, science, and many mountain-related issues are of common concern, so countries can get together despite their differences.” (State of the Planet) 


Gyamtsho has government-level leadership experience in environmental management; natural resources management and planning; rural development; agriculture; forestry; livestock and food production; rangeland management; climate change and environmental protection; biodiversity conservation; and organic farming.

“On behalf of ICIMOD’s eight regional member countries, I welcome Dr. Gyamtsho to his new role and look forward to working with him,” said Dr. Zhang Yaping. “We cannot let this current pandemic deter us from a clear focus on the climate crisis and in this way, we are confident that Dr. Gyamtsho’s vision and dedication will add strength to strength and lead the institution into a future where prosperity permeates across the region.” (Weekly Technology Times)

See more

Leading Himalayan Organization Takes a Historical Step by Appointing a Leader From Bhutan (State of the Planet)
OL to become ICIMOD director general (Kuensel)
ICIMOD Board Of Governors Selects New Director General (Weekly Technology Times)

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