Adaptation in Nepal

Published: 23rd July 2011 15:30Last Updated: 23rd July 2011 14:30

Adaptation: Responding to the threat of Climate Change

This work is part of a Policy Brief on Climate Change in Nepal produced by Practical Action in 2008

Climate change is currently causing increased hardship for rural communities throughout Nepal. Moreover, current levels of global greenhouse gas pollution mean that the impacts of climate change are now set to worsen over the coming decades regardless of future emissions. However, whilst the most profound impacts of climate change may still be some years away, our understanding of future climate scenarios means that actions to help prepare communities can be taken now. Importantly, strategies that build communities' ability to adapt to climate change can and must be undertaken now: it will be too late to act once the last crops have failed or glacial lakes have burst.

Strategies for adaptation need to focus on the needs of the people most affected by climate change impacts and aim to reduce the most significant hazards they face. Identifying communities' own priorities and needs, and valuing their knowledge alongside science-based knowledge is key to development of sound adaptation strategies. Sharing experiences, obstacles and positive initiatives with other communities and development policy-makers must be an integral part of national adaptation strategies. The primary role of governments and international processes is in developing and implementing policy that is enabling for local-level action. Governments must allocate resources to preparing for the inevitable impacts of climate and in developing adaptation activities and skills within communities. However, some important adaptation activities, such as management of increasingly scarce or flood prone water resources, will require coordination at the regional and intergovernmental levels.

Development of adaptation strategies at the national level is underway in some Least Developed Countries, where National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) identify priorities for adaptation projects. At the time of writing, Nepal had not published a NAPA. To ensure a positive impact on the most vulnerable communities, climate change adaptation should support the development of community based systems of adaptation based on sustainable livelihood options and sound management of ecosystems through strengthening capacities, skills and institutions to react and adapt to climate generated changes. More specifically, climate change adaptation strategies, including the NAPAs, should:

• Begin with vulnerability assessments based on strong gender analysis to focus on the most vulnerable and their needs within the communities and to identify and reduce the most significant vulnerabilities they face.

• Value the knowledge and strategies that the poor are already using to cope with climate change and use this as a basis to identify priorities and define action.

• Empower communities to participate in the development of climate change sensitive interventions and policies, ensuring effective interaction between decision-makers and planners from key climate change affected sectors in both government and donors' structures.

• Facilitate delivery of resources, support and services to community level, including information, skills, technology, finance and basic services and activities aimed at Disaster Risk Reduction.

• Require agriculture, energy, transport and health departments of Government to undertake an analysis of predicted climate change and how it impacts on their sector.

• Ensure that risks related to climate change and community-based responses to adaptation are mainstreamed into the most appropriate planning frameworks and development plans (including PRSPs).

Community based adaptation - reaching Nepal's rural poor

Climate change will have a significant impact on Nepal's rural farmers. The impacts will force profound lifestyle changes and destroy livelihoods if communities are not made aware of climate change and supported in finding ways to adjust and respond. However, through community based adaptation, there is much that can be done:

• Awareness of climate change is a key pillar of community based adaptation. Active participation in workshops, meetings and events that have been organised within communities can allow them to relate their own experiences to climate change and understand how future weather patterns may differ to those they have known in the past.

• Action on adaptation can produce benefits now and in the future. Many adaptation activities help to provide communities with diversified livelihoods, alternative sources of income, or better infrastructure. Such 'no regrets' strategies are attractive as they have immediate positive impacts whilst also supporting the ability of communities to adapt to climate changes in the future.

• Adaptation can be made more effective by focussing on two existing areas of policy: disaster risk reduction and supporting livelihoods. When undertaken through community organisations, these overlapping activities address key climate vulnerabilities and build capacity to deal with future challenges.

Examples of Practical Action's experience with community based adaptation in Nepal are provided in the following section, and demonstrate how low cost interventions can make a huge difference to those most affected by climate change. However, whilst local community based interventions are an essential aspect of adaptation, there is also an urgent need for adaptation planning and investment across all sectors of government. Reducing staple food crop yields, short term glacial river floods or glacial lake outbursts and long term reductions in water supply, risks to hydropower installations, vegetation changes and the disappearance of forests, and new challenges to human health are all examples of anticipated climate change impacts that need planning for now. Government at all levels needs to support both community based adaptation and, together with communities, develop and implement strategies that respond to the wider and larger scale implications of climate change.

Practical Action's experiences of community based adaptation

The following examples of community based adaptation demonstrate that support for communities facing climate change can be provided now, and at little cost. New farming techniques or alternative seed varieties are low-cost changes that can directly address the threat to the livelihoods of the rural poor. Whilst these strategies provide for improved livelihoods for the communities involved, they are 'win-win' approaches to adaptation as they also target the twin goals of community based adaptation: building adaptive capacity and reducing vulnerability.

Community based adaptation also emphasises the need for communities to understand that climate change means that traditional responses to climate variation may no longer be sufficient when long term shifts in temperature and rainfall are predicted. Women, who frequently play a key role in natural resource management, are central to ensuring that the impacts of climate change are properly understood. By building on their understanding of the climate and their environment, and by sharing their experiences with others, communities are able to develop their own strategies for climate change adaptation. Local and national government policy is therefore needed to support the communities in this process of defining and achieving their own goals.

Crop diversification in regions affected by flooding: One effective way for communities to cope with increased flooding and the threat to their land is by growing a range of new and different crops that have a higher market-value. By introducing crops that are more resilient to the changes in rainfall patterns, crop diversification also allows alternative crops to be cultivated at different times of the year, despite of changes to the weather. To support these activities, Practical Action has offered seedlings and training in crop diversification.

In one village Practical Action has helped a farmer by buying seedlings and offering training and advice on growing different crops. The farmer has been growing off-season tomatoes - but also cereals at the seasonal times.

‘It's been far better for me to grow tomatoes than only wheat and rice. My wheat crop has been about 50kg but with extra tomatoes too I have been able to make a much better living. I am even thinking of paying someone to help me on the land because there is so much more to do now and I have extra money I can use to pay them'

The farmer is now moving into different types of vegetables, including black gourds and okra. In another example, Practical Action worked with a young farmer whose family used to grow only rice and wheat, but found that that only provided him and his family with enough food for about 3 months a year. He went on a training course with Practical Action to learn about vegetable cultivation and goat rearing. As part of that course he went on a tour to meet a range of farmers and there he learnt about the possibility of growing bananas as well as traditional crops.

‘It's better now that me and my family are growing bananas as well as other crops. The crop is better and more reliable even when the rainfalls are crazy and erratic - the wheat and rice are really affected when the rains don't come. Now I don't have to spend so much time on the land either, which means that I am not just farming - I am also directly selling some of my products at market, which means I have some extra income. I have a better life now and I am full of hope for the future'.

Preventing land erosion and landslides: Land erosion and landslides will become more common with increased rainfall and extreme rainfall events. To promote farming orientated towards soil and land conservation, 18 demonstration plots of 'sloping agriculture land technology' (SALT) have been established in different villages. The plots are planted with different fodder species in hedge rows to preserve the soil from erosion, with leguminous plants in between. 17 kg of seeds and 11,000 plants of different multipurpose fodder forestry species were provided to establish the hedge rows. Farmers who have established SALT plots with different varieties of plants have found that learning the new approach has brought several benefits:

‘Once Practical Action Nepal introduced us to the technology, I became impressed and started to begin a plot with different varieties of plants. It is really a good technology which has multiple uses; it can be used to protect land from erosion and solve fodder supply problems. I have leant the technical aspects of SALT and now I am capable enough to apply SALT in my own land.'

Irrigation systems to cope with changing rainfall: In a village in Chitwan district, Practical Action has helped with the provision of an irrigation system which ensures that the village can continue to grow crops, even in the context of more erratic rainfall. The farmland in the village is higher than the river, so even though there are floods, water supply remains a problem. When rainfall does come it just washes down through the land. When the rains pass there is no way of getting water to the land even when it is only a short distance from the river. As rainfall becomes less predictable these problems become more difficult to overcome.

Using support from Practical Action, the community has built a dam as source of water for irrigation. Construction of the dam took 5 days, and a further 30 days were taken to build the irrigation system. Practical Action's contribution was to buy the pipes, cement, and skilled labour to support the community during the build. There is a concrete channel that runs alongside the river to carry the irrigation water. However, the irrigation system was damaged in floods of during 2006. As flooding is known to be likely to increase with climate change, the community has subsequently worked hard to repair it, collectively filling stone gabions that were being placed along the river-bank in order to protect the irrigation channel - the most vulnerable area when the monsoon rains come and there are floods. One female community member working on the repairs explained the motivation for the villagers coming together on this project:

‘It's so urgent to do this work - I am delighted to be involved. It's so necessary I can't even begin to tell you. If I don't help with this work - if we don't all get involved - we won't be able to grow any food because the irrigation system might be damaged. I'd have nothing to feed my family let alone sell at market.'