When monsoon arrives on time, nobody feels happier and more liberated than the farmer. This year, however, the late arrival of monsoon around the country has left the farmers anxious and troubled. By mid July, fields should have turned green with recently planted paddy but this has not happened yet. In many parts of the country, where agriculture is predominantly rain fed, erratic monsoons have caused an extreme situations with farmers at one end gazing at the sky and hoping for rain, while another set of farmers dealing with the nuisance of heavy floods. Many fear that late plantation due to these problems may affect production, resulting in reduced harvest.
It is a cause of concern that something does not seem right with the climate – rainfall is more erratic and heavy downpours and a long drought has been making farmers exceedingly nervous. Traditional knowledge of planting and harvesting crops seems to be failing all across the country. Experts say these new, and hitherto unknown, situations are a result of the changing climate. Climate change (caused due to the warming of earth’s temperature) results in extreme weather patterns such heavy floods, droughts, unpredictable rains, landslides, excessively hot climates, unusually short winters and so on.
With growing clarity on climate science, it is evident that this change is taking place at an alarming rate. Under these conditions, the need to adapt to the impacts of climate change is becoming inevitable; it is no longer a choice but a compulsion. Many governments around the world, including in the developed nations, are planning and designing programmes to adapt to this recent global phenomenon.
In the last couple of years, the Nepal government has also developed several programmes to tackle climate change such as National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), Local Adaptation Plan of Action (LAPA), and Pilot Project for Climate Resilience (PPCR). These are million dollar programmes developed with the support of international donors. In addition to these, many NGOs are running adaptation projects to help farmers and communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.
But, how much of these programs and support mechanisms are actually reaching the most vulnerable communities and poor farmers who are, in fact, the ones who need the most help?
Many district level stakeholders express anger that these million dollar programmes are only talked about in the capital and are very Kathmandu-centric. Roshan Shahi from Dhailekh says, “The government is making a mockery of it own National Climate Change Policy which states that 80 percent of the climate change funds shall go to the communities.” Shahi further adds, “The government agencies in the district are themselves unaware about national programmes and policies, let alone the communities, farmers and poor people. The little information we get is only from the media.”
It is true the government has been unable to expand the outreach of its climate adaptation support to the local levels, as the policies and programmes are intended to do. Often, there is a tussle between the government and the donors on how to channel funds to the local level. Government is plagued with its own bureaucracy and political unrest while donors are bound by having to meet their own conditionalities.
COMMUNITIES AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Climate change adaptation cannot take place in isolation, but needs to be integrated with community development in a sustainable manner.
Intriguingly, while this tussle boils at the national level, some communities at the local level have taken an initiative and started organising themselves to adopt measures that would tackle climate change impacts. One such community is in Sundari Dada of Lekhnath municipality in Kaski district. This community has not only diversified its incomes sources and crop choices but has also started taking its own weather measurements. Keeping weather records is a technical subject and needs long-term reading with precise analysis to help plan well for the future, but at least this community has taken a step forward.
With the help of an organisation called Li-Bird, this community operates a weather station that records temperature, humidity and precipitation. For the last six months, they have been recording the measurement every day. They not only keep the record from the station but also maintain a log of what they observe in the daily weather, later to be compared and verified by an expert.
Shushila Gurung, who takes the measurement says, “I maintain the daily record from the station and actual observation hoping that in the future it will help us plan well during crop plantation and harvest. The weather now has become very uncertain and I hope my work will help the community in the future.” She is also hopeful that Li-Bird will help them analyse the data and convert it into usable information so that her effort does not go waste. Some communities in Chitwan district have also adopted similar methodologies.
Sabitri Tiwari, a community member proudly articulates, “We don’t want to be deterred by the negative climate impact, after all we can’t leave our homes. We have started practicing new income generation activities such as beekeeping, goat rearing, fruit and vegetable farming, in addition to growing traditional crops.”
Another laudable activity by this community is protecting the Rupa Lake and its watershed, while benefiting from fish farming at the same time. This beautiful lake, which stretches across 135 hectares, is shrinking due to landslides and erosion. Over 750 households directly benefit from this activity, which is organised under a cooperative.
When small communities have started taking bold steps and accepting challenges, even at technical levels, to adapt themselves to the changing climate, why is our government merely a passive spectator? Can these good practices not be embedded into a national movement where communities take the lead and government acts as a helping hand?
There are several agencies that can either help with or coordinate the climate adaptation work for communities around the country. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) can tackle technical matters, if spruced up with more capacity building and institutional strengthening. Similarly, local development agencies are well rooted in the districts. After all, climate change adaptation cannot take place in isolation, but needs to be integrated with community development in a sustainable manner. And this is possible only with proper coordination and inter-connection among government ministries and departments.
Donors have a crucial role to play as well but they shy away when it comes to implementing concrete activities that directly helps communities. They often shift the blame to the government, citing lack of good governance and capacity. On the other hand, they spend millions in producing paper work and conducting conferences in the capital, unaware of whom they are actually supporting. We learn from implementing programs, not producing documents.
Nepal has spent millions of dollars developing policies and programmes, apparently for climate vulnerable communities, but which have failed to reach them. It is time we turn the strategy around to make it a more bottom up approach, where community assistance and planning is encouraged and then taken holistically to develop and implement a nationwide policy.