Unpredictable monsoons and increasing heavy rainfall events and droughts are wreaking havoc across communities and ecosystems in Nepal. Heavy rainfall increases the risk of flooding, which puts communities, infrastructure and wildlife at risk.
Drought is reducing agricultural yields and drying up water supplies – the latter leading to increased contact and conflict between human communities and wildlife in the search for shrinking water sources. Higher temperatures and variable rainfall are also introducing new diseases into human, wildlife and livestock populations.
These climate impacts tend to hit vulnerable populations – particularly women and the extreme poor – the hardest. Ecosystems that have been battered by deforestation, over-grazing, and infrastructure development are also more at risk and less able to adapt to the changing climate.
To address these issues and help bolster both community and ecological resilience, USAID’s Hariyo Ban (Green Forests) program was established in 2011 to work in two biodiverse landscapes in Nepal: Terai Arc and Chitwan-Annapuran. At the February Adaptation Community Meeting, former Chief of Party Judy Oglethorpe shared highlights and lessons learned from the project’s work at multiple governance scales and landscapes.
The project, implemented by a consortium led by World Wildlife Fund, first began work at the community level – engaging community members in participatory vulnerability assessments and identifying actions to reduce vulnerabilities through community adaptation plans. To mainstream the adaptation plans and ensure funding, the project worked with local authorities to integrate plans into local-level planning processes.
Included in these plans were strategies to reduce agricultural losses by using drip irrigation, supplement agricultural income by using greenhouses to grow out of season cash crops and diversify household income by building skills to set up non-farm enterprises.
To build ecosystem resilience, communities committed to protecting water recharge areas by removing cattle and regenerating tree growth, reducing deforestation by shifting to biogas or fuel-efficient stoves for cooking, and restoring wetlands and landslide sites. Program staff soon learned, however, that working solely at the community level was often just treating the symptoms of climate change, and not the cause.
As Ms. Oglethorpe put it, “reducing vulnerability at the community level was great, but it wasn’t enough.” One community’s action to protect themselves from floodwaters might negatively impact a neighboring community, or the problem might stem from areas outside of the community’s control. “It was not enough to work with a single community; you have to look upstream and downstream and see what you can do in a holistic way,” Ms. Oglethorpe advised.
This led the project to look more broadly at watersheds and landscapes to better understand and address larger-scale processes and vulnerabilities. At the watershed level, the project was able to facilitate change by working with both upstream and downstream users. For example, to save a lake that is a major tourism draw from over-sedimentation, the project facilitated a payment for ecosystem services scheme, with downstream users like lakeside hotel operators paying upstream communities to protect the watershed by planting crops like coffee and redesigning roads to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.
At the landscape level, the project identified vulnerabilities of biodiversity corridors, and worked to ensure conservation of plant and animal species that were key to maintaining vibrant corridors given projected changes in climate. For example, in one landscape the project promoted planting of broom grass, which is an indigenous plant that restores soil and is used widely to produce household brooms for sweeping. By planting broom grass, local communities were not only helping to restore the corridor, but also earning additional income.
Working at multiple scales requires a huge level of participation and collaboration, and often presents challenges where natural boundaries do not coincide with jurisdictional boundaries. However, this approach helped avoid promoting adaptation actions that would be beneficial to one community and unknowingly harmful to another, and allowed for true integration of ecosystem and community adaptation. Ms. Oglethorpe was optimistic that the program, now in its second five-year phase, would “leave behind a more resilient landscape, more resilient people, functioning corridors, and the capacity to deal with future climate change.”
Climatelinks is a global knowledge portal for USAID staff, implementing partners, and the broader community working at the intersection of climate change and international development. The portal curates and archives technical guidance and knowledge related to USAID’s work to help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.