Using firewood more efficiently and promoting alternative energy in Nepal improves women’s health, changes their lives, and reduces climate vulnerability. Building on a foundation of work at the intersection between environment and health in Nepal, the second phase of the USAID’s Hariyo Ban (Green Forests) Program is scaling up approaches to reduce climate change vulnerability and increase community resilience.
Traditionally, people in Nepal use firewood for cooking and keeping warm at high altitudes. Cooking is done over open fires in kitchens, and indoor air pollution often causes respiratory problems for women and young children. Women collect heavy loads of firewood from forests, which is hard and time-consuming work, and they may be at risk of attack by wildlife or gender-based violence in forests. Firewood extraction is a major cause of forest degradation, reducing the ability of forests to provide reliable water supplies and protect people from landslides and floods.
As climate change advances in this rugged landscape, rainstorms are projected to become more intense, and healthy forests will be even more important to reduce such risks. While there is a general trend in Nepal away from cooking on open fires towards using liquid petroleum gas and electricity, many rural communities are too remote or too poor to make this transition.
Since 2011, the Hariyo Ban Program has increased the resilience of communities and ecosystems in two large landscapes in Nepal. Tackling threats to forests, including over-harvesting of firewood, is a major focus for the program’s work in two large landscapes in Nepal. In poor households in the mountains, the program promoted improved cook stoves that burn firewood more efficiently so less wood is needed and forest pressure is reduced. Stoves have outside chimneys, reducing indoor air pollution and risk of respiratory infection.
For rural households at lower altitudes, the program promoted biogas as a firewood alternative. Dung from cattle or buffaloes are fed into an underground biodigester where it decomposes to produce methane gas. The methane is piped to the kitchen and used for cooking. In many households a latrine is connected to the biodigester; this reduces open defecation and improves sanitation, reducing diarrheal disease.
“I don’t have to buy fuelwood or spend a lot of time collecting it, as biogas has reduced my home’s fuelwood needs [by] nearly 80 to 90 percent,” said Malati Devi Chaudhary from Amauri, Pathariya-3, Kailali district,: “Food cooks faster and it is smoke free.” Most Amauri households now have toilets with biogas, and the village has been declared an open defecation free area.
Many households report that there is a reduction in eye infections, respiratory disease, and burns with smoke-free kitchens. It is easier to keep kitchens and pots clean, and more men are helping with cooking. Not collecting firewood regularly, women are less vulnerable to wildlife attacks and have more time for childcare, household tasks, agriculture, and community activities including forest management. Degraded forests are recovering; water sources are often more reliable; and risk of landslides and floods is reduced. At a global level, this work is helping climate change mitigation by reducing carbon emissions. Biogas units and improved stoves provided by USAID’s Hariyo Ban Program contribute to a Gold Standard carbon emissions project in the Terai, generating carbon payments for Nepal.
The program also supported other forms of renewable energy. Solar energy was used to pump water up to Huslangkot, Dharamphani in the Tanahun district, where the local water supply dried up and women were walking three hours a day for water. After the 2015 earthquake, the program helped rehabilitate damaged micro-hydro plants. Supporting the transition to cleaner energy in rural Nepal is improving women’s lives, reducing pressure on forests, and building resilience to future climate conditions.
USAID’s Hariyo Ban Program is implemented by a consortium of World Wildlife Fund, CARE Nepal, the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal, and the National Trust for Nature Conservation in close coordination and collaboration with the Government of Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Environment.
Judy Oglethorpe is a Senior Director in WWF US. She worked as the Chief of Party of USAID’s Hariyo Ban Program in Nepal for five years. Before that her work in WWF-US covered population-health-environment approaches, climate adaptation, armed conflict and conservation, community conservation, large-scale conservation approaches, and transboundary conservation. Judy also has 14 years of experience in East and Southern Africa in wildlife, forestry, biodiversity and tourism. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Ecological Science from the University of Edinburgh and a master’s degree in Environmental Management from the University of London, United Kingdom.
Shant Raj Jnawali
Shant Raj Jnawali has over three decades of conservation experience. He is currently Chief of Party of Hariyo Ban Program II. He has played leading roles in project design, fund raising and re-establishing assemblages of large mammals in Nepal. He has contributed to conservation policy including the national biodiversity strategy, landscape level strategies and action plans, and species conservation action plans. He has authored and co-authored over 50 publications, and received several awards and decorations for outstanding contributions to conservation in Nepal. He is a member of the National Tiger Conservation Committee chaired by the Prime Minister.