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OPINION: Nepal should highlight local efforts on climate change

In an article for the Kathmandu Post CDKN/Panos South Asia Journalist Fellow, Pragati Shahi writes that instead of only crying for help to deal with disasters, Nepal should highlight local efforts

It was a warm summer evening, and Fulmati Tharu, 34, wearing a home-made life vest made of discarded plastic bottles, was rescuing a child from the flooded Kulariya River at Pathraiya VDC in Kailali district.

A member of the search and rescue team formed under the community managed disaster preparedness network, Tharu and her companions were helping villagers caught in the flooded river that surrounds their village. The team belongs to the Srijana Disaster Preparedness Network, a local network of women volunteers formed to deal with flood related disasters in the village which is threatened by annual flooding.

Similarly, Khushi Ram Chaudhary, 46, a local of Dhansinghpur VDC, has been actively involved in protecting the river banks from erosion and flooding that occurs when one of the tributaries of the Mohana River swells during the monsoon. Using locally available materials and knowledge besides technical help from the concerned partners, the local villagers have successfully built gabion wires and bamboo spur check dams to protect the embankment from soil erosion and flooding.

At the same time, Chaudhary’s family and the other villagers are members of the farmer managed irrigation system, an indigenous community-managed water system that has been practiced for decades. Under this scheme, the farmers have built irrigation channels to enhance irrigation facilities and strengthen the water-management system to manage flooding.

There are similarities in the two cases mentioned above. They are both victims of water-induced disasters like flooding that occurs annually during the rainy season, and they have developed different approaches and response mechanisms to deal with these disasters on their own.

Kailali has been named the most vulnerable district to disasters like floods, landslides and earthquakes. A government database of disaster losses from 1971 to 2008 records the number of deaths at 1,056. This 37-year-long history of disasters shows that they are nothing new in the district. However, in recent years, the intensity and frequency have been increasing. For instance, between 2008 and 2009, a total of 29 people have died in the district due to natural catastrophes.

The death toll is an indication of the weak socio-economic condition of the local people whose life has been made harder by frequent disasters. A majority of the locals belong to the Tharu indigenous community. They are mostly farmers, and erratic weather patterns marked by drought, heavy rain, floods and landslides have severely affected their livelihoods.

With the government not paying attention to their plight, the communities here have been operating disaster management schemes using traditional knowledge, skills and information. From building biological embankments and locally-management irrigation systems to flood prevention and management strategies, the local communities are doing something on their own.

Unfortunately, these local efforts have neither been documented nor strengthened to help vulnerable communities deal with disasters. For instance, the locals involved in disaster management activities at the local level think that they are not adequately equipped to deal with major flooding and need additional technical and financial support.

Communities are the first responders to any disaster and require skills and resources to help them mitigate, prepare and respond to it, said Robert Piper, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator to Nepal while speaking on communitybased disaster risks.

During each climate change negotiation, from Copenhagen to the recent Doha conference, our delegates have been consistently talking about the impacts of global warming and climate change on the mountains and the people who live there. During the negotiations, the stand is quite familiar: raise the issue of vulnerability and access to funds to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts and the plight of the mountains to global leaders. From the Summiteers’ Summit at Everest Base Camp to the Summiteers’ march in Copenhagen in 2009, delegates have tried to arouse concern at the melting mountains.

Unfortunately, the plight of the Himalaya has not garnered as much attention as it should have at the climate negotiations.

So, instead of echoing familiar rhetoric during the negotiations and constantly failing to come into focus as other developing and vulnerable countries like Bangladesh, Maldives and Tuvalu have done, it is time for Nepal to capitalise on the strengths that the country and the people possess to deal with the negative impacts of climate change and help in building climate resilient communities.

Bangladesh, despite being one of the most vulnerable countries to natural hazards including flooding and drought, is doing exceptionally well in helping communities to deal with disasters. Locally available innovative techniques like construction of floating houses in coastal areas to deal with floods have been greatly acknowledged during the negotiations, and have helped the country to be in the limelight during climate related negotiations across the globe.

Instead of only crying for a helping hand to deal with disasters and their aftermath, Nepal needs to develop bargaining power to raise the issue more strongly among the developed and donor countries. In this context, a number of interventions have been undertaken by the government, non-government organisations and donors in recent times to emphasise the voices of vulnerable communities that are being affected by climate change and climate-induced hazards.

The Nepal Climate Change support programme, which is being implemented by the Ministry of Environment with support from the UK Department for International Development (Dfid), is designed to ensure that the poorest and the most vulnerable communities in Nepal are able to adapt to the effects of climate change. Similarly, Nepal was selected during this year’s United Nation’s climate conference held in Doha, Qatar from Nov 25-Dec 8 to lead the group of least developed countries (LDCs) for the next two years (2012-14). This is a big opportunity for the country to highlight the country’s plight as well as the innovations that have been undertaken at the local level to deal with the impacts of climate change.

Hopefully, by 2014, Nepal will figure among the countries in the limelight during global negotiations on climate change and make its troubles heard among the global community.


Pragati is a reporter at The Kathmandu Post and can be reached at

This article first appeared in the Kathmandu Post

CDKN is supporting 24 print, TV, radio and web journalists in South Asia under a Panos ‘South Asia Climate Change Award’ (SACCA) Fellowship.  This is part of a 24-month CDKN project on building climate change awareness in the South Asia media.

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