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Climate variability and change in the Himalayas: Community perceptions and responses

This study, published by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, investigates how climate and socio-economic change is affecting the livelihoods of the mountain peoples of the Himalayas. Using the community-based vulnerability and capacity assessment approach (Macchi, 2011), the study analyses both the problems perceived by poor, rural farmers and their coping/adaptive strategies, with the aim of enhancing the resilience of vulnerable mountain communities to the effects of climate change. Each of the four case studies (Northwest India, Nepal, Bhutan and Northeast India) is covered here in depth, preceded by an overview of the region as a whole.

Among the problems that researchers describe are unprecedented increases in pests and crop disease, as well as a perceived reduction in and reliability of precipitation. Those living at higher altitudes reported experiencing rising temperatures and decreasing, yet more erratic, levels of snowfall. In areas of non-irrigated subsistence farming, such deviations from climatic norms are at best highly disruptive and at worst life threatening. As is often the case, the study finds that it is the poorest that will be disproportionately affected due to climate change, i.e. those lacking the capital or resources to adapt to changing seasons or to overcome short-term setbacks. This is not made any easier by the levels of institutional aid and support, which were found to be insufficient in most areas with the notable exception of Bhutan, where the authors found highly responsive government authorities helping farmers with agricultural and animal husbandry concerns.

Recommendations include the following.

  • Exploit opportunities emerging from climate change i.e. growing crops at higher altitudes.
  • Greater emphasis on the role of women in adaptation.
  • Raise community awareness of potential climate-related risks.
  • Target policies on the underlying causes of vulnerability.
  • Bridge the gap between local and external institutions.
  • Focus on disadvantaged groups such as lower caste people and remote communities.