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Role of policy and institutions in local adaptation to climate change : case studies on responses to too much and too little water in the Hindu Kush Himalayas

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region is predicted to be most severely challenged by and socially vulnerable to climate change and includes the world’s most populous countries (China, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). The most visible manifestation of changing climate is the melting of glaciers in the high mountains. This study delves into how political processes hinder or promote the adoption of sustainable and equitable adaptation strategies to water-related stress and hazards in the context of climate change in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and China. It focuses on small-scale water management and the role of local institutions; agro-forestry diversification and intensification; mitigation infrastructure measures; and livelihood diversification.

The research resulted in the following key findings:

  • climate change and variability increase uncertainty and risks, and promote opportunities in livelihood systems for people dependent on agriculture for their livelihood
  • markets and government policy have a greater impact on enhancing the adaptive capacity of communities than climate change awareness
  • policy environments and institutions need to consider short-term responses and long-term strategies to match the pace of climate change and changes caused by other drivers, and to meet new needs for highly adaptive and resilient systems
  • a proper strategy to translate sectoral policies into local-level planning will facilitate development initiatives to address local adaptation needs
  • structural disaster mitigation measures supported by non-structural measures, with the support and participation of local communities, enhance quick response and improve people’s adaptive capacity
  • local-level institutions and indigenous systems, with the support of non-governmental organisations, can enhance local adaptive capacity
  • diversifying agricultural production and livelihood systems, including labour migration, is one of the ways that communities can build resilience and adapt to economic and climatic changes.

This study recommends the following ways in which the adaptation policy environment can be supportive of local responses:

  • capture demands and ensure service delivery
  • engage public participation
  • develop effective institutional arrangements
  • establish, designate, and strengthen the role of focal institutions
  • build capacity at various levels
  • improve access to livelihood diversification
  • disseminate climate information to service delivering institutions
  • support community level responses
  • disburse resources at the community level.

The study concludes that communities in the region are already adapting to changes, including climate change but require an enabling policy environment in the context of the uncertainty and complexity of climate change.