Nepal’s hill farmers show why climate finance matters

Communities perched on the edge of the Himalaya battle climate change on a daily basis – but with help they can flourish

The vast majority of glaciers worldwide  continue to shrink, affecting local ecosystems and water levels (Pic: Frontier Official/Flickr)

The vast majority of glaciers worldwide continue to shrink, affecting local ecosystems and water levels (Pic: Frontier Official/Flickr)

By Brandon Wu

The eighth annual conference on community-based adaptation (CBA8) opened in Kathmandu, Nepal, at the weekend.

It features some 400 attendees from governments, NGOs, and academia, including Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, and LDC Group Chair Prakash Mathema.

All these participants are gathered to discuss the theme of “Financing Local Adaptation.”

The conference began last week with a series of visits to Nepali communities that are implementing climate adaptation measures.

Delegates were divided into seven groups, each sent to a different community.

I was part of a group that visited two communities, Kirtipur and Bote Tole, in the Nawalparasi district in the southern part of central Nepal.

These communities – just a few kilometers apart – face similar challenges, but their responses to them have necessarily been very different.

Both communities are experiencing increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns and more severe flooding during monsoon season (roughly June-August), impacting their ability to grow staple food crops like maize and rice.

Kirtipur, with immaculately terraced fields in a hilly region of Nawalparasi, happens to be situated near a mountain spring, which the community determined could be channeled through their fields via a simple, gravity-driven irrigation system consisting of PVC pipes and concrete canals.

Kirtipur's concrete irrigation canal – the maize on the left will be harvested in June before the monsoons (Pic: Brandon Wu)

Kirtipur’s concrete irrigation canal – the maize on the left will be harvested in June before the monsoons (Pic: Brandon Wu)

This irrigation system would address issues with insufficient rainfall outside of the monsoon season, and in 2008, with some DFID funding and NGO involvement, the community completed its construction.

The result has been that Kirtipur is not only meeting its own food security needs, but is producing a surplus in a variety of crops, to be sold at market.

With the money earned from this surplus, the community has a savings account which they can reinvest into common needs and into any repairs or maintenance the irrigation system requires.

Bote Tole, a few kilometers from Kirtipur but in a very different geographic situation, has a different story.

Faced with flooding issues, this community, which does not own legal title to the land on which they live, constructed a river embankment that has substantially increased the amount of arable land on which they can plant and harvest rice.

Even with this successful intervention, however, they are far from producing enough to be self-sufficient.

Many community members are employed as wage laborers, and a quarter of the men have found employment as migrant workers in India, the Middle East and Malaysia, sending remittances home on a monthly basis.

This site visit illustrated the extent to which adaptation activities (and it’s arguable whether these are truly adaptation activities, or merely short-term coping strategies) are fundamentally local and context-specific.

Two communities just a few kilometers apart have very different experiences and needs despite facing similar water-related challenges.

This inherent diversity presents a significant challenge to scaling up finance for adaptation.

What is the best way for an international entity like the Green Climate Fund to finance adaptation activities that are so locally specific, and which in many cases will not provide the immediate and easily quantifiable results that donors so often seek?

There are existing institutions that can provide context-specific financing for these adaptation activities, and indeed have an obligation to provide basic services for communities in need: local governments.

Local government institutions are ideal recipients of GCF adaptation finance, whether directly or through national government funds, because they are embedded in local contexts and are (at least in theory) accountable to local people.

Too often, development practice has been for NGOs to fill in gaps left by local governments that lack capacity to deliver basic services – at the expense of sustainability and accountability to local communities.

The GCF should avoid this pitfall by channeling finance through local governments.

Where local governments lack capacity, they should be able to access “readiness” support to allow them to meet the necessary requirements for receiving and managing climate finance.

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My colleagues at ActionAid Bangladesh have conducted innovative research on how finance can flow from international funds to the local level, and what the institutional needs are to ensure finance gets to its intended recipients. This is just one of the key discussions taking place at CBA8 now.

Of course, discussions about channeling climate finance from the national to the local level are underpinned by a basic assumption: that finance is flowing to the national level in the first place.

As always, this brings us back to the most basic of international climate policy questions: when and how will developed countries fulfill their obligations to provide climate finance?

Until they do, further conversations ring a bit hollow.

The first and most fundamental message out of a conference like CBA8 should be that developed countries must start providing adequate climate finance, starting in the immediate short term.

If they continue in their failure to do so, it’s vulnerable communities like Kirtipur, Bote Tole, and others in Nepal that CBA8 delegates visited last week – who bear no responsibility for causing the climate crisis – that will continue suffering for it.

Brandon Wu is a Senior Policy Analyst at ActionAid, specializing in Climate Finance. Follow him on Twitter @Brandoncwu

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