Climate change is a burning topic in Nepal, has been so for a while. Nearly every day there are articles in the national newspapers warning us about it. And for a good reason – Nepal is one of the worst affected countries, experiencing it though rapid-onset disasters like glacier lake outbursts and flash floods, slow-onset disasters such as droughts and anything between these. In a water project we have to tackle the challenges posed by climate change particularly when it affects availability of water or when climate-induced disasters, such as floods and landslides (often trickled by heavy rains) threaten the water supply structures.
In the past year I have been thinking a lot about how to address climate-induced hazards in the context of our water and sanitation project. The first step has been to figure out how people perceive climate change, its causes and impacts - is it reality for them? In the communities that we work with, people usually describe changes like rains becoming more irregular, storms more common, and winter rains more rare. The long term (30+ years) climate statistics from Nepal tell the same story. The changes are also having an effect on ground water resources. In many water supply schemes people lament about reduced availability of water. In some cases the reason is simply that the water demand has increased and therefore what used to be enough is no more. However, in other schemes the decline of spring discharge is a reality.
changes of nearly 2,400 sources between the years 2004 and 2014 in Tanahun district. The study showed that there is 50% deduction of point sources´ average yield in ten years. Similarly, there is 34% and 22% deduction in stream sources´ and spring sources´ average yields. This is a worrisome trend indeed!
What do the community people then know about the causes of the climate change? On one end there are people who can correctly explain the greenhouse effect, on the other there are people who think it’s a sign of angered gods, and then the random explanations such as ‘climate is changing because there is a hole in ozone layer’.
Of course, not all changes can be attributed to climate change alone – land uses in the water catchment/recharge areas also play a role. How much should we then burden the communities about grim pictures of raising temperatures, glacial melt, sea water rise and the burning of fossil fuels? After all, their contribution to the greenhouse gases is hardly anything; the closest motorable road may be kilometers away from their house, the industrial ‘consumer goods’ they own are their toothbrush and few other items. Their everyday worries may be about how to send their children to school or sick and elderly to health care.
Thankfully I’m not the one who decides how much information to disseminate in a particular community, as awareness raising is done by our field staff. Of course this is only a small part of their job description: the list of expertise needed for implementing the field programme consists of gender and social inclusion, financial management/book keeping, procurement process, water tariff calculation and – the most recent addition – water safety planning (this is the ‘social work’ package, for technical works we have different staff category). CCA/DRR training is therefore only a small component of our filed staffs´ training package, and similarly it’s only a small component of their work in scheme implementation.
Therefore, I think the job is well done if the biggest misconceptions are corrected and people are more informed about the reasons behind the changes they are witnessing. The exact definitions are not that importat - for example when a participant says that 'climate variation over a longer time period is called seasonal variation' then let it be so.
The main purpose of discussing climate change and disaster risks in communities is so that they can take action to reduce the risks or adapt to the changes. There are a number of measures that can be easily taken by communities, but also those that need more indepth knowledge, for example in geohydrology, which we can´t of course expect from our staff. But this will be the topic of another blog post.
RWSSP-WN II organizes a training on ´Approaches to ground water recharge & spring revival´ between 10-15 February 2016. The training is targeted at District WASH Advisers and WASH engineers from 7 hill districts.