Community adaptation planning: working with locals to achieve resilience

“Are you ready for climate change?”

This was a question asked by a classmate in a planning class when I was a first-year university student. This was an awkward question to respond to.  The challenge for a first year student should be with assignment deadlines and not climate issues. Doesn’t it require both technical expertise and collective responses to adapt and mitigate these changes?

My readiness to respond to climate changes is likely related to my resilience to these changes. Resilience can be explained as the ‘vulnerability and recoverability’ of a person or a community to a particular hazard. (If you want to explore more on “climate resilience”, I found an informative article here). The hazard could be global warming, glacier melting, sea level rises, tsunami, earthquake, drought, water scarcity and so on. Consequently, readiness for climate change can depend on who I am; the type and stage of a career; how likely that natural hazards occur in an area; and the individual awareness of a changing climate pattern.

Topography of Nepal Annapurna: Photo by Jeanne Menjoulet

Since this first question, I have become more concerned with climate change adaptation strategies. The IPCC assessment report suggested that the least developed countries (LDCs) could be the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. LDCs have relatively weak planning for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies due to limited capacity and budget. Of course, as they are not industrialized countries, they emit a relatively lesser amount of greenhouse gases. It seems unfair that the most vulnerable countries to climate changes have had little to do with creating the problem. (If you want to explore ‘risk’, please visit this website)

A group of researchers from Lincoln University, including Pratigya Silwal and Hamish Rennie, have written about local level adaptation planning (LAPA) in Nepal, one of the LDCs. The report was prepared by a village development committee (VDC) based on the actions guided by the framework of National level Adaptation Plan of Actions. The VDC receives technological and financial support from non-governmental organizations and other donor agencies for its planning process.

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Planning on board: Photo by Mike Kohen

The article explains how Nepal’s LAPA is different from traditional planning. It is a locally prepared plan for adaptation responses to climate changes. It aims to be able to address local knowledge and needs to adequately adapt to predictable changes. There are some overlapping portions in the LAPA with other development plans though. LAPA are usually more practical and easier to understand by the local people, compared to a traditional development plan.

Nepal’s LAPA is not a stand-alone document. It is a small branch of NAPA, National Adaption Plan of Actions. It also has many overlapping parts with other developmental activities, such as biodiversity conservation, watershed conservation, and forest fire protection. Silwal and colleagues suggest that LAPA needs to work along side the main sustainable development plan of Nepal so that both can meet their objectives successfully in the long term.  

The planning process meshes experts’ ideas and cooperation with innovative and effective adaptation activities. Science and technology play important roles in planning processes for predicting probable risks of climate changes and for future impact-related scenarios. However, LDCs often lack data and information for long periods. For example, Nepal’s topography is complex and local level meteorological and hydrological data has variation in different places. Local knowledge and awareness can play a critical role for planners in understanding the risks of climate change and in exploring locally available adaptable options in the country.

Nepal’s LAPA may have many challenges. Silwil’s article clearly states that there are limitations for on-ground research inputs into planning. Also, despite communities having valuable knowledge for adaptations, there is often a misunderstanding caused bt unfamiliar words, such as adaptation and mitigation. These issues add to the complexity of planners in creating a comprehensive and integrated plan.

Women planting tree seedlings in Nepal
Photo by: Faces of Nepal

The upside is that by doing adaptation planning locally, villagers can be more aware of likely changes, and the risks around them, through discussions and planning activities. This can build more willingness to participate in implementing an adaptation plan that includes their voices. Although challenges and limitations are undeniable in local adaptation planning in LDCs, I am sure that locally prepared adaptation plans are crucial as a response to climate change adaptation.

Su Hlaing Tun is a postgraduate student completing a Master of Disaster Risk and Resilience. She wrote this article as part of her assessment for ECOL 608 Research Methods in Ecology.

More information can be read in the article below:

Pratigya Silwal, Lin Roberts, Hamish G. Rennie & Manfred J. Lexer (2019) Adapting to climate change: an assessment of local adaptation planning processes in forest-based communities in Nepal, Climate and Development, 11:10, 886-898, DOI: 10.1080/17565529.2019.1586634.

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