With high poverty rates, complex topography and a dependence on climate-sensitive sectors, Nepal is currently the fourth most vulnerable country to climate change in the world. The home to the Himalayas is becoming warmer and wetter, with more precipitation across all seasons (except for the pre-monsoon season), and a mean temperature rise of 0.06 degrees centigrade every year. The rise in extreme climate events such as flash flooding, landslides, droughts, pests and forest fires threatens the country’s development efforts and the lives and livelihoods of its people, especially women and those who are poor and socially excluded.
Small-scale, subsistence agriculture traditionally underpins Nepal’s rural economy, rendering many livelihoods at risk to climate-related disasters, further exacerbated by widespread poverty, low literacy and food insecurity. Of course, the country is also highly earthquake prone. Seasonality is shifting in agriculture, and many young people in particular have migrated to India, due to the lack of income-generation and employment opportunities at home. Invasive species and new crop and livestock diseases bring additional challenges.
The country’s vulnerability is compounded by institutional weaknesses. In 2008 Nepal abolished its monarchy and in 2017, transitioned to a federalised system, with greater power now in the hands of local municipalities. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted that evolution, with the lockdown in 2020 adding another layer of social and economic burden to local government and communities.
The Nepal Climate Support Programme (NCCSP) was initiated in 2013 by the Government of Nepal to increase the resiliency of Nepal’s economy and population to climate change. This flagship programme supports integrated climate change adaptation, resilience planning, and implementation at the local level. Phase 1 (2013-17) was funded by UK aid and the European Union, with technical assistance from the United Nations Development Programme. For phase 2 (2019-2023), Mott MacDonald provides technical assistance to the Government of Nepal, supported with funding from UK aid.
NCCSP2 aims to address four major climate risks for Nepal: climate risks to infrastructure (resilience, loss and damage); quality and quantity of water; agricultural yield and food security; and biodiversity and natural resources. The outcomes are particularly focused on the poorest in society, and especially women. In due course, the programme will be scaled up to impact close to 900,000 climate-vulnerable people.
Climate resilience engineering interventions are targeted on irrigation, agriculture, forestry and drinking water schemes. We support municipalities to mainstream climate change adaptation and resilience within their local development plans, known as Local Adaptation Plans of Action (LAPAs), working through government planning and financing systems. Linking the LAPA framework to their regular local seven-step development planning, municipalities identified 172 climate resilient activities to be implemented by them. In its technical assistance role, Mott MacDonald facilitated this process and at the onset of COVID-19, in collaboration with the government and UK aid, fast-tracked 19 schemes that were directly related to the pandemic response and recovery.
The LAPA Framework (2019) provides an overarching guidance document for planning and implementation climate change adaptation and resilience in the local government and community. This is supported by an innovative system of hazard mapping that identifies climate risk and vulnerability. We therefore provide an evidence-led approach, which municipalities can use to coordinate their approach, by spotlighting the most vulnerable areas, and maximising the return on donor investment.
Our team set up an off-the-shelf management information system (MIS) called Solstice (or mWater) that allows the programme to oversee the vast number of interventions across Nepal’s remote communities. Combined with our hazard maps, we can monitor the designs, budgets and progress updates, while assessing the risk levels per location.
The municipalities are better able to manage, report and budget projects, while our team can more easily sign off payment milestones. Without digital technology, that process would have proved extremely challenging in Nepal’s geography, not least during the pandemic lockdown and coping with the aftermath.
In the short-term, we are seeing greater levels of local engagement and employment generation. Beyond civil engineering, we are also helping to strengthen soft infrastructure, such as governance and finance. This will give municipalities a stronger mandate to implement projects.
Previously, funding was managed by the overarching programme. NCCSP2 is helping municipalities to tackle climate change using a bottom-up approach. By putting the governance in place and developing local capacity to manage climate change interventions, we are strengthening Nepal’s ‘finance infrastructure’ for future international funding. The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this year gives an added incentive to showcase Nepal as a country that can absorb climate change resilience and adaptation funding.