Case studies on responses to too much and too little water in the Hindu Kush Himalayas.
With increased climate variability increasing the risk of floods and droughts, problems of too much or too little water are affecting the lives and livelihoods of the people in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. Climate change is expected to exacerbate some of the conditions causing these problems. Although climate change has been discussed endlessly in international fora, very little ground research has been undertaken on its impacts. Hence, ICIMOD has been working with national partners in China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan since 2008 to document, assess, and – over the long term – strengthen local adaptation strategies to flood and drought in and downstream from mountain catchments. Case studies have been conducted in specific sites in each country across the greater Himalayan region – in the dry mountain valleys of Chitral in Pakistan, the middle hills and Koshi basin of Nepal, the flood plains of Bihar in India, the Brahmaputra flood plains in Assam, India, and the hill areas of Yunnan, China – to identify and document local responses to flood hazards and water stresses.
Some of these areas are chronically scarce in water; in others, people have lived with recurrent floods and droughts for centuries. Local economies are largely agriculture-based and highly dependent on natural resources such as water, soil, and forests. Although many of the communities in the region are geographically isolated, the ways in which they address water stress and hazards are influenced by changing political, cultural, social, and economic, as well as climatic, conditions. Community perspectives on hazards and attitudes towards livelihoods are shifting.
Households and communities in the region have evolved strategies, on their own, to cope with, and adapt to, periods of flooding or drought. However, some are finding that these responses are becoming less effective, and many need external support to deal with the changing conditions. Water stress is more likely to be severe in the future. With increased demand and competition for water, and more variability in its availability, people are struggling to manage traditional arrangements for dealing with the water scarcity with which they have always lived. The communities studied have developed their own ways of responding to droughts and floods, although their strategies are not always optimal. Historically, people in the Hindu Kush Himalayas have always adjusted to change, whether climatic, political, economic, or social. Governments need to play a major role in providing support for adaptation to change, including through policies that help reduce people’s vulnerability and build their resilience. Countries in the region are beginning to develop strategies and policies to support adaptation to change.
These need to take account of responses already taking place on the ground so that they support and strengthen measures that have been tested and that work, while also addressing challenges that cannot be dealt with by purely local action.
The findings of the first round of field research are summarised in the publication Local Responses to Too Much and Too Little Water in the Greater Himalayan Region (ICIMOD 2009). They reveal evolving responses to complex and dynamic situations along with long-standing ‘traditional’ practices to deal with increasing climate variability. The responses demonstrate that state policy will always play a role in people’s ability to respond to too much or too little water, even when policy signals have been unclear, or implementation weak or non-existent.
Building upon the findings published in 2009, a second round of field research in 2010 focused on key recurring themes of adaptation, comparing experiences in sites in at least two countries to give a regional perspective. This round focused on four thematic issues: small-scale water management and the role of local institutions, agro-forestry diversification and intensification, mitigation infrastructure measures including embankments to adapt to floods, and livelihood diversification, including through migration. This research looked at responses and ground experiences in terms of common factors and key messages useful to those supporting the development of new adaptation approaches, including policy and institutional support.
The findings, published in the present report, echo much of the 2009 research and learning from other studies, with regional comparisons providing a bigger picture and indicating some areas where regional programmes of support can be developed. This research resulted in seven key findings:
- Climate change and variability increase uncertainty and risks, as well as promoting opportunities in livelihood systems, particularly 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 shocks and shifts.
The study also recommends some strategies for adaptation policies and the strengthening of the role of institutions in support of local responses. The specific findings and recommendations for each case study theme in each specific area are contained in Part 2 of this report.
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on the mountain and climate related issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last two years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>