Republica: In June this year, thousands of farmers, especially in Nepal´s western region, were wrestling with rain deficit, constantly gazing toward the sky devoid of monsoon clouds.
In some areas badly affected by the weak monsoon, farmers were seen irrigating their parched crop fields with water supplied through pipes.
But, in Hapur village of Dang district, the picture was entirely different. Even as farmers reeled under the drought-like situation elsewhere, the Hapur villagers remained unaffected.
“The monsoon was late and weak this time around,” says Puni Kala Khadka, president of Chandra Jyoti Community Forest Users Group (CFUG), which has 124 families of Hapur as its members. “But, we had no problems at all.”
Before this year´s paddy plantation season began, Chandra Jyoti CFUG built a canal to use irrigation water from a local stream. “Had this canal not been built, our crop fields would have parched like elsewhere,” says Khadka.
Due to what scientists have dubbed as a result of climate change, monsoon rains, the backbone of Nepal´s agriculture, are becoming erratic. Farmers are becoming more vulnerable to threats of droughts or floods than ever before.
This year, Meteorological Forecasting Division (MFD) announced monsoon´s arrival one week later than the usual date. But, even thereafter, it remained ineffective till mid-July, sparking fears of dismal crop output. Farmers felt relieved only after monsoon rains became more even and intense by July end.
“Rains are no longer reliable,” says Khadka. “Fortunately, we have this irrigation canal now.”
However, hundreds of thousands of farmers are not as fortunate as the Hapur villagers. They are still deprived of irrigation facilities. According to the Department of Irrigation (DoI), nearly 500,000 hectares of Nepal´s cultivable land still lack irrigation facilities.
Worse, the rate at which the DoI is expanding the irrigation coverage area is disappointing. “At the current rate, it will take us at least 25 years to expand irrigation coverage to the whole cultivable land,” says Basistha Raj Adhikari, a water resources management specialist.
Adhikari says the pace of irrigation coverage expansion cannot be accelerated only institutional and policy reforms are carried out. “In the existing scenario, farmers´ dependency on rain water cannot be done away with,” says Adhikari.
However, farmers in remote villages cannot afford to wait for institutional and policy reforms. They have already started to deal with their problems in whichever way or scale they can. And, forest users, affiliated to over 18,000 groups and spread across the country, are turning out to be a pioneer in this battle.
As climate change puts tremendous stress on water resources by driving the monsoon erratic and accelerating the Himalaya glacier melting rate, Nepal´s community forest users, as in Hapur village, are exploring their own ways to cope with the looming water crisis.
Community forest users are building canals, ponds, reservoirs and better managing watersheds. Under the government´s ambitious Multi -Stakeholder Forestry Program (MSFP), supported by the governments of the UK, Finland and Switzerland, community forest users are getting support to identify their climate-induced problems and solve them.
“Ours is a bottom-up approach,” says Ramu Subedi, the MSFP team leader. “We encourage forest users to identify climate hazards and enable them to cope with them. We do not impose adaptation programs from the top.”
In its 2007 report, the United Nations (UN) panel on climate change has stated that water and its availability and quality will come under immense pressure in the wake of global temperature rise. What the UN panel states seems a reality in Nepal as well.
Forest users are now preparing Local Adaptation Plan of Action (LAPA), a village-specific document that helps the local communities adapt to the effects of climate change by identifying their climate hazards, along with their periodic operation plans. And, in most villages, water scarcity and irrigation problem appear to be the most common climate hazards.
“The severest stress of climate change is on our water resources — be it drinking water or irrigation,” says Subedi. “So, under the MSFP, we are helping local communities deal with these problems apart from mitigating the effects of climate change through forest conservation.”
Subedi adds, “Our National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) document has identified 1.1 million households as vulnerable to climate change. We want reduce vulnerability of around 0.5 million households in a period of 10 years.”
In Hapur village, Chandra Jyoti CFUG allocated Rs 30,000 for the canal construction. Under the MSFP, the CFUG members got an assistance of Rs 50,000. The locals also made labor contribution worth about Rs 40,000.
“This project does not look big but effective enough to help the locals to adapt to climate change,” says Kul Bahaudr Lamichhane, a district committee member of the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN). “As in Hapur, forest users are coping with climate change by managing their water resource elsewhere as well.”
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