Climate Vulnerabilities And Adaptation Challenges In Nepal 


Nepal is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to a combination of geographical, socio-economic, and ecological factors. This vulnerability stems from its unique mountainous terrain, heavy reliance on climate-sensitive sectors, and limited capacity to cope with the challenges posed by a changing climate. As known facts, the geographical factors are the prime factors of its vulnerability. Nepal's geography is dominated by the Himalayan Mountain Range, making it highly susceptible to climate change effects. Glacial melting in the Himalayas leads to increased risks of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) and altered patterns of water availability, affecting downstream communities and agriculture. The country is also prone to landslides and flash floods triggered by intense rainfall and rapid snowmelt, posing significant threats to infrastructure and human settlements. Similarly, a large proportion of Nepal's population relies on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods. Climate change-induced changes in precipitation patterns, extreme weather events, and rising temperatures impact crop yields, food security, and rural incomes. Vulnerable agricultural communities often lack the resources and knowledge to adapt to these changing conditions, exacerbating their vulnerability. Biodiversity and ecosystems are the identity of the country. Nepal is rich in biodiversity and is home to many unique and endangered species. Climate change affects the distribution and behaviour of plant and animal species, leading to habitat loss and fragmentation. This can disrupt ecological balance and threaten the survival of sensitive ecosystems, with cascading impacts on wildlife and human communities that depend on these resources.

The major strength of a country is its water resources. Nepal's rivers and freshwater resources play a vital role in supporting agriculture, hydropower generation, and household water needs. Climate change disrupts the hydrological cycle, impacting the timing and intensity of monsoons and snowmelt. Changes in water availability and quality can challenge water management and create tensions over shared water resources with neighbouring countries. However, the limited capacity for adaptation is the problem. Nepal is a developing nation with limited financial and technological resources to adequately adapt to the impacts of climate change. Remote and marginalised communities, in particular, face greater challenges in accessing climate-resilient infrastructure, services, and information. This exacerbates existing inequalities and increases vulnerability to climate-induced risks.

Everyone wants a sophisticated and easy life, so population concentration in the cities results in urbanization. Rapid urbanisation and population growth place additional pressure on already limited resources. Unplanned urban expansion and inadequate infrastructure make cities and towns more susceptible to climate-related hazards like floods and landslides. Every political party or person in politics wants to be in power, but politics is still not institutionalised, and governance and institutions are still fragile. Nepal's governance structures and institutions face challenges in effectively coordinating and implementing climate change policies and actions. Lack of awareness and integration of climate change into development planning further hinders the country's capacity to address the issue comprehensively.

Lack of political will

In Nepal, a weak government and lack of political will pose significant limitations to effectively coping with the impacts of climate change. This is particularly detrimental to the country's farmers, who are often the most vulnerable to climate-related challenges. Firstly, a weak government hampers the formulation and implementation of robust climate change policies and strategies. Inadequate institutional capacity and coordination mechanisms hinder the effective integration of climate change considerations into development planning and decision-making processes. This results in a lack of comprehensive and targeted measures to address the specific needs and vulnerabilities of farmers. I think limited political will further exacerbates the challenges. Political priorities and short-term agendas often take precedence over long-term sustainable development and climate change adaptation efforts. Insufficient allocation of resources, including financial and human resources, for climate change initiatives results in a lack of support and capacity-building programmes for farmers. As a consequence, farmers bear the brunt of climate change impacts without adequate support from the government. Erratic weather patterns, changing rainfall patterns, and prolonged droughts directly affect agricultural productivity and livelihoods. Farmers face challenges in accessing timely weather information, climate-smart technologies, and adaptive practices due to limited government initiatives and weak extension services. Strengthening government institutions, enhancing coordination among relevant ministries, and prioritising climate change on the political agenda are crucial steps. This includes improving governance structures, promoting transparency and accountability, and involving local communities, including farmers, in decision-making processes. Additionally, increased investment in climate change adaptation measures, such as farmer training programmes, access to credit and insurance, and infrastructure development, is essential to supporting the resilience and livelihoods of farmers.

Risk of climate change

Given its vulnerability to climate change and the continuing effects on its biodiversity, forestry, and agriculture, Nepal must adopt a comprehensive and earnest approach that addresses emotional, practical, and technical aspects. This entails acknowledging and understanding the emotional impact, implementing tangible actions, and leveraging technical expertise to build resilience and mitigate the challenges posed by climate change. Nepal's vulnerability to climate change is a pressing issue that requires immediate attention and concerted efforts from all stakeholders. The country's unique geographical location and socio-economic characteristics make it particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, which are already manifesting in various ways, affecting its biodiversity, forestry, and agriculture.

Vulnerable positions have emotional aspects. Climate change has significant emotional implications for the people of Nepal. As they witness the adverse effects on their environment, livelihoods, and cultural heritage, emotions such as fear, anxiety, and grief are evoked. Acknowledging and understanding these emotional responses is crucial, as it can foster a sense of urgency and collective responsibility to act. Alongside emotional considerations, it is essential to implement tangible actions to address climate change impacts effectively. This includes measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through sustainable practices, promoting renewable energy sources, and adopting climate-resilient agricultural techniques. Encouraging afforestation and reforestation efforts can help preserve biodiversity and strengthen ecosystem services. Implementing practical adaptation strategies, such as building climate-resilient infrastructure and implementing early warning systems, is vital for safeguarding communities from the adverse effects of extreme weather events.

Technical expertise is the key to solving the problems. Addressing the complexities of climate change requires specialised technical knowledge and expertise. Nepal needs to invest in research, data collection, and analysis to better understand the specific impacts of climate change on its unique ecosystems and agriculture. Leveraging technical expertise will enable the country to develop evidence-based policies and effective strategies that are tailored to its specific challenges and opportunities. It also helps in monitoring the progress of climate action and adjusting  strategies as needed.

Own capacity building is essential; no one will come; Nepal has to stand by itself. Building the capacity of various stakeholders is essential for successful climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Capacity-building initiatives should target local communities, government institutions, and relevant organisations, equipping them with the necessary skills, knowledge, and resources to implement climate-sensitive practices. Empowering communities with information and resources enhances their resilience and ability to respond effectively to climate-induced challenges.

Climate change is an impact of anthropogenic disturbances on natural ecosystems, and equally, both developed and developing countries, including individuals in global society, are responsible. Therefore, to cope with the impact of climate change, international cooperation is essential. By recognising the emotional impact, implementing practical actions, and leveraging technical expertise, Nepal can build resilience and mitigate the challenges posed by climate change, safeguarding its biodiversity, forestry, and agriculture for future generations.

(The author is a professor at Akamai University, USA; Sumy State University, Ukraine; and Gandaki University, Nepal.) 

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