Adaptation strategies in the Gandaki River Basin of Nepal: Need for Transformational change

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Climate change adaptation practices are comprised of local knowledge and practices. These autonomous and planned interventions are designed to reduce risk and enhance the resilience of vulnerable households and communities with respect to their livelihoods and economic well-being.

People in the Gandaki River Basin are already experiencing climate change and its effects on their livelihoods. Major climate change risks and hazards in the Basin include drought, landslides, flash floods, landslides, water shortages, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF), and the potential outbreak of pests and other diseases. Since most farmers in the Gandaki Basin depend on agriculture, critical moments and stress periods are closely linked with crop cycles and the local farming systems on which they depend. When we look at climate risk and vulnerability, the need for improved adaptation appears more crucial as rural lives and livelihoods face increasing stress from climate change.

My colleague Anju Pandit and I wanted to obtain a more detailed understanding of how adaptation approaches in the river basin may be classified, and what criteria we could use for their classification. We assessed climate change adaptation measures from a variety of sectors and, according to hazard types using case studies and multi-criteria analysis, we identified and assessed adaptation strategies and options in the study areas to determine the effectiveness of such strategies. Our data collection involved a literature review, project websites, and interviews with partner organizations and local communities.

Our findings show that communities over time have been using autonomous adaptation – traditional knowledge, practices, and technologies – to cope with adverse climatic stress in the short run. These autonomous adaptation practices include the conservation and sustainable use of important plant species, soil and water (e.g., drip irrigation), and other technologies to retain soil moisture and adjust to changing cropping patterns and crop composition. In areas where external support from the government is inadequate, autonomous adaptations have been useful to help communities adapt to changing weather variability and short-term climate change effects such as such as drought, floods, and landslides. In Rasuwa, for example, irrigation water management has been effectively deployed for mitigating the effects of water stress in that area.


However, with the increased risk and uncertainty of climate change effects, autonomous adaptation alone is inadequate because it does not address the scale and intensity of climate change, leaving communities and their assets vulnerable to loss and damage.

Facing these challenges and limitations, planned adaptation has become an important climate and development strategy in Nepal and across South Asia. Some examples of planned adaptation measures include, among others, climate-smart farming, improved irrigation, soil and nutrient management technologies, and improved access to climate resilient seeds and technologies. Planned adaptation also means strengthening community-based institutions including insurance systems, improved climate information services, and the diversification of agriculture to focus on localized climates and nutrition-sensitive farming.

Case studies indicate that planned adaptation practices were able to address the immediate risk reduction priorities of communities in the targeted villages. These practices had demonstrated multiple benefits in terms of addressing climate risk and enhancing livelihoods of vulnerable households.

However, planned adaptation also confronts its own set of challenges and constraints. Many planned adaptation strategies were development-related actions to reduce vulnerability rather than specifically address climate change. This is a challenge because it failed to consider the additional risk arising from climate change. For example, river bank protection work and drinking water supply interventions were ineffective as the adaptation intervention only considered the current variability and lack analysis of future frisks posed by climate change.

In summary, the current planned adaptation was not incremental and transformative in terms of addressing additional and projected risks and effects posed by climate change.  From this we conclude that adaptation strategies need to be designed considering not just the observed and immediate effects, but also the longer-term climate change risk and vulnerability.

Concepts and criteria for evaluating adaptation options discussed here may provide an analytical framework to policy makers and practitioners for a systematic review of literature on climate change adaptation. It also offers an in-depth understanding for the design of appropriate adaptation practices to address climate change risks and effects in the sub-continent. The reviewed criteria and the suggestions provided by stakeholders in the Gandaki River Basin are relevant in terms of understanding adaptation as well as designing good adaptation practices.

Download the full working paper here.

Bimal Raj Regmi [] is Governance Specialist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, ICIMOD


The blog post is based on the work of the Himalayan Adaptation, Water and Resilience (HI-AWARE) consortium under the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) with financial support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development and the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada. CARIAA aims to build the resilience of vulnerable populations and their livelihoods in three climate change hot spots in Africa and Asia. 

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