Nepal is set to receive its first grant under the Green Climate Fund, an international fund established to help developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change. While authorities in Nepal celebrate the success of the proposal, activists say the project, which focuses on 26 river systems in eastern and central Nepal, faces a host of challenges.
The GCF, which was established as part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), agreed in November to provide $39.3 million out of an estimated $47.3 million required for a project aimed at increasing the capacity of the people of Nepal’s Churia (also Chure) region cope with and recover from shocks and stresses caused by climate change. According to the proposal, the region, which encompasses the southernmost range of the Himalayan foothills, faces increasing risk of floods, landslides and soil erosion due to intensification of rainfall linked to climate change.
The seven-year project, which mainly focuses on agroforestry, aims to establish field schools to teach farmers sustainable agriculture practices and to train local people in agroforestry techniques. It will also aim to work with local schools and media to raise awareness about sustainable management of natural resources and will provide funds for erosion-reducing check dams, gully stabilization measures, and multi-purpose tree nurseries. These programs will be implemented by Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Environment and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the GCF-accredited agency that prepared the project proposal.
The FAO also initiated the idea for the project and developed it further by consulting communities living in the project areas, such as community forest users and indigenous groups.
Whether those consultations were deep enough to reflect the voices of the grassroots communities remains a subject for debate.
Bharati Pathak, chair of the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN), says the FAO consulted her organization at various stages of project development. She says FECOFUN was initially unhappy with aspects of the project, such as the level of involvement of forest user groups. Now, however, she says the group feels it has been included in the process and therefore supports the project. “We will be watching and will not allow the project to go ahead if we feel local forest users are not appropriately involved,” she says.
Dilraj Khanal, a lawyer specializing in forestry, identifies what he sees as four primaries, unresolved challenges the project faces. “After the promulgation of the new constitution in Nepal, new governments have been formed at provincial and municipal levels. It is not clear how the project will work with them,” he says. “Second, resources such as sand and gravel are being heavily extracted from the Churia region by a nexus of corporates and local politicians. How will the project address the problem?
“As the project focuses on agroforestry, the other challenge is to work with the landless people in the region, where more than 50% of the population does not have a legal entitlement to their ancestral land,” he says. “Similarly, how will the project work with community-based resource management groups such as local wetland groups and water consumer groups? They do not have the capacity to lobby the way forest users’ groups do.”
Tunga Rai, the national coordinator of the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities Climate Change Partnership Program, also has a list of challenges project managers are likely to face. “The main challenge for the GCF project will be [to] design its programs by incorporating the people at the grassroots,” he says. “So far we have seen that while the consultation process has been satisfactory, the substance of the consultations needs to be improved. We see that only around 10-15% of the issues raised by local indigenous communities have been addressed. This needs to change when the programs of the project are designed and implemented.”
Rai says he believes the root challenge, however, is to incorporate local indigenous people’s traditional knowledge and skills into the programs of the project. “The project should not copy-paste programs that have been successful elsewhere. The programs should be based on promoting indigenous knowledge and utilizing it to find solutions to local problems,” he adds.
The UNFCCC’s Nepal focal person and Ministry of Forests and Environment joint secretary Maheshwar Dhakal says the government has taken note of all the issues raised by various stakeholders. “The issues shall be addressed when the programs are designed and implemented,” he adds.
Raju Pandit Chhetri, a Nepal-based international climate finance observer, says he is optimistic that safeguards put in place by the GCF will ensure that projects do not go through without adequate local participation. “The beauty of the fund is that it has various safeguards to ensure that the local communities benefit from the project,” he adds.
He also says the lessons learned during the project should not just be implemented in other proposed GCF projects such as a WWF proposal for the West Seti Basin, a plan proposed by the IUCN in the Gandaki River Basin, and a UNDP program focusing on flooding in glacial river basins.
“The issues that have been raised in relation to the Churia project are relevant to all ‘projectized’ development in Nepal,” he says, “There are so many groups everywhere and there are times when they do not listen to one another. We need to find a way to listen to the real voices and concerns of the people.”