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Community-based adaptation in action

Sujit Kumar Mondal and his wife Rupashi Mondal of Gopalgonj district in southern Bangladesh working in their floating garden
Peter Murimi/IRIN

 Nepal has become one of the first countries to consider scaling up community-based adaptation (CBA) to climate change and making it part of national development policy.

Nepal is vulnerable to rising global temperatures and has already been dealing with the impact of erratic rainfall, frequent droughts and floods, which have been affecting food security. In response the country decided to experiment with a bottom-up approach using Local Adaptation Plans of Action, or LAPAs, in 10 districts across the country in 2010.

In a joint paper on local adaptation plans, Bimal Raj Regmi, a researcher, and Gyanendra Karki, a government official, said the idea of drawing up LAPAs came out of the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) process.

They noted that Nepal, as one of the last of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to develop its NAPA, was able to incorporate elements omitted from the adaptation plans of other countries.

These include better links to climate change planning processes and mainstreaming national adaptation goals down to the local level, so that the NAPA process moved beyond regional and national consultation to include the input of vulnerable communities in the LAPAs.

The LAPAs are developed by people from various sectors in a village or district who identify local climate risks, vulnerability and needs, and focus on increasing resilience based on the geographical location and assessments made by the community using their knowledge of the local environment.

"This is particularly critical because if communities are unable to distinguish climate change risks from other risks they face, then efforts to develop adaptive capacity might become unfocused or ineffective," said Regmi and Karki.

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Nepal's approach and pilot programme were cited at the recent fifth International Conference on Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change in Bangladesh, which discussed scaling up CBA.

Two ways to scale-up

Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow of the International Institute for Environment and Development, a UK-based policy think-tank, which organized the conference, said there were two ways to scale-up: vertical - up the policy chain from the community level to higher levels of decision-making as in the case of Nepal; and horizontal - by replicating projects or initiatives thousands or even hundreds of thousands of times.

Communities have been adapting to climate variability for centuries, sometimes using home-grown and sustainable methods. These measures are known as "autonomous adaptation".

In flood-prone southern Bangladesh, communities grow food on floating islands made of paddy straw and water hyacinth in the waterlogged fields.

On the edge of the Sahara, people bury staple grains in storage pits in the ground to eat in times of drought, while in other areas traditionally nomadic pastoralists are adopting a partially sedentary lifestyle as the spreading desert wipes out grassland.

NGOs have developed a number of CBA initiatives, all still in the pilot phase, but Huq noted that "quite a few NGOs like Oxfam have begun to scale up their pilots".

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has launched pilot CBA projects in Namibia, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

Huq, who is part of the academic team working on the Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said inputs from the conference would inform the adaptation chapters of the assessment to be published in 2014.

African countries focused on bottom-up approaches and scaling up community-led responses to adaptation at the recent AfricaAdapt symposium held in Ethiopia.

"With up to 40 million pastoralists across the African region, each pastoralist has to be an innovator to some degree to adapt to climate variability," Fatema Rajabali, the climate editor of Eldis, an online knowledge service provided by the Sussex-based Institute of Development Studies, reported.

At the symposium, Yohannes GebreMichael of the Addis Ababa University "asserted that local innovation needs to be recognized, as it provides an entry point for communities with a bottom-up approach to support climate change adaptation, starting with local capacities and ideas".

Read more on CBA and the AfricaAdapt symposium.

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