Building Back Better, Building Back Greener: Purnima and Climate Change
Purnima was set up in 2017 through UK Aid to the Government of Nepal to support post-earthquake recovery in four badly affected districts (Gorkha, Dhading, Nuwakot and Rasuwa). Managed by Mott MacDonald, Purnima works intensively with 22 gaunpalikas to improve standards of governance and planning, rebuild infrastructure, support the private sector, and directly enable social and economic inclusion of the most vulnerable 10% households in selected palikas. The disaster, however, gave an opportunity to build back better, to stimulate growth, and ensure no one is left behind. Crucially, it is an opportunity to increase resilience to climate change, which threatens to undermine Nepal’s development.
Nepal is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Temperatures are rising, rainfall patterns are changing, and extreme climatic events are more common. This is especially the case in the middle and northern parts of the country where Purnima is working. This unpredictable weather severely affects the most vulnerable members of society who are still highly dependent on rainfed subsistence agriculture. These people live in the most sensitive locations with poor access to infrastructure and have the fewest resources and opportunities to diversify their livelihoods. Climate change exacerbates these existing vulnerabilities and puts them at greater risk from floods and landslides as well as from slow onset disasters such as droughts and new agricultural pests. The climate in Nepal has always been challenging, but now disruptions to monsoons and winter rains are increasingly common, making traditional agriculture risky and unreliable.
The country is, however, developing rapidly with stronger local governance under the new Federal constitution, more resources from both Government sources and private remittances, a growing private sector, and a steady improvement in infrastructure. This puts the country in a better position to cope with, and adapt to, the impacts of climate change than in the past. Even so, there is still great uncertainty over the nature of these impacts at a local level and weak ability to plan for the new climate. Purnima is supporting the new, enthusiastic local governments to understand climate change and helping them to embed adaptation in their plans and policies. It is helping to restore infrastructure and livelihoods through direct interventions, and to promote sustainable, climate-resilient development in areas which were first devastated by the 2015 earthquakes and then overwhelmed by COVID-19.
Local govern-ments are unfamiliar with planning for climate change. They
Purnima is helping to build common understanding of the impacts of climate change in the context of ongoing activities in all sectors as well as other concurrent developments – such as urbanisation, migration, increased market access, better education and greater social aspirations.
Purnima is working with MOFAGA to embed climate change in its periodic and annual planning guidelines and helping local governments develop sound comprehensive plans. Purnima is helping individual local governments improve their periodic and annual plans in a concerted and coordinated manner across sectors, ensuring that palikas plan effectively for climate change and take account of the individual needs of the most vulnerable people.
At the same time, Purnima is helping improve the quality of local infrastructure: technical support to palikas has increased their ability to design competently, construct safely and manage infrastructure so that it protects against the increasingly adverse climate.
Access to water has always been weak and now supplies are threatened by climate change. The long-term trend for springs to dry up has been exacerbated by climate change as well as by the earthquake altering aquifers. Access to water now requires complex systems, using high lift pumps, solar pumps, or longer pipelines with better protection against landslides. Purnima has prepared WASH master plans in 10 palikas and detailed implementation plans for nearly 200 schemes, monitoring changing flows in water sources, planning source protection and recharge, and using landslide hazard maps. Purnima has ensured reliable supply and access to safe drinking water for over 100,000 people, many using excess water to support kitchen gardens to enhance local nutrition as well as to grow surpluses for market.
Trails and trail bridges are an important part of Purnima activities for climate resilience. All but three of the 22 target palikas now have perennial road access, linking communities to markets but many remote communities are still dependent on foot access, often across rivers which become impassable after heavy rain. Safe trails and bridges to these areas has created reliable access with alternative routes. 81 km trails and 7 bridges have been built, helping diversify livelihoods away from climate-dependent subsistence agriculture and enabling better employment opportunities.
Market-led development is crucial for economic recovery and growth. Purnima works directly to strengthen the sector and create new job opportunities. Initially working in the construction sector at District level, Purnima now works with palikas to support small enterprises in all sectors to increase non-farm employment; 199 micro and small enterprises have created 766 jobs in 23 palikas, reducing reliance on agriculture, creating new opportunities which are less dependent on climate, and enabling better quality climate-safe construction.
Rural livelihoods for the most vulnerable are still agriculture-based and climate-dependent. Increasing incidence of extreme weather and changing distributions of disease and pests affect everyone, but the most vulnerable are hardest-hit, including single women, disabled, elderly, and earthquake-displaced.
Purnima is working with these households to help them adopt climate-smart farm technologies such as use of plastic tunnels with drip irrigation for off-season vegetable production and a range of good agricultural practices (such as mulching, zero tillage and improved irrigation). By organising farmers into groups with better access to finance, provision of crop and livestock insurance, stronger links with markets, and ensuring a more supportive policy environment, Purnima is reducing the climate vulnerability of those with very limited assets.
Small-scale agriculture was already a precarious livelihood, and although there are some gains, as higher temperatures allow temperate crop production at lower altitudes, the changing climate creates more losses and greater risks. Purnima is thus promoting diversification of income-generating activities into less vulnerable non-farm areas. Some of these are traditional activities (tailoring, blacksmithing) but others are new (petty shops, farm machinery, plumbing, electrical works and hair cutting businesses) where skills can be developed to exploit new opportunities (including some now possible because of better access, availability of power, demand for construction, access to credit and training, etc).
Purnima has reached 35,000 people in the 12 poorest palikas with direct assistance for livelihoods making them more resilient against climate change and linked them better to long-term support from palikas.