Climate variability and change in the Himalayas: Community perceptions and responses - An ICIMOD study

This document by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) presents the findings of a study that was designed to investigate the impact of climate and socioeconomic change on the vulnerability and livelihoods of mountain people and their coping and adaptation strategies. ICIMOD conducted a community-based vulnerability and adaptive capacity assessment in four different areas that included Uttarakhand in northwestern India (two districts), Nepal (two districts), Eastern Bhutan (two districts), and North East India (one district in Assam and one in Meghalaya). The overall aim was to contribute to enhancing the resilience of vulnerable mountain communities in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan (HKH) region to change.

The general objectives of the assessments were:

  • To identify people’s perceptions of climate variability and change
  • To identify underlying causes of vulnerability of mountain communities
  • To assess existing coping and adaptation mechanisms and their sustainability in view of predicted future climate change
  • To formulate recommendations on how to improve individual and collective assets

 The following research questions guided the study:

  • How do mountain communities perceive and interpret climate and socioeconomic change?
  • What are the major impacts of these changes on their livelihoods?
  • How do mountain communities respond to the perceived changes, and are these responses sustainable in view of predicted future climate change?
  • What are the mountain communities’ main assets and needs for coping with, and adapting to, environmental and socioeconomic changes?
  • Are there any differences between different social groups (in particular men and women) in terms of their perception of change and its implications, and with regard to their vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities?
  • How do different institutional mechanisms and policies influence the capacity of mountain people to adapt?
  • What actions are necessary to increase the resilience of mountain communities?

Primary data were collected at community and household level through indepth household interviews and partly gender disaggregated focus group discussions. The interviews revealed that:

The farmers perceptions of change and trend analysis included:

  • Less and more erratic rainfall
  • Decreased water availability
  • Increased frequency of intense rainfall events and storms
  • Increased pests and diseases
  • Increasing temperatures
  • Warmer and shorter winters with less snowfall

Response strategies to climate variability and change included:

Erratic precipitation

  • Introduction of improved seeds that promise high yields even under dry conditions
  • Starting to cultivate off-season vegetables

Decreased water availability

  • Investments in electric water pumps to pull spring water from a nearby stream at a lower elevation
  • Revitalisation of rotational irrigation, a traditional mechanism in northwestern India where water is shared through channels
  • Rising temperatures
  • Polytunnels and polyhouses for higher temperature and humidity for particular vegetables

Increased pests and diseases

  • Kurmula traps to attract and kill white grub (Uttarakhand)
  • Promotion of organic pest control mechanisms
  • Construction of specific storage rooms in households with electrical air circulation systems to reduce post-harvest losses

Physical and socioeconomic stress and shocks (e.g.,landslides, heavy precipitation, windstorms, acute food shortages

  • Cultivation of Aloe vera, which thrives under arid and semi-arid conditions
  • Planting oak trees around springs to protect the catchment area
  • Introduction of plants with lower stalks

The study found that adaptive capacity in the study area was broadly determined by poverty and the reliance on income sources that depended on timely weather patterns. Those who currently depended on off-farm activities or on a variety of livelihood strategies both on and off-farm, and who had comparatively higher educational attainments, were perhaps the ones who were the most able to adapt, as their livelihoods did not entirely focus on professions that were dependent on predictable weather events. It was the poorer farmers in the region, with small marginal landholdings at a distance from markets, who depended solely on agriculture and had few income generating options, who found it hardest to adapt.

The document proposes some approaches in support of adaptation:

  • Planning for climate uncertainty
  • Reducing poverty and social inequality
  • Raising awareness
  • Moving from coping to adaptation
  • Supporting livelihood diversification to spread risk
  • Conducive policies, institutions, and processes for enhancing the adaptive capacity of mountain communities
  • Improved delivery mechanisms for support services
  • Seizing emerging opportunities

The next part of the document presents some case studies demonstrating how rural poor tackle water and temperature stress in Uttarakhand

A copy of the document can be accessed from this link:

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