Empowering communities to combat the effects of climate change

How indigenous women and young people in Nepal are working with nature to tackle climate change.

Nepal is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change. With around 80 per cent* of the country's population living in rural areas, and over 70 per cent dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, improving the resilience of rural communities against climate change is critical.

According to The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the impact of climate change in Nepal is expected to increase over the coming years, and the communities who rely on natural resources are the most vulnerable. IUCN recognises that many Nepalese communities would benefit from building on existing knowledge and capacity to cope with climate-related disasters.

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Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Photo: Teagan Glenane
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Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Photo: Teagan Glenane

IUCN works globally to provide nature-based solutions to address major climate change challenges.  Nepalese indigenous women and young people are well versed in traditional knowledge and practices, however many lack skills and resources in relation to nature-based solutions.

With support from the Australian Volunteers Program and program partner the Nepal Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoFE), IUCN Nepal is delivering a project focused on enhancing the community resilience of indigenous women and young people by strengthening their capacity to establish nature-based solutions within their communities.

Going back to nature

Anu Adhikari is a climate change specialist at IUCN Nepal and is leading the project. She has several years’ experience working in climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation.

‘The main challenges facing us in Nepal in terms of climate change are rising temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns and longer drought periods, all of which are linked to climate-related disasters such as floods, landslides, droughts, soil erosion, and wildfires,’ says Anu.

‘Nepal’s water system is particularly impacted, which poses a risk to the country’s agriculture ecosystems, human health, and people’s livelihoods.’

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Broom grass growing along the roadside in Damdame, Kaski, Nepal. In Nepal, haphazardly built rural roads have destabilised numerous mountain slopes, causing severe erosion. As rainfall has intensified due to climate change, landslides have become more frequent. A simple nature-based solution — planting broom grass on the slopes — stabilisises the roads and helps reduce the risk of landslides. Photo: Anu Adhikari
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Anu Adhikari, a climate change specialist at IUCN Nepal. Photo: Uma Sigdel

Anu says in Nepal, disadvantaged and minority groups including women, children, indigenous and elderly people, and those living with disability, are especially impacted by climate change.  

‘Our project, which has been designed in collaboration with organisations that represent indigenous women and young people, supports indigenous women and young people in particular,’ she says.

‘The involvement of indigenous women is vital as they are resource custodians and it’s their livelihoods that mainly depend on natural resources.

‘Many Nepalese men have migrated to foreign countries for better employment opportunities, so indigenous women and young people a key role in natural resource management and fostering, sharing and developing their traditional nature-related knowledge and skills.’

The involvement of indigenous women is vital as they are resource custodians and it’s their livelihoods that mainly depend on natural resources.

— Anu Adhikari

‘As well as expanding on their existing knowledge and skills and learning about nature-based solutions to help combat climate change impacts, those involved with the project will learn about ecosystem-based adaptation and ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction,’ says Anu.

‘This includes the establishment of conservation plots, the promotion of organic farming and agro-forestry, efficient water use technology (including kitchen waste management and community tap water management), and planting broom grass or bamboo alongside roads built on mountainous slopes to help stabilise them and reduce the risk of landslides.’

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An example of roadside bio-engineering in Gharelu, Kaski, Nepal which has been buttressed with broom grass. Photo: Anu Adhikari
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A local women carries broom grass in Damdame, Kaski, Nepal. Photo: Anu Adhikari

Looking ahead

In terms of the project’s potential to bring about continuing positive change for indigenous women and young people in Nepal, Anu’s overall outlook is bright.

‘I think the project has helped open the participants’ eyes to see things through a climate change lens. It’s also recognised indigenous women as resource custodians and highlighted how important a role they play in protecting their communities.

‘I feel so proud to be part of such an important project and happy that by sharing my knowledge and experience, I’ve helped enhance the resilience of indigenous communities, especially women and young people.’

IUCN Nepal is providing technical support to the Ministry of Forests and Environment of the Government of Nepal for the implementation of its projects. The Ministry is one of a number of organisations to receive an Impact Fund Grant of up to AUD $10,000 from the Australian Volunteers Program to support vital development work.

*According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Nepal.