Need of conflict-sensitive adaptation policy in Nepal

By Prakash Paudel, Brisbane
1 June 2020

Although they may appear to be completely unrelated phenomena, climate change has been recognized as one of the biggest national security threats for developing and under-developed countries. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (2007), Nepal, together with 46 other countries, is facing a high risk of armed conflict as a knock-on consequence of climate change.

With diverse climatic conditions packed within a small space, ranging from icy mountains to the tropical Terai, Nepal is at the forefront of facing all manners of climate-induced impacts. Floods caused by an increased rate of snowmelt, increased migration, drought, shift in seasons and impact on physical infrastructure could serve as examples of such possible scenarios. These climate change repercussions significantly influence people’s livelihood choices by intensifying social vulnerability and aggravating social tensions.

Climate change can be a threat to Nepal’s roadmap to sustainable peace as it can trigger conflict leaving the most vulnerable and poor people victimized by its impacts such as erratic weather conditions, drought, and floods. It is because these populations in Nepal have less resilience to adapt to such impacts, which further contributes to conflict-prone situations such as tension around land use, food insecurity, unemployment, sickness etc.

It is important to note that consequences of climate change may not directly lead to a conflict scenario but it does interact well with other drivers of conflict such as poor governance, poverty and legacy of past conflict in order to create the likelihood of a conflict.

In this context, it is highly appreciable that National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) 2010 came as a response to this threat, and Nepal was the first country to implement Local Adaptation Plan for Action (LAPA) to mainstream support to the adaptation programs at local levels. To work in this direction, NAPA has listed impacts of climate change on sensitive sectors: agriculture and food security, water resources and energy, climate-induced disasters, forests and biodiversity, public health, urban settlement and infrastructure and cross-cutting sectors. However, these strategies do not recognize the potential impact of climate change on social vulnerability and conflict dynamics. It means it fails to understand the fact how failure to incorporate the conflict factor into consideration will lead to the potential conflict,or contribute to trigger the conflict in the society.

While assessing the climate vulnerability in Nepal, NAPA report shows that more than 1.9 million people are at high risk of being impacted by climate change and 10 million people are increasingly climate vulnerable across Nepal. Moreover, the report also reveals that out of 75, 29 districts are in high risk group for natural hazards, where 22 of them are drought prone as well. It means large populations of Nepal, who are dependent on most climate sensitive sectors, i.e. agriculture and other natural resources, will be tremendously affected by the obvious impacts of climate change such as,flash floods, drought, erratic weather conditions.Among them, poor and marginalized people will have to bear the severe repercussions. A single effect of climate change on variations in monsoon pattern is potential to devastate the livelihoods of those people. And, the impact will be more severe as they lack other livelihood options and economic activities to engage for survival, which will further exacerbate the latent poverty and inequalities in the country. So, those vulnerable populations in the absence of livelihood diversification will have the problems such as food insecurity, unemployment, and migration, which are the root causes of conflict. Local conflicts in Chad, Northern Kenya, and Sudan, for instance, were aggravated by the mass migration and scarcity of resources caused by the climate change. Since Nepal,a country which is equally vulnerable to climate change, cannot be the exception of this problem in the near future, improving the resilience of the groups of people is paramount importance to maintain social harmony and peace.

Similarly, other impacts of climate change such as decrease in crop and livestock production due to erratic weather conditions; unemployment due to its effect on agriculture-based industry; migration due to landslide, flood, droughts; climate induced diseases especially in tropical and subtropical areas such as kala-azar, malaria, Japanese encephalitis or likelihood of causing or exacerbating fatal pandemic would further contribute to the vulnerability of conflict.

Nepal is vulnerable to conflict due to climate change also because of its unequal effects in different regions. For example, Terai region is more sensitive to physical effects such as droughts, floods and storm as it is lowly situated, which may result in displacement of large populations. And social friction may start from securing the land and livelihoods, and natives often resent migrant populations as threat. For example, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan already have been witnessing social tensions caused by the displaced communities and such tension is aggravated by the migration caused by the climate change.

Likewise, Nepal has already started witnessing these problems, may it be in a small scale for now, which wouldgrow bigger if it is not intervened on time. For example, some villages of our hilly region have been relocated due to the drought for long and there will be definitely a situation of struggle among them to secure the scare resources in the future if such trend persists for long. So, our adaptation policy should include the problems of these vulnerable populations to stop the future displacement or migration, which is induced by climate change.

In this context, it is commendable that LAPA has been implemented as a strategy to support the adoption programs in the local communities. It should also be able to identify climate vulnerable populations and conflict-prone situations in every rural municipalities and wards. It significantly helps to understand the need of local livelihoods especially in a risk area and empower the poor and most disadvantageous groups by increasing their climate resilience.

Amidst climate induced vulnerability of our society, such conflict-sensitive adaptation policies can be the opportunity to strengthen the social harmony and peace.On the other hand, it is equally important to make sure whether adaptation projects are conflict-sensitive by focusing on more vulnerable communities.Thus,every carefully drawn peacebuilding strategies largely helps to enhance the community resilience against the climate change. It works both ways.

Besides increasing the community resilience, increasing social awareness and community’s access to the information about the effects of climate change is equally important. If these vulnerable populations are well aware of the possible risks and hazards of climate change,they will be better prepared to manage climate related crisis without having resentment and negativity, which reduces the chances of violence eruption. So, it is very important to include these groups of people into Nepal’s adaptation policy to build their social resilience and adoptive behaviors and more importantly to empower them to develop their livelihood choices, which will reduce the vulnerability of the Nepalese society, minimizes the conflict threats and strengthens peace and harmony amid its diversity.

In conclusion, as Nepal is a long way from making peace sustainable, adaptation policy to climate change should be taken as a peace building strategy by addressing conflict risks associated with climate change through conflict-sensitive adaptation policy.

Paudel is a Researcher at Dialogue, Empathic Engagement and Peacebuilding (DEEP) Network, Australia.

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