Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Catalysts of change in the face of high-altitude climate calamities

Situated in the mountainous region of Ladakh in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, Leh is one of the remotest administrative districts of India. Despite the cold desert climate, the Ladhakis have prospered; practicing agriculture at altitudes of over 3,500 meters (11,500 feet) in the brief summer months and under severe resource constraints. The harshness of the terrain has led Ladakhis to establish a way of life that is based on extremely efficient resource management, recycling, solid waste management and other ecological tenets of Buddhism.

In recent years, however, Leh has rapidly changed. The growing numbers of tourists has led many Ladakhis to abandon agriculture and move to the city for tourism-related businesses. The rapid urbanisation is also leading to overcrowding with an influx of migrant workers. Day-to-day life has been impacted as young Ladhakis increasingly adopt new and mainstream ideas of development. Local elders are concerned that these changes are resulting in the breakdown of their traditional value system and an abandonment of the longstanding ecological approach and indigenous wisdom.

The negative impact of these changes has become more apparent in recent times. Two severe flash floods, a phenomenon uncommon for the region, devastated Leh in 2006 and 2010. The damage was exacerbated by the overcrowding and encroachment on water channels. At the same time, Ladakhis have been witnessing a fast depletion of glaciers and snow cover; erratic water supply in the glacier fed streams; warmer temperatures; and new pest species that often destroy annual yields. These new realities have left Ladhakis increasingly insecure and uncertain about their future. Changes are happening at multiple levels and at a rate faster than can be managed and understood.

SEEDS, an NGO specialising in disaster risk reduction and recovery, started work in Leh in 2010 to support some of the worst affected families of the flash floods. The mission was to help reconstruct damaged houses. Two years later, SEEDS has helped rebuild 35 houses, constructed two community centres and conducted various mason trainings and school safety awareness activities. This work was supported by Cordaid, Care Today, Toshiba Japan, Kewal Remani Foundation and other donors.

Over this period, SEEDS’ learning on both the Ladakhi architectural ethos and their vulnerabilities has grown manifold. One could not help but notice how an extremely resilient community has started to become vulnerable and helpless in the face of climate changes. As strong advocates of ecologically sustainable and resilient development, seeds believes that integrating disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) into local development planning is an imperative step.

Therefore, with the support of CDKN and START, SEEDS has embarked on a 17-month action research project. The objective is to understand the factors and find the catalysts to bring about this integration in Leh. It looks at the relationship between local multi-stakeholder forums and policy environments. What is their potential to catalyse shifts in DRR and CCA policy in post-disaster contexts? What institutional mechanisms and governance structures can ensure the sustainability of such programmes?

Over the next year, SEEDS will be working with the local administration, which includes the Leh Autonomous Hill Council Development Authority and Leh district administration, NGOs, research organisations and community based oganisations in Leh. The activities will include coalition building, agenda setting and piloting of village level integrated CCA and DRR programmes.

As a first step, a one-day workshop was organised in Serthi valley, near Leh city, on July 27th, 2012. Over 100 men and women from villages in and Serthi attended to discuss issues of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. The venue itself told its own story. This community centre was built by SEEDS with the help of local families of Serthi. A creation of stone, mud and wood, it uses traditional Ladhaki architectural wisdom. The building construction and design is not only locally appropriate and sustainable, but also capable of enduring harsh weather conditions and holding out during earthquakes.

Serthi’s Area Councillor who was also present at the meeting, appreciated these efforts of SEEDS and the people of Serthi. He offered the support of the Hill Council for the development of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation programmes in Serthi and other parts of Leh; and pledged funds for the enhancement of the community center in Serthi. The Gobas (village heads), Sarpanchs (elected village chief administrator) and village elders all stressed the need for local solutions to the water issues that plague Leh. They also acknowledged the need for better preparedness and risk reduction from flash floods and the ever-present risk of earthquakes.

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Women 'are the foot soldiers of climate change adaptation' - expert

Thu, 2 Aug 2012 13:18 GMT

Source: Alertnet // Amantha Perera

A woman carries firewood gathered in a forest in the village of Rukam in the Batticaloa District of Eastern Sri Lanka. ALERTNET/Amantha Perera

By Amantha Perera

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AlertNet) – In 2006, when the Asian Development Bank (ADB) decided to launch a multi-million dollar rural water project in eastern and north central regions of Sri Lanka, there was one overriding requirement – women would be placed in key positions.

As a result, experts say, the $263 million program, aimed at providing drinking water to over 900,000 people by 2011, has been a particular success.

In the village of Talpothta, in the rural north-central Polonnaruwa District, the village women’s association is now central to the proper functioning of the new water supply plant provided under the ADB programme. Its members visit the over 200 users, read meters and more importantly advise beneficiaries on water usage when drought sets in.

“We know how much is needed. Women do most of the household work like cooking (and) washing clothes. We ask our members to limit use when we have problems,” said Sheila Herath, an association member.

Kusum Athukorala, one of the country’s leading experts on water management, agrees that women are key to adapting effective measures to deal with water challenges and changing climate patterns.

“Women are the foot soldiers of climate change adaptation,” said Athukorala who heads the Network of Women Water Professionals, Sri Lanka (NetWwater) and the Women for Water Partnership.

NetWwater’s efforts to create awareness among rural women on climate change, adaptation and water management have won support from Brandix, one of the island’s largest garment. That allows Athukorala to now travel the country, educating women on water management.

“One sixth of our water supply is from rural programmes managed by community-based organizations. If we don’t recognize the impact of over half of the population, these programmes will never succeed,” she said.


In other Asian countries women also are playing crucial roles at the grassroots level in preserving the environment and making sure human-inflicted damage remains controllable. Avi Mahaningtyas, an Indonesian expert on forest management and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) told AlertNet that it was rural women who knew intimately the forest’s value to their lives.

“They know it by heart and by birth,” said Mahaningtyas, who heads the Environmental and Economic Governance Cluster of the Kemitraan-Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia, a national body that works on good governance.

The same sentiment is true in rural China, says Xiaobei Wang, a China gender specialist with Landesa Rural Development Institute, an international organisation that works on poverty and land rights. Wang told AlertNet that as men increasingly migrated to cities looking for jobs, it was women, left behind in the villages, who took care of the land and the forests.

"In China most of men from areas near forests have left as migrant workers, making women the major labour force. About 60 percent of those working in forests and farm land are women. If their rights are not protected and enforced, there will be lots of issues in reducing poverty in forest areas and ensuring the sustainable management of forests,” she said.

Indonesia’s Mahaningtyas said that if a forest is to be preserved, like any other natural resource, it needs to carry a value. “A forest with a value will not easily be cut down. And it is the people who work within it who will know intimately that value.”

However, despite their importance, women are still being largely left out of the decision making, according to a new report by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). The report - The Challenges of Securing Women’s Tenure and Leadership for Forest Management: The Asian Experience - found that gender discrimination is still rampant.

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