Greenbacks into greeneryGovernment institutions have a critical role in finding ways to use remittance for adaptation
Climate change poses many challenges to the success of development initiatives in Nepal. The impacts of climate change-induced hazards—droughts, floods, landslides, rainfall variability, cold and heat waves—increase the risk to life and property. These impacts have detrimental effects on food security, nutritional status, livelihoods, infrastructure and public amenities. Floods damage roads, bridges, and disrupt power supply. Droughts reduce crop yield and water availability for irrigation and public consumption. Floods and landslides not only damage crops, but strip fertile land of nutrients. These hazards impose a disproportionate burden on rural people dependent on natural resources, many of whom are marginalised and poor. The hazards of climate change can result in unpredictable farm productivity and income opportunities thereby forcing some people to look for alternative livelihoods elsewhere in the community or beyond. Financial remittances from migrant workers support many families of those in hazard affected communities of Nepal.
Strengthening the adaptive capacity of rural populations leads to faster recoveries and the ability to adapt to a wider climate range. Adaptive capacity can be increased through education, information sharing, skills training, technology, infrastructure, institutions and social capital. Future adaptation actions could be born from the adaptive capacity to respond to the short-term hazards.
Adaptive capacity assets exist on the individual, household, community, and national levels. On the individual and household levels, adaptive capacities have to be nurtured through institutional resources and policy mechanisms. The government of Nepal has several programmes such as the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (Napa) and Local Adaptation Plans of Action (Lapa). Napa prioritised adaptation actions placing them within the country’s national development goals. In consultation with Village Development Committees, major stakeholders and—within the Napa framework—Lapa identified location-specific adaptation needs to address issues faced by climate vulnerable communities.
Remittance for adaptation
Labour migration is a livelihood strategy in Nepal. According to Nepal Migration Yearbook, during the first eight months of the fiscal year 2013/14, financial remittances contributed 29.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. According to a 2011 household survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics, 56 percent of households in the country received financial remittances (both domestic and foreign). Financial remittance forms an important pillar of the national economy and is a significant source of household income. The Lapa, however, fails to explore the role that remittances could have in building household-level capacity, except to highlight the risk from migration.
Although remittances serve as another source of household income, there is no guarantee that the money will be used to address long-term needs when short-term priorities are unaddressed. Little has been done to explore the ways to use remittances to build adaptive capacity. People have limited awareness and understanding about the long-term consequences of climate induced hazards. The absence of financial skills, low-volume remittances, and inadequate financial services in rural areas means that recipient families use funds to meet immediate necessities over long-term assets. People have limited access to information about low-cost disaster preparedness and livelihood diversification options. Those most affected are socially marginalised groups and women.
Adaptation does not take place in an institutional vacuum. The success of adaptation practices depends on existing rural institutions. Migration should not be perceived as an alternative to farming or other ‘in-situ’ options. Government institutions, both at the local and national levels, have a critical role in supporting adaptation strategies and discovering new ways to leverage remittance for adaptation. Given the little data that exists on the linkages between migration, remittances and adaptation, government and non-government agencies have limited working knowledge on the subject. Merely recycling existing evidence on migration and use of remittances is not an appropriate solution.
Need for local government
Adaptation is context specific and local in nature. Local institutions are the drivers to improve local adaptation to climate variability. District-level government and NGOs have an important role in facilitating adaptation, raising awareness and building the capacity of communities. Local adaptation plans should explore the role of remittances in supporting priority areas identified by the Lapa: agriculture, forest, public health, drinking water and sanitation, watershed, micro-finance, education, local infrastructure and natural disasters. For example, how can remittances ensure access to safe drinking water or better sanitation facilities in the recipient households? Safe drinking water and sanitation facilities reduce the incidence of water-borne diseases during the flooding season. Remittances make up a significant share of the capital available at the district level. Can targeted subsidies or matching grants from the government help to channel remittances toward capital investment in infrastructure and public amenities at the district level? These questions have yet to be answered and are crucial to conceptualise context-specific, socio-cultural responsive and need-based adaptation strategies which can be a ‘win-win’ approach for the local government and remittance recipient households.
Without locally-elected institutions, district-level administrations and local NGOs have limited ability to mainstream migration remittances into local adaptation plans and practices. Therefore, it is crucial to address the collaborative ability of local and national institutions, universities, and international agencies.
Lamsal is Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment and Khadka is Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Labour and Employment