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State-level Consultations on “Adaptation to Climate Change in the Upper Ganga Basin” in Dehradun, India
23 Mar 2016

Group discussion on ranking adaptation options for the Upper Ganga. (Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya)

The HI-AWARE Stakeholders Consultation Workshop on “Adaptation to Climate Change in the Upper Ganga Basin” held on 4 March 2016 in Dehradun, India brought to the attention of all concerned some of the major climate risks and adaptation challenges facing the people of the Western Indian Himalaya in general and Uttarakhand in particular. Jointly organised by the Centre for Ecology, Development and Research (CEDAR) and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) as part of the HI-AWARE Academy, the workshop focused primarily on climate change adaptation in the Upper Ganga Basin. A diverse group of researchers, practitioners, students, and prominent senior scientists from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Italy and the Netherlands, including government representatives from the state of Uttarakhand, attended the workshop.

The workshop was the culmination of the HI-AWARE Academy, which aimed at strengthening the expertise of HI-AWARE researchers, including students supported by HI-AWARE to conduct trans-disciplinary research on climate/social vulnerability, resilience and adaptation. Earlier that week, from 26 to 29 February, the researchers had participated in “Action Lab on Research Communication” and also received an intensive classroom-based training on research methodologies pertaining to a) Research Component 2 (“socioeconomic, gender and governance drivers of climate vulnerability”, and b) Research Component 4 (“critical moments and adaptation turning points”) in New Delhi. They’d then visited two villages along the Bhagwanpur-Haridwar highway in Roorkee, Uttarakhand—Hakeempur Thurra and Imlikhera—on 2and 3 March to conduct field research. According to Ishani Sachdeva, a research associate at CEDAR, these two sites had been specifically chosen as they served as an interesting case study, given the impact of climate change on the recent collective memory of the villagers. The HI-AWARE researchers interviewed both men and women from various walks of life and age groups, at both the villages to document their perceptions of climate change impacts on their livelihoods, health, water resources, and crops/livestock; their relative vulnerability to climate change and other changes at different times of the year as well as their individual and collective responses.

According to Dr. Philippus Wester, Principal Investigator for HI-AWARE, the aim of the workshop was to have a dialogue on various facets of Research Component 3 (“monitoring and assessment of adaptation practices”) with a view towards prioritising adaptation measures, strategies, and options. Ms. Divya Mohan of TERI laid the groundwork for the workshop by bringing everyone up to scratch on HI-AWARE research work and interventions in the Upper Ganga basin, an Indian Himalayan region extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts. She noted that there was a need to move beyond macro-level assessments and focus more on local impacts and effective solutions.

Professor S.P. Singh, Fellow of the National Science Academy and Chair of CEDAR, talked broadly about climate change in relation to the Indian Himalaya, raising concerns about shifts in the timing and pattern of the monsoon regime and its impact on forest ecology, and also about black carbon—known for hastening glacial retreat, its mitigation options and co-benefits. He argued that climate change adaptation is mainly about managing running water, retaining it for human use, and reducing the damages that it causes. He called on all to focus on multi-scale interdisciplinary research across boundaries as well as on proving the adverse impacts of dam construction and species extinction so as to influence policy. He also highlighted the important role of ‘grey’ literature and activism in influencing policy.

Dr. Ravi Chopra, one of the Founders of People’s Science Institute (PSI) with over three decades of work experience in the Indian Himalaya, talked about changing water scenarios and interventions in the Upper Ganga, with special focus on water woes faced by communities  living in deforested areas, crest-line villages and rain shadow regions. His stance on multiple hydel projects on the Ganga river basin and its adverse effects on riverine ecosystems was especially enlightening. As most people in Uttarakhand depend on rainwater and spring water for their livelihoods, and most rivers flowing through the state are rain-fed, not glaciated, he said that “drying springs and reduced base flows in the rivers pose a major challenge for adaptation in the Ganga basin”.

Dr. Vinod Kothari of Himmothan Society began his talk by reading off that morning’s newspaper headline titled “154 Water Springs Have Dried Up”, which drew everyone’s attention. He then went on to talk about adaptation interventions in the Western Indian Himalaya, focusing on their work in sanitation and hygiene, and springs in relation to livelihoods. Dr. Sunesh Sharma, whose talk was on the Dabka Watershed in the Nainital area, said that more springs are drying up in the higher altitude zones (in the Middle Himalaya) than in the lower parts of the watershed. Dr. Vinod Kothari enlightened the audience on the efforts being made to promote spring recharge in local communities. He argued that the rehabilitation of a spring depends, to a large extent, on its typology and water use.

Dr. Rajiv Pandey, Senior Scientist at the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICREF), talked about socio-ecological vulnerability due to climate change in the Indian Himalaya. His main message was that climate change is a game changer as it accentuates other types of vulnerabilities, including socio-economic and the rest.

The last session of the workshop was a participatory session on “Multi-Criteria Analysis” for ranking adaptation options. Ms. Sudeshna Maya Sen, a PhD student at TERI University in New Delhi, presented, for ranking, a list of adaptation options or recommendations culled from peer-reviewed scientific literature (covering the period 2000-2015) specific to Uttarakhand and impinging on five sectors: agriculture, forestry, water, disaster, and social. Ms. Divya Mohan of TERI led a session on assigning “weightages” to the four criteria—no-regrets, feasibility, cost effectiveness and sustainability, the last two proposed by the participants themselves—to be applied for ranking the adaptation options.  It took the participants lots of head scratching and heated discussions to come up with the relative weightages for the four criteria, which were agreed to in a democratic manner, with the majority opinion prevailing over the others. The participants were then divided into three groups and asked to give scores to the adaptation options such as developing policies for climate change awareness and investing in disaster-resilient infrastructure by applying the weighted criteria. The group exercises gave the participants a “feel” for the trade-offs involved in ranking adaptation options and about decision making under uncertainty. Even those with many years of field experience were caught wondering if the choices they’d made were the best under the given circumstances. The beauty of the group exercises lay in how the participants cross-questioned each other, thereby greatly adding to the rigours of the discourse.

The day-long consultation workshop, comprising a series of presentations, panel discussions and experts-led group exercises, brought to the fore major climate change risks and adaptation challenges facing Uttarakhand in a more nuanced way and also an appreciation for the multi-scale transdisciplinary research work that needs to be done in the future, ensuring that its results would be taken up by policymakers and practitioners to enhance the climate resilience and adaptive capacity of the poor and vulnerable communities living in the HI-AWARE study basins—not just in the Upper Ganga basin, but also in the Indus, Teesta and Gandaki.