Glacial Flooding & Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Exchange and Field Training July 11-24, 2013 in Huaraz, Peru HighMountains.org/workshop/peru-2013
Climate adaptation in the Indian Eastern Himalaya: Vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities Reinmar Seidler ATREE-‐USA University of Massachusetts Boston
Climate change is an extraordinarily challenging concept to grasp fully, and even more challenging to respond to in a practical sense. This is true for people with extensive academic education and science savvy—indeed, even the scientists developing these ideas and advocating for societal awareness of climate change have a hard time applying the lessons of the need for ‘adaptation’ to their own lives. How much trickier, then, for villagers, or for regional and local government officials in developing countries, whose capacity for action is many ways far more limited, to alter their perceptions of future security and change their behaviors based on what can seem very abstract notions? Yet that is what we are asking people to do when we promote climate adaptation. In this short paper we attempt to unpack the notion of ‘climate adaptation’ and to relate it more closely to the realities of rural people’s lives. It is based on preliminary work being done by ATREE in several mid-‐ and high-‐altitude locations in the Eastern Himalaya of Darjeeling District (West Bengal) and the North District of Sikkim. Climate change and future discounting Future discounting is a well-‐known phenomenon in economic psychology, extensively documented by behavioral economists and presumed virtually universal in humans (___, but see Read and Roelofsma 2003).Under discounting, potential future rewards such as those deriving from present investments are reduced in perceived value. The less ample an economic buffer a person or a group perceives themselves to enjoy, the more steeply s/he or they tend to discount future rewards in comparison with immediate and tangible advantages (Smith & Ezzati 2005). Correspondingly, future threats (‘negative rewards’) may also appear diminished in scale in comparison with risks perceived to be immediate or impending. Discount rates tend to be steep in the near future and then to level off quickly into a hyperbolic curve, so that people tend to value medium and quite distant futures more or less the equivalently (Laibson 1997). Efforts to bring the threats associated with a changing climate to the forefront of people’s awareness—and into the public discourse— 1
appear to run precisely counter to this basic psychological pattern, when they ask that people privilege a relatively distant, uncertain and unfamiliar risk over immediate and familiar threats. Hyperbolic discounting is a natural and intuitive decision-‐making aid, and appears to be nearly ubiquitous—except, perhaps, among economists when writing in their professional capacity. The prevalent approach to estimating future value in neoclassical welfare economic analyses remains cost-‐benefit analysis, or CBA (Heinzerling and Ackermann 2002). Conventional CBA is built on the concept of a future discounting rate that takes the form of an approximately straight line across all future time periods. CBA is liable to underestimate people’s true valuation of the distant future. Under a conventional CBA analysis, large possible future damages often appear to have very low discounted present value, which means they rarely enter strongly into policy discussions. To take an extreme case, at a 5% discount rate applied consistently over time, the lives or well-‐being of a billion people 500 years in the future are worth less than the life or well-‐ being of a single individual in the present (e.g., Heinzerling and Ackerman 2002). To the extent that this kind of analysis is taken seriously by policy makers, this obviously represents a major barrier to crafting policy for climate adaptation. Most policy makers would probably be reluctant to consciously apply such a draconian discount rate, but at a pre-‐analytic level, such linear rates do influence a multitude of decisions about public investment priorities. However, it is also true that, intuitively, people apply discount in a context-‐dependent manner—that is, they apply different rates to different kinds of outcomes and in different situations (Loewenstein 1987). Thus, people’s understanding of the nature of a particular threat, and the particularities of the way a threat is presented or described, strongly affect their ability and willingness to respond effectively. What does this imply for climate adaptation research and policy formulation? We suggest it means there are pathways of greater and lesser resistance, and the choice between them matters overwhelmingly for the success or failure of policy implementation. Policy formulation must therefore take implementation into account in its earliest stages. We must expect, for instance, that many poor farmers will exhibit considerable risk aversion, or what Patt and Schroeter (2007, 2008) call “status quo bias”—namely the unwillingness to adopt new procedures with unknown degrees of risk in preference to continuing present patterns, even when the surrounding environmental context appears to be changing. In Patt and Schroeter’s (2007) surveys of climate perception among vulnerable smallholders in Mozambique, 90% reported noticing major changes during their lifetimes, including changes in temperature (80%), cyclones (80%), rainfall (73%), soil moisture (69%), and flooding (64%). Nevertheless, most of them refused to participate in adaptive policy
recommendations—which in this case, it is true, were relatively extreme since they involved resettlement out of a dangerous flood plain. How do people prioritize risk? Even though people perceive risk partly as individuals, being social animals they also share common interests with an assortment of groups. The ways risks are foregrounded and back-‐grounded can reasonably be assumed to be quite sensitive to some groupings. In the effort to design adaptive strategies, it would be useful to know what kinds of generalizations can be made about different groups within a particular social landscape. But it is not easy to decide on which societal groupings will yield the most useful information to help in predicting the likely success of particular adaptation policies. Individuals belong to multiple separate and often overlapping or contradictory groups (Slovic & Weber 2002). Also, there might conceivably be greater variation within a particular group—perhaps even within a household—than among groups. These variations might follow intra-‐group divisions along lines of gender, age, or even psychological make-‐ up. Patt & Schroeter 2007, for instance, found that in their sample, “psychological variables—factors such as feelings of control, optimism, and fatalism—were able to predict self-‐protective behavior with significantly greater accuracy than were the socio-‐economic variables.” In addition, a single individual is likely to belong and feel allegiance to several different ‘groupings’ simultaneously (Slovic & Weber 2002)—and these might call for allegiance to conflicting perceptions of risk. Does this account for some of the manifest self-‐ contradictions inherent in people’s publicly professed attitudes toward risk? How, too, to incorporate evidence of false or exaggerated impressions? For instance, Jewitt & Baker 2010 describe how in a village in India, “The perceived rise of ‘mystery illnesses’ in children was a good example of this, as was the general feeling, amongst a number of wealthier households, that people in the village ‘are weaker nowadays . . . more sickly than they used to be’… despite widespread evidence to the contrary.” They related this to an emergent awareness, among the economically secure population, of larger-‐scale (‘late-‐ modern’) threats such as climate change. This, of course, underlines the fact that perceptions of change at the day-‐to-‐day level often fail to realistically reflect long-‐term trends. Community-‐based studies of climate perception, such as our own, thus need to exercise appropriate skepticism toward accounts of large-‐scale change unsupported by instrumentation and systematic records. This is especially true when perceptions are generated as parts of community discourses concerning other large-‐scale trends such as growing tourism, symptoms of the globalization of economic pressures, new technologies, etc. Thus in Sikkim, Lachenpa and Dokpa communities agreed 1) that there are weather-‐ related changes in phenology, seasonality and other parameters, and 2) that these could be attributed to the increased regional presence of tourists, motor vehicles and the Indian Army. The communities varied, however, in their prioritization of these influences; and 3
these variances—especially regarding the relative importance of the military—are correlated with the degree to which people experience the military’s restrictions and regulations of their movements as onerous. The Kanchenjunga Conservation Landscape region is undergoing what Smith & Ezzati (2005) call an “environmental risk transition”. Some groups, in particular the forest villagers, foreground household-‐level risks (human-‐wildlife conflict, poor harvests, monsoon failure and other extreme weather events, household sickness, restrictions imposed by the military, and the difficulty and expense of transporting agricultural produce to remunerative markets. Other groups, such as the tourism operators and traders, tend to be focused on community-‐level risks: poor road construction and maintenance, earthquake-‐ and landslide-‐unready housing construction, poor enforcement of building codes and zoning. A still more urban-‐based and educated group of social activists tends to focus on regional-‐level hazards, such as the allegedly inadequate design and construction of commercial mega-‐dam projects, and their relation to other hazards such as earthquakes and climate changes. Allegiance to each of these ‘risk-‐perception groups’ is apparently governed by a fluid combination of factors including level of formal education, self-‐perceived economic security, and degree of dependence on local resources versus inflows of goods, information and cash from outside the immediate region. Can roads be made into a unifying factor?
Table 1: Risk priorities. [Substantial gaps in these data will be filled in the near future—field work and FGDs are presently ongoing in SNP.] 4
Based on very preliminary data, Table 1 shows the relative prioritization patterns of several community groupings in Indian Eastern Himalaya. Although we need to collect and analyze further data, a reasonable working hypothesis seems to be that in our region, the rapidly expanding road network is a common concern shared by most groups as a first or second-‐order concern. We do not yet have precise data on the extent and spatial distribution of new rural pathway and roadway construction in Darjeeling and Sikkim Himalaya, and this information is difficult to come by especially because two of the major players in rural road construction are 1) large hydropower companies, who are building roads (sometimes in remote areas) to service their hydro construction sites, and 2) the military and border control, who want secured access for vehicles into border regions. Neither of these entities is motivated to publish the details of their activities, and perhaps surprisingly, there is no central authority tasked with tracking and mapping the rapidly expanding road network (Sarkar 2010). Remote sensing can give a representative picture of the physical infrastructure, except smaller pathways and trails that do not break the tree cover yet can contribute to erosive processes under some conditions (Sidle 2006). But that will not reveal the essential information about who built a road, and how, and who is using it now it is built. Concern with the quantity and especially the quality of the rural roads—despite the disagreements it also brings out—may serve as a way to bring together disaster preparedness and climate adaptation in this region, while at the same time facilitating sustainable economic development. Different groups certainly have different reasons for concern about roads, and they may have different underlying goals for connectivity, but in all cases, climate change is likely to heighten, not alleviate, the concerns. For instance, there is a well-‐documented positive relationship between amount of rainfall and average size of landslides. But in Nepali Central Himalaya, Petley (2007) showed that this expected strong relationship has remained significantly constant through time. The number of landslides with associated fatalities has risen very fast over the last 20 years, but the rainfall-‐induced average size of the landslides has not increased during that period—implying that there are simply more landslides, not bigger ones. Other forms of land use change could influence the density of landslides, but the strong spatial and temporal correlation between serious landslides and rural roads is not found between landslides and land use changes such as deforestation. Sidle et al. (2006) demonstrated that throughout Asia, the density of landslides associated with road construction in mountainous areas is as much as two orders of magnitude greater than it is for other land use changes. Thus there are potential built-‐in points of consensus when it comes to roads. They are valued very highly; they loom large in rural people’s lives, though not always for the same reasons. The situation in Indian East Himalaya in many ways mirrors that in Nepal. The rural road network has been expanding rapidly over the last 20 years, with highly unequal inputs of design, engineering and maintenance. Society has every reason to increase the 5
level of investment in the quality of the road network. Satisfying today’s urgent need for more careful planning and engineering would simultaneously constitute a very reasonable, and relatively broad-‐based, investment toward a climate-‐secure future. Roads and MGNREGA About 1990 in Nepal there was a change in national priorities for economic and social development with a new emphasis on access for remote rural communities (Petley 2007). A key aspect of this was the construction of a network of ‘low technology’ roads to montane villages, built as much as possible using local human and physical resources and with minimal recourse on expensive engineering and design. The success of this policy in rapidly generating rural connectivity—and its political popularity—may have influenced the formulation and/or implementation in India of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) enacted in 2005. This Act guarantees 100 days of manual work, paid from a central government fund, to rural households across India. Although the Act has been unevenly implemented in different states, it has been described as potentially one of the most effective rural poverty-‐alleviation schemes in the nation’s history. One of its stipulations is that only a minimal amount of machinery can be used in its projects, in order to provide as many places as possible for unskilled labor and to help insure that employment opportunities go to the neediest. Another is that road-‐building (‘rural connectivity’) should absorb no more than 10% of a state’s NREGA budget. The second condition is much more difficult to regulate than the first, and Tables 2 and 3 show that, in fact, rural connectivity projects dominate in project plans for Darjeeling Hills (2013-‐14) and for North Sikkim (2012-‐2013), both in terms of number of projects and in budget size.
Tables 2 & 3: MGNREGA projects & budgets for two years in Darjeeling and North Sikkim Districts. These figures are derived from the NREGA website (http://nrega.nic.in/netnrega/home.aspx ). Several independent studies have found the
same anomaly. IRMA (2010) found that throughout the state of Sikkim, the situation was similar (Table 4).
Tables 1: MGNREGA projects for 2010, Sikkim state. There is, thus, every reason to suspect that the expansion of the rural road network in Indian East Himalaya may not be proceeding with the care and investment level warranted, especially under conditions of impending and ongoing climate change. Raising the engineering and construction standards of MGNREGA road projects, and landslide-‐proofing them to the greatest extent possible, makes sense even if it means a tightening of the overall budget. Roads, especially motorable roads, benefit some groups a lot more than others. It appears that at least in the hill areas, NREGA is to some extent becoming a pool of inexpensive labor to benefit a vision of rural development that continues to leave out the neediest. The remotest villages will continue to benefit most from land development projects that reduce erosion, improve productivity and reduce wastage. And even the construction of efficient foot-‐paths, which do benefit the rural poor, should be done with care: Sidle (2006) shows that foot-‐path construction, too, can contribute to slope instability and potential failure. But this should not be interpreted as an attack on MGNREGA itself. On the contrary, MGNREGA needs to be strengthened, by increasing the role of capable environmental and civil engineers, to ensure that the social assets created do not in future prove to be deadly social liabilities. Although outcomes have been variable from state to state, most evaluations of the still-‐young scheme agree that it is on its way to becoming possibly the most effective anti-‐poverty legislation in the history of the Indian nation, at least in the states and areas where implementation is achieving a minimum level (IRMA 2010, Ravindranath et al 2013, Vijayanand ND, but see Kidwai 2008). It has already provided valuable off-‐farm employment, increasing the sustainability of the smallholder system. As a rights-‐based program, it has lent a new respectability to the kinds of manual labor that are its focus, increasing the self-‐confidence and self-‐respect of beneficiaries, especially women. By providing a reliable alternative and thus pushing up wages and increasing the 7
bargaining power of the unskilled worker pool, it has also influenced the private sector employment picture. Finally, by creating tangible assets in land and supporting agricultural productivity, it increases village security and economic capacities. Reforestation and vegetation management It is often assumed that deforestation and reforestation are strong determinants of landslide probability (___). While forests do stabilize slopes to shallow depth, they do not have much influence on deep-‐seated landslides, which instead reflect geology and hydrology (____). Vegetation (including shrubs and herbs) also has a preventive effect on shallow landslides by drying surface soil through transpiration and intercepting rainfall (Sidle 2006). Importantly, forests can be maintained as protection forests while also serving as production forests: fruit orchards, NTFP production, and perennial shade crops such as cardamom and ginger do not offer substantially lower effectiveness of soil retention services. Carbon sequestration would be an ideal combination with protection services, where (as is often the case) protection forests are situated on steep and relatively inaccessible slopes. Shrubs provide comparable soil stabilization services to trees, while adding less weight surcharge and wind-‐loading to steep slopes. Vegetation can be managed to control surface erosion as well as to control landslide risk. By reducing erosion, vegetation cover fights the formation of gullies which increase water infiltration and landslips (FAO 2011). Anything creating concentrated water flow (gullies, seepage areas) should be avoided and stabilized with vegetation. In general, the “consensus among land managers and scientists is that forests lower the probability of shallow landslides, and to a lesser extent deep-‐seated movements, in upland areas. This is reflected in the reduced amount of eroded soil and rock material that is dislodged and transported down slope in forested areas” (FAO 2011). Vegetation management must also be considered in the context of fuel use, and this is again linked to roads. The first alternative to extracting fuel wood as a ‘free good’ from the forest is LPG, but the large heavy cylinders are not adopted where there is poor road access. Thus the existence of LPG, and pressure from governments or NGOs to adopt LPG, add to the ‘pull’ for new roads. Alternatives like solar or peltric sets may be superior to LPG in some respects but are not direct competitors, serving separate uses. For the near to mid-‐term, there is no alternative to wood as the primary energy source for a vast number of people worldwide. In montane Eastern Himalaya, LPG is catching on quickly as the road network and the tourism industry expand, but it will remain an adjunct and out of reach for many families for the near to mid-‐term. Given what is now known about the health effects of traditional stoves, and their aggregate impacts on climate change through emissions of ‘black carbon’, it is essential to consider short-‐term mitigating strategies (Smith ___, ____). ICS connection
The fuel wood question needs more systematic attention particularly in the context of the growth of tourism. In the Himalayas, much tourism has been concentrated at or above the tree line, where demand may easily outstrip supply. In Singalila National Park, Sandakphu and the ridge-‐line villages leading up to it are relatively dry and the surrounding forests are highly degraded. Nepali cook stoves, based on traditional models, constructed of dried mud brick and with exterior chimneys, are increasingly popular in the villages, both because they emit less smoke and use fuel more efficiently. They need to be rigorously field-‐tested, though, especially under the intensive use conditions of tourist tea-‐stalls and hotels. One issue it has yet to address in a comprehensive way in the hill districts is the problem of human-‐wildlife conflict, which we outline briefly below. HWC in the hill districts: the forgotten catastrophe? Our preliminary analyses show that human-‐wildlife conflict is probably the most pressing development and security concern of the group of smallholders, especially those living in the remote villages surrounded by mid-‐montane forest. Our own interviews, and reports from our local partners, indicate that as much as 40% of a farmer’s crops of potatoes, peas and maize may be consumed or spoiled in a given season by wild boar, barking deer, macaques and porcupine (Rai et al 2013). Populations of wild boar and deer seem to be increasing in Eastern Himalayan lower altitude forests, but have not been monitored. The villagers, on the other hand, tend to assume that animals are coming to vegetable fields because they can find no food in the forest (___). The creation of living barriers or other fencing strategies needs to be studied systematically. This issue needs to be addressed, because if villagers are indeed losing significant proportions of their crops, there is little point in supporting them with ancillary activities like apiary or medicinal plants. The hemorrhage needs to be fixed first. REFERENCES Gowdy, J. M. 2004. The revolution in welfare economics and its implications for environmental valuation and policy. Land Economics 80(2):239-‐257. Heinzerling, L. and F. Ackerman. 2002. “Pricing the Priceless: Cost-‐Benefit Analysis of Environmental Protection.” Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Institute, Georgetown University Law Center. IRMA 2010. An impact assessment of the usefulness and sustainability of the assets created under MGNREGA in Sikkim. Institute of Rural Mgmt, Anand. 9
Rai, R., R. Chakraborty and P. Shrestha. 2013. Human-‐Wildlife Conflict: Challenges for Conservation and Livelihood Security in Sikkim and Darjeeling. Indian Mountain Initiative, Sustainable Mountain Development Summit, May 25 – 26, 2013. Ravindranath et al. 2013. Environmental benefits and vulnerability reduction through Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme: Synthesis report. Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (IIS), Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), Government of India (GoI) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Read, D. and P.H.M.P. Roelofsma. 2003. Subadditive versus hyperbolic discounting: A comparison of choice and matching. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 91:140–153. Sidle, R.C., Ziegler, A.D., Negishi, J.N., Nik, A.R., Siew, R. & Turkelboom, F. 2006. Erosion processes in steep terrain—truths, myths, and uncertainties related to forest management in Southeast Asia. Forest Ecology and Management, 224(1-‐2): 199-‐225. Slovic, P. & E. U. Weber. 2002. Perception of Risk Posed by Extreme Events. Prepared for conference “Risk Management Strategies in an Uncertain World,” Palisades, New York, April 12-‐13, 2002. Smith, K.R. & M. Ezzati. 2005. How environmental health risks change with development: the epidemiologic and environmental risk transitions revisited. Annual Review of Environmental Resources 30, 291–333.
Published on Sep 25, 2013
Climate change is an extraordinarily challenging concept to grasp fully, and even more challenging to respond to in a practical sense. This...