Local governments and climate-resilient water systems

Engaging Nepal's local governments in new ways of reflection and planning for more climate-resilient water systems. An article by UTS-ISF's Jeremy Kohlitz.

We must dream bigger to achieve sustainable rural water supply services in a world with worsening climate change.

Some of the systems that are needed to deliver water supply services must be transformed, requiring new ways of thinking, planning, and acting. That’s why SNV and the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney teamed up with local governments in Nepal to lay the foundations for transformations towards more climate-resilient rural water supply services.

Transformation can begin with dialogue

There is no right starting point. But literature from the fields of sustainability transformations and systems thinking suggests that dialogue opens stakeholders’ minds to new framings of problems and solutions, offering an excellent starting point. SNV’s team in Nepal and UTS-ISF drew from these fields, designing and facilitating workshops with local governments in the Sarlahi and Dailekh districts of Nepal to cultivate such dialogue.

A participant presents a visual representation of their rural municipality.

Photo credit: SNV/Heman Paneru.

Rural water users in both districts already struggle with the unequal impacts of climate hazards on water access. The workshop participants reflected on the earlier findings of community focus group discussions that shed light on the diverse climate-related issues that water users in their districts face. This formed a basis for identifying problems to be resolved.

The aftermath of a landslide, a common sight in parts of Dungeshwar RM, Dailekh district, Nepal.

Photo credit: SNV/Meeting Point.

The foundations for transformation

Rather than jumping straight to identifying solutions based on the challenges identified, the workshop participants intensively examined their own assumptions, shared perspectives, and considered the root causes of the problems. The team engaged in low-cost, easily replicable, and participatory activities, such as:

  • reflecting on personal worldviews through a worldviews quiz,

  • considering the most effective leverage points for change,

  • drawing rich pictures to create a joint understanding of the situation and the interrelated aspects, and

  • asking five whys to draw out the underpinning social, economic, and environmental causes of the problems.

Once the activities were completed, participants were asked to propose solutions through a theory-of-change-based action plan.

The results were encouraging. One participant remarked ‘This was one of the best workshops I have ever participated in. The content was very insightful and encouraged us to brainstorm…honestly it forced us to think and think and think.’ Even the facilitators benefited.

Through this workshop, I myself am transformed.'

SNV facilitator

Inclusive dialogue: a person living with disability presents their team's 'five why's'.

Photo credit: SNV/Heman Paneru.

Taking the next steps

More work can be done to identify transformative adaptations and implement them. The global WASH sector must do more to imagine a broad range of contextually appropriate actions that will lead to system transformation.

But that doesn’t mean action can’t be taken in the interim. Designing climate resilient infrastructure, raising community awareness on climate change issues, risks and adaptation options, and upskilling local government on climate resilience – all solutions suggested by the workshop participants – can support progress in the meantime.

Yet, shifting mindsets – another solution put forth by the participants – may be most important in the long run.

Shifts in mindsets might involve:

  • seeing the interconnections between WASH and other facets of life,

  • knowing who has the power to change and influence, and

  • better understanding of what sits at the heart of unsustainable WASH projects.

Mindset and worldview shifts lay the foundation for acceptance of and demand for the transformative adaptations needed to achieve and sustain equitable and resilient rural water services into the future.

Contributors: Jeremy Kohlitz with Naomi Carrard and Melita Grant of UTS-ISF, and Ratan Budhathoki and Heman Paneru of SNV in Nepal.

Top photo: A trained local village maintenance worker inspects the valve of the reservoir water tank at Dungeshwar RM-2, Dailekh district, Nepal. Photo credit: SNV/Meeting Point.

Interested to learn more?

Read about our workshop approach in an article published by PLOS Sustainability and Transformations.

Kohlitz, J., Grant, M., Budhathoki, R.B., Chhetri, S., Paneru, H., Basnet, M.P., Lala, S., Halcrow, G. and Carrard, N., ‘Laying foundations for transformation: Insights from local government engagement on climate-resilient rural water services in Nepal’, PLOS Sustainability and Transformation, 3(3), 2024, p.e0000081.