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July 20, 2023
Climate Crisis

Transforming Lives in Nepal


A community in Nepal sitting gathered round

Written by Binod Gautam and photography by Santosh KC from World Jewish Relief’s Local Partner in Nepal, Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC).

What was once lifeless land has been transformed into a thriving green landscape.

The climate crisis has already started to affect the lives of many of us across the globe. But, for those communities who are especially vulnerable, such as the Dalits in Nepal, the threat is even more grave and pressing.

A farm in Nepal
The now green landscape of the marginalised Nayabasti community.

Communities on the Edge

In Nepal, members of the ‘Dalits’ communities are marginalised and persecuted because of their social status. Other communities malign them as ‘untouchables’ and they enjoy very few rights. For example, they have historically been excluded from land ownership by ‘upper castes’, which means they have been prevented from settling and farming the land to feed themselves. They have to resort to working as day labourers on other farms, and they are the first to be let go in the event of drought and flood which are becoming increasingly common due to climate change.

Despite this, one group of Dalits known as the Nayabasti community, and living on the southeastern border of Nepal, have managed to obtain land rights. They were once informal settlers, who were constantly on the move trying to create a future for themselves and their families. Living in unsafe and basic accommodation and without access to clean water, survival was hard. After a long and difficult campaign however, they were finally granted land ownership, homes and the right to farm the land they live on by the local government.

Water scarcity, however was still a major barrier to the Nayabasti creating a viable and sustainable community. They struggled to grow crops in the dry and barren earth. It was at this point they turned to the collaborative efforts of the Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC) and World Jewish Relief for help. After an initial visit to the community to listen to their concerns and discuss practical solutions to their acute water shortage, the funding and building of a borehole was agreed.

A community in Nepal sitting gathered round
Community members share their reflections with CSRC team.

Transforming Livelihoods

The borehole installation was a turning point for the community. Not only did it provide the much-needed drinking water, but it also allowed irrigation of the previously barren sandy land surrounding the village. This newfound water source enabled members of the community to cultivate vegetables including pumpkin, bottle gourd, brinjal and others, using climate resilient methods of farming provided by CSRC and World Jewish Relief. As a result, the once lifeless land was transformed into a thriving, green landscape.

Previously dependent on buying vegetables from the market or relying on the goodwill of landlords, all 20 households of the community are now self-sufficient. The surplus produce enabled them to not only meet their own dietary needs but also sell their vegetables in nearby Haat bazaars, generating income for their households.

Water coming out of a borehole
The community shares their joy after seeing the water in their sandy land through the installation of borehole.

Empowering Women in the Community

The installation of a borehole has empowered members of the community, especially the Dalit women who used to wake up early in the morning to fetch water in public ponds before so-called ‘touchable persons’ got up. Manju Devi Sada, aged 37 and a member of the community, joyfully shared how their dependency on others for water had been eliminated, along with the mistreatment they endured when accessing public water tanks. She said,

The so-called touchable people used to call us names whenever we went to fetch water from the public water tank prohibiting us from touching even the plastic pipe. However, we do not need to go outside to fetch water. We also do not need to purchase our daily vegetables.”

Similarly, Phulo Sada aged 53, shared that the borehole has also reduced the workload of women in the community. “Our sisters and daughter-in laws have ample amount of time to grow vegetables in our farm because they do not need to spend long hours fetching water,” she shared.

Produce grown by local community in Nepal
Vegetables produced by community members by cultivating fallow land.

During CSRC’s follow up visits, community members and political leaders highlighted the importance of promoting awareness about the success of this project. Plans have now been set in motion to establish a water management committee. This committee will be responsible for ensuring equal access to water through the borehole, implementing a rota for its usage, and raising awareness among the community about proper water management practices, to ensure the borehole continues to ensure the long-term future of this Dalits Community.